There’s no need to point fingers. Most likely, you were incorrect about Markelle Fultz, and there’s truly nothing wrong with that. The Philadelphia 76ers drafted the second-year guard first overall in the 2017 NBA Draft. Unfortunately, that may still be the most positive storyline of his NBA career.
In all sports, drafts are a crapshoot and there are no guarantees. For example, the Sixers selected Landry Shamet 26th overall this past draft and he has arguably outperformed Fultz, a sophomore player, selected before 59 others last year. Plenty of factors come into play when determining whether or not a player is a bust, or where it went wrong, which is why it’s time to delve into the curious case of Markelle.
Should we blame Fultz?
This is difficult. NBA fans watch basketball for entertainment purposes, and there is nothing to gain from witnessing a 20-year-old struggle to find his place in a sea of sharks. Fultz, on several occasions, has displayed flashes of what he’s capable of doing on the court, but it has unfortunately been watered down by the several viral clips of him bricking shots or pump-faking a free throw.
Some will say he has the yips, while others truly believe he’s dealing with shoulder issues. The fact of the matter is that it’s unfair to come to a conclusion without knowing what’s actually going on – and that’s the problem – most of us do not know a thing. It’s been both a horror film and a mystery novel; something from a Stephen King movie.
Would it be fair to blame Fultz? Let’s suppose that scenario presented today by his agent is accurate – that he truly is dealing with shoulder pain. The argument one could make is that he’s hurting the team (and himself) by playing with an injured shooting arm. Fultz may have been hiding the pain at first. Maybe the team knew about it and decided to let him play through it. In the end, it’s a bunch of maybes.
Should we blame Bryan Colangelo?
Remember that guy? Bryan Colangelo, the former general manager of the 76ers, will forever be attached to the selection of Fultz (and other things). Not only did he draft Fultz, but he orchestrated the blockbuster trade with the Boston Celtics that landed the Sixers the first pick.
In retrospect, it looks terrible. Jayson Tatum was selected third and has looked like an all-star for about a year now. That third draft slot was where Philadelphia landed on lottery night, thanks to a Sacramento Kings pick swap that bumped the Kings back to fifth; and speaking of Sacramento, the Celtics also received their 2019 first rounder in the deal (which is top-one protected).
Should we blame Fultz’s circle?
We don’t know all the details about what goes on between Fultz and his agent, friends, trainers, or advisors; nor do we know how strong or weak Fultz’s relationship is with the 76ers. Joel Embiid famously said that he wasn’t sure whether or not everyone had Fultz’s back. One thing is for certain – either Fultz is getting terrible advice, or he’s choosing to ignore it.
Some things are personal, and that’s completely understandable, but manifesting curiosity is not the strongest public relations practice. The span of questions go for miles, from beefs with shooting coaches to ‘did he or did he not get fluid drained from his shoulder?’
Should we blame the Sixers coaching staff?
One may point to the other 76ers draft selections that didn’t work out and tie them into this Fultz ordeal. Nerlens Noel always had loads of potential, but he never made the next step to stardom and eventually pleaded his way out of Philadelphia. Jahlil Okafor, a third-overall pick, also begged his way out of Philly, due to a lack of playing time.
Some may also point to Michael Carter-Williams, who turned out to be a huge disappointment. The former rookie of the year was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks for that slippery Los Angeles Lakers first-round pick that turned into Mikal Bridges (who then turned into Zhaire Smith and the Miami Heat 2021 first). Thankfully for Philadelphia, Sam Hinkie saw that one coming and cashed out.
Some may argue that the 76ers failed to develop Fultz, but the team has had plenty of success bringing up even undrafted NBA players, such as TJ McConnell and Robert Covington. McConnell and Covington worked their tails off to get to where they are today, but you must credit the team as well, which doesn’t add up with the Markelle Fultz saga.
Ask the Audience
I asked Twitter who the blame belongs to, using the four categories above as the options. Note: From the first sentence of this piece, you know my opinion, which we’ll get to again shortly.
Here are the results of the aforementioned poll:
If the 76ers do end up trading Markelle Fultz, conceding his value as the former 1st overall pick (set aside what the return in value is), who is most to blame for the Philly-Boston trade blowing up in the Sixers’ face?
— Brian Michael Jacobs (@BrianMikeJacobs) November 30, 2018
Over 1,500 people voted, and a majority blamed Bryan Colangelo for the demise of Markelle Fultz. If you know anything about me, you should already know by now that I have an interesting story to tell when it comes to the former general manager of the Sixers. Let’s leave that alone, though. That said, please understand that with what I’m about to say, I have no reason to stick up for the two-time executive of the year and connoisseur of relationships.
To blame Bryan Colangelo for this mess is both hypocritical and disturbing. The media pinned Markelle Fultz as the sure top pick in the 2017 draft, but the public, as seen above, handed the blame to Bryan Colangelo.
A majority of fans, including the Rights to Ricky Sanchez podcast hosted by Spike Eskin and Michael Levin, rejoiced, spurring the famous Retweet Armageddon (which was a planned onslaught of retweeting old takes that bashed Sam Hinkie’s process). Now, we’re seeing a tide shift. At first, it was worthy of a celebration because the culmination of the process led us to the selection of the chosen one, Markelle Fultz. Now, it seems like some of those same people (not referring to Eskin or Levin) are the ones turning on the man that pulled off the trade of the year.
Here’s a simplified version of the last two paragraphs and what I’ve gathered: This is all Bryan Colangelo’s fault, but it was a great trade at the time! Much like the entire Fultz saga, it just doesn’t make sense.
Chris Mannix says Markelle Fultz is the closest thing to a "sure thing" in this draft. https://t.co/gmWyS6wKx9
— CBS Local Sports (@CBSLocalSports) May 18, 2017
— FanSided NBA (@FanSidedNBA) August 16, 2017
— Adam Kaufman (@AdamMKaufman) June 18, 2017
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) June 18, 2017
Could you imagine what the Sixers would look like if everything happened the way it was supposed to? Fultz would be averaging 20-plus points per game, much like he did at Washington in college. On the other hand, the Cleveland Cavaliers would have selected Joel Embiid first overall in the 2014 draft with a healthy foot (and maybe he would have been traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love).
It’s never safe to assume things are going to work out. Former 76ers GM Sam Hinkie lived and figuratively died by that philosophy. His plan was to put the 76ers franchise in as many favorable positions as possible. He admitted that his plan would not be perfect. Strategies are not all meant to be successful In professional sports.
The Sixers recently traded Robert Covington and Dario Saric to the Timberwolves for Jimmy Butler because of the aforementioned philosophy; a combination of good decisions, mixed with some bad ones, can pay off. Covington blossomed into a first-team defensive stud, and Saric came over, which was not a sure thing.
Markelle Fultz is a product of decision making. Ironically, the Sixers decided to add Jimmy Butler in that trade with the Timberwolves. Why? Because the selection of Fultz blew up in their face. But, maybe it didn’t. Who knows? When we thought we knew, we had no clue.