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November 28, 2018

What they're saying: Markelle Fultz is probably done in Philly, but what could Sixers get back in a trade?

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112818_Fultz_usat Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia 76ers guard Markelle Fultz.

Less than 18 months after the Sixers traded up to take Markelle Fultz out of Washington with the first overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, the enigmatic guard may have played his last game in Philadelphia. And while it may not have been very long, what a strange, strange trip it's been.

This week, Fultz took a trip to New York to see some specialists — and reportedly not only to examine his shoulder, but also to examine his wrist, something that came as a surprise to those who follow the team. Making the news even more concerning was the timing, as just one day earlier Fultz was pulled back from the scorer's table just before half and replaced by T.J. McConnell, never to be seen from again.

The next morning, Fultz's agent was on the phone with Elton Brand, telling the Sixers general manager that his client wouldn't be playing or practicing until he had been examined by those previously mentioned specialists. 

Needless to say, that's led to a ton of speculation regarding Fultz's future in Philadelphia and what sort of trickle-down effect that will have on the rest of the roster, namely T.J. McConnell, for whom the Sixers have reportedly stopped entertaining offers. 

While there are reports that Fultz could return to his backup point guard role, this just feels like the next logical step on the path to Fultz playing elsewhere, so much so that it wouldn't even be surprising if he never steps on the court for the team again. Of course, that might make it more difficult for them to find a will trade partner.

With that in mind, here's a look at the latest news and rumors surrounding the Sixers in a Fultz-heavy edition of What They're Saying... 

This is the end...

Yaron Weitzman | Bleacher Report

According to Yaron Weitzman's sources, the Sixers had already planned on moving on from Markelle Fultz prior to his latest setback. And with the addition of Jimmy Butler propelling the Sixers into win-now mode, the team apparently no longer has more time to spend developing a player that has only gotten worse since his debut two summers ago. 

Even before this latest setback, executives across the league had gotten the impression that the Sixers were ready to move on from Fultz, according to league sources. The Butler trade had crystallized their priorities. The Sixers are chasing titles now, and Fultz's early-season performance had left no indication he could help them reach those heights anytime soon.

Sixers general manager Elton Brand wasn't actively shopping Fultz, according to a team source, but one GM said it "seemed like they were open to trading him." Another source said they were itching to do so before this year's Feb. 7 trade deadline.

That was before Fultz's camp elected to blow up whatever goodwill had been built between the two sides by blindsiding the Sixers. ...

Needless to say, the latest move by Fultz's agent Raymond Brothers won't win him any points with the Philly front office. And with the report that Fultz would like a change of scenery — something his agent said has never been discussed with Elton Brand and Co. — it seems more like a matter of "when" than "if."

That may in large part be based on how much the Sixers want in return for the former top pick.

It's all going to come down to the Sixers' asking price.

"I'd be surprised if they get any type of first-round pick," another team executive said. "It's just hard for any team who is trying to have space this summer to take a flier on a guy like that who will eat into their space like he will."  [bleacherreport.com]

Not so fast...

Adrian Wojnarowski | ESPN

While plenty of people are saying that the Sixers are ready to move on, Woj is saying that Fultz will resume his backup role when he's ready to return.

In recent weeks, the Sixers stopped listening to trade overtures for McConnell, sources said, a reflection of the fact that the organization knows it will be leaning more heavily on him now. McConnell can be a free agent this summer.

The Sixers (14-8) continue to expect that Fultz will return to the team and reclaim a role off the bench, sources said.  [espn.com]

That, however, assumes he returns at all.

No saving this marriage

Jordan Greer | Sporting News

Still, it appears Fultz and the Sixers are headed toward divorce... 

What's best for Fultz and what's best for the Sixers are two things moving in opposite directions, though, and this relationship is quickly heading toward an ugly divorce.

The Jimmy Butler trade accelerated the Sixers' timeline. Head coach Brett Brown knows this is no longer a "Process" team. There are high expectations now, which is why Brown recently pushed backup point guard T.J. McConnell ahead of Fultz in his rotation. Fultz could still play a role off the bench, but it's unclear how effective he can be with his issues, which could extend beyond just physical limitations if he is struggling with anxiety and stress about his shot.

If the 76ers decide Fultz is no longer part of their long-term plans, they need to view him as a sunk cost. They've already mishandled a top prospect in former No. 3 overall pick Jahlil Okafor, who remained glued to the bench for far too long while Philadelphia searched for a trade. Perhaps the Sixers could at least recover a draft pick or use Fultz to acquire another shooter like Cavs guard Kyle Korver, but he simply doesn't hold much value on the trade market. That value will only continue to plummet with Fultz away from the team.

As for the former Washington star, he may prefer a "fresh start" with a new team, according to a report from The Athletic's Jared Weiss, Derek Bodner and Sam Amick. (Brothers told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski he hasn't told anyone in Philadelphia's front office that Fultz wants to be traded.) That makes sense in theory, but it's hard to find a trade partner interested in a young guard who can't shoot. We're not talking poor shooting percentage here — he has to relearn how to shoot the ball and rediscover some confidence in his ability to impact the game on the offensive end.  [sportingnews.com]

Playing the slow game

Gordie Jones | Forbes.com

Here's a great point by Gordie Jones that proves both those reports — Fultz is all but gone, and Fultz will resume backup PG duties — can be true at the same time. And it might be because the Sixers don't really have a choice. After all, who's going to give up much of anything for the current version of Fultz we've seen on the court?

Both things can be true. The Sixers can very well want to see him come back and contribute as soon as possible… but only because they want to showcase him for the rest of the league, in hopes of increasing his worth.

I continue to believe that they will ship him to a rebuilding team, where there might be some chance of him regaining his game/swagger/health in a low-pressure environment. Maybe that means he winds up in Cleveland, and Sam Amico of Amicohoops.com reported Sunday that the Cavs have expressed interest. (Steve Kyler of Basketballinsiders.com followed up Tuesday, writing that Cleveland is believed to have offered Kyle Korver and a protected draft pick.)

Maybe Atlanta is a better destination, as ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz believes.

The problem is that the Cavs and Hawks are both breaking in rookie point guards -- Collin Sexton and Trae Young, respectively. Would they really want to take on another project at that position?

I also have a hard time seeing Fultz in Orlando, one of three potential landing spots listed by Kristian Winfield of SBNation.com, but believe Phoenix -- another one of the possibilities Winfield mentions, along with Chicago -- makes a whole lot of sense. As Winfield writes, the Suns need to ease the burden on Devin Booker. And I would add that the Phoenix medical staff has often been lauded for its miracle-working. (Witness Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Shaquille O’Neal, et al.)  [forbes.com]

Let's make a deal

Dan Favale | Bleacher Report

Now it's time to start to some trade options. Over at Bleacher Report, they've rattled off five potential deals to send Fultz packing. One of them even involves sending Fultz to the Celtics (yes, really). We didn't include that one here, but feel free to go check it. This one isn't the sexiest deal for the Sixers, but it's the one that might be the best long term (at least of the ones Dan offered up).

Philadelphia 76ers Receive: Terrence Ross, Jonathon Simmons, 2019 second-round draft pick (less favorable of Brooklyn's and Orlando's selections)

Orlando Magic Receive: Markelle Fultz, Furkan Korkmaz, Justin Patton

Get ready for a handful of packages that won't work until mid-January. The Sixers have limited salary filler after acquiring Jimmy Butler. Justin Patton's $2.7 million price tag looms large for them if they don't want to part with Wilson Chandler, T.J. McConnell or Landry Shamet, and he cannot be dealt in combination with other players until Jan. 12.

Anyhow, the Sixers would be selling incredibly low. This is a salary dump masquerading as a helpful return, a type of bounty they'll need to entertain if they're bent on moving Fultz before February's deadline. Again: His pay grade is closer to that of a high-end veteran role player than developing newbie.

This isn't to say Terrence Ross and Jonathon Simmons are placeholding dreck. They're not. Philly is light on wings and reliable shooting. Ross has caught fire from beyond the arc in recent weeks, and he and Simmons can pitch in with coverage at the 2 and 3 spots.

Still, cap space is the primary draw.  [bleacherreport.com]

The Trade Machine speaks... 

Charles Curtis | For The Win

Over at USA TODAY's For The Win blog, they took a slightly different approaches, rounding up some fan trades that had been created using ESPN's Trade Machine. Here's the one that will likely get Sixers fans most excited... 

Markelle Fultz is back on the shelf with another shoulder problem, so there’s a lot of speculation that the Philadelphia 76ers will give up on the former first overall pick and trade him.

Over the past week or so, that’s sent NBA fans to the ESPN Trade Machine, and as usual, we rounded the deals up:

1. The Sixers get Bradley Beal 

A dream for the 76ers, who would get back a true NBA talent for a guy whose value is as low as can be.  [ftw.usatoday.com]

Historical Brand-ing

Paul Hudrick | NBC Sports Philadelphia

How will the history books remember Elton Brand? Well, it's not going to be for this Markelle Fultz mess, no matter what he is (or isn't) able to get in return.

Elton Brand is the general manager of the Sixers now. He didn’t decide to do business with Danny Ainge, who it appears knew he was selling damaged goods. He didn’t give up an unprotected first-round pick from a perpetually bad (though maybe finally improving) team.

If Brand were to trade Fultz for a bag of basketballs — which has been suggested by much of the fan base — it wouldn’t be an indictment on him. His predecessor is the one forever linked to that deal.

Brand’s legacy is now tied to Jimmy Butler. So far, those returns are impressive. Butler is a pending free agent so signing him this offseason will also be incumbent upon Brand. How that long-term deal works, how Butler continues to progress with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and, of course, the overall success of the team, will be Brand’s legacy.  [nbcsports.com]


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