Story by Brian Jacobs with contribution from Jason Blevins
This past Thursday, the 76ers finalized a trade with the Magic, sending Markelle Fultz to Orlando for Jonathon Simmons, a protected first, and a high second round draft pick.
Fultz, the former #1 overall pick, is no longer a member of the Sixers. A league source informed us that the phone call which formally sent Fultz packing was not the conversation that truly ended Markelle’s tenure in Philly. The beginning of the end stemmed from a particular phone conversation orchestrated by his mother Ebony, according to the source.
The 76ers declined to comment on this particular event, but it has been well documented and relayed to us by the team that they did everything in their power to help Fultz in the following days and weeks.
It has also been documented that Ebony has played a major role in the life and even career of her son. According to the Washington Post, “close associates said Ebony still goes to great lengths to shield him. During Fultz’s first season in Philadelphia, Ebony had cameras installed inside his New Jersey home, according to several people familiar with the setup who described the indoor surveillance as unusual. The cameras have since been removed. Multiple people said Ebony has asked some who have dealt with Fultz to sign nondisclosure agreements.”
The general sentiment, according to multiple sources, is that Fultz’s mother understandably wanted to protect her son, through college and now even into the pros. However, it seems this overprotection may have done as much harm as it’s done good.
A specific event on November 19, 2018 took place that led to the fallout between the 76ers and Fultz’s camp. With 27.6 seconds left in the first half against the Phoenix Suns, the Sixers were trailing 62-56. Fultz checked in but was quickly subbed out by Brett Brown before he could even walk out onto the court. Instead, TJ McConnell entered the game to a standing ovation.
This was the last game he played as a member of the 76ers, tallying seven minutes and no points scored.
According to our source, Fultz’s circle was frustrated by the fact that McConnell was receiving a majority of the minutes. The overwhelming vibe that was felt around “Team Markelle” (as one league executive referred to them) was that they didn’t believe McConnell was worthy of the playing time and Fultz was “superior” even with the inability to shoot.
“Fultz’s camp [led by Markelle’s mother] asked, ‘Can you guarantee minutes and a role going forward?’ His mother took it as an opportunity to get him checked out,” the league source told PFO. “His agent has done this the entire time when he’s been publicly humiliated.”
End of a Saga
Fultz played 14 games in his rookie season, due to missing the majority of it with a mysterious shoulder injury. After spending an offseason with Drew Hanlen of Pure Sweat, the shot was still a problem, and a familiar dilemma was hovering over the team like a dark rain storm.
A league executive confirmed that the 76ers did everything they could to help fix the Fultz saga, but the damage was irreparable. We were also told that Fultz’s camp never provided the 76ers with concrete evidence of the injury other than the diagnosis, which was referred to by another executive as a “phantom injury,” comparable to someone aiming for a settlement after a car incident.
PFO dove into Thoratic Outlet Syndrome (TOS) earlier this year after Fultz was diagnosed with it. For information around the “highly variable prognosis” regarding TOS, Dr. Raj Brar from theinjuryinsight.com created the following video.
We consulted Dr. Brar DPT who said:
Syndrome generally means a collection of symptoms/characteristics that occur together and are correlated with a condition.
In some cases, they aren’t a hard and fast diagnosis. TOS is considered a “diagnosis of exclusion,” meaning we’ve ruled out other things we think it could be.
Key takeaways are that TOS is not a diagnosis you prove or disprove. It makes for a very tricky discussion around a player’s health. With questions swirling regarding the interwoven physical and mental issues, it becomes a very fraught discussion.
On November 12, just a week before the benching against Phoenix, the 76ers acquired Jimmy Butler, sending Dario Saric and Robert Covington to the Minnesota Timberwolves. After the Butler trade and the McConnell substitution, Fultz’s camp wanted out of Philadelphia, a source told us.
“I feel like I never really got a chance to really coach him.” – Brett Brown on Markelle Fultz
Sometimes there just isn’t a simple, clean answer for things. Some injuries are acute, simple to pinpoint and entirely physical. Other “syndromes” have a number of variable components that complicate the process of rehabilitation and recovery.
This entire saga was filled with uncertainty. The Philadelphia 76ers risked a future asset to move up to acquire Fultz. For nearly two years, they exercised caution and patience with Fultz and his camp.
In the end, the team was ready to move on and focus on contention. Mental and physical resilience will be crucial to their championship aspirations. Unfortunately, Markelle Fultz will not be part of that process.
“Team Markelle” ultimately did not share the same goals as “Team Philadelphia,” and no one feels good about that. In getting a future first and a player whom Elton Brand termed a “tenacious defender” in Jonathan Simmons, the Sixers feel like they made the best of a bad situation.