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PHILADELPHIA — Markelle Fultz was on his way to becoming one of the biggest sports figures to emerge from Prince George’s County since Kevin Durant, but has instead headlined one of the most mysterious and unfortunate sagas the NBA has seen in recent history.
The Upper Marlboro native and DeMatha Catholic basketball superstar went on to put up superb numbers as a freshman phenom at the University of Washington which led to a No. 1 overall selection by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2017 NBA Draft.
But the 6-foot-4 point guard has only played sparingly as a professional, and has dealt with on-and-off injuries that have virtually sidelined him for about the past year and a half. Fultz was ruled out indefinitely after being diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome in his right shoulder, and was expected to be out three to six weeks, according to reports and statements released in late November.
Fultz’s injury has limited his shoulder mobility and has had a disturbingly adverse effect on his shooting motion.
Fultz was touted by pro scouts as a lethal threat in transition, an elite defender with sharpshooting ability and appreciable athleticism, and a consistent playmaker, but lately has fostered a great deal of criticism from analysts and pundits with the most scathing judgment coming from Stephen A. Smith of ESPN’s First Take.
“Right now it appears to be the biggest bust in NBA history,” Smith said in a segment from Dec. 5.
“I don’t recall a No. 1 overall pick being this bad… It is not just about his shoulder. This young brother’s got some issues. He’s got some problems, and I sincerely hope and pray that he will overcome it because it is not just about his shoulder. He forgot how to play basketball for crying out loud.”
Smith, in addition to several other NBA experts and commentators, characterize Fultz’s misfortune as more than a mere shoulder injury. Psychological and developmental issues, they say, have played an integral role in Fultz’s recent hardships.
The most recent news involving Fultz has been possibilities of his imminent return to the court, according to his agent Raymond Brothers.
“We want to make sure he’s 100 percent and healthy when he does come back,” Brothers said to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Dec. 25, indicating that Fultz may make a return in early 2019.
Moreover, Brothers assured of his client making good progress in his right shoulder rehabilitation and suspects that Fultz will return this season, said Wojnarowski.
The 20-year-old has played in just 33 games over his first two seasons, averaging 7.7 points and 3.4 assists per game while shooting 41.4 percent from the field, 26.7 percent from three and 53.4 percent from the free-throw line.
Presuming Fultz makes a healthy return and is productive, the Sixers may transpire into legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference with an already talented big three of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler.
According to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Sixers are in no rush to trade the second-year player, largely because the team’s “ownership group also isn’t in total agreement with what do with Fultz, according to league sources.”
Philadelphia does not want to move Fultz without a quality first-round pick being packaged in the deal, Pompey reports.
“They view his becoming a star for another team worse than him remaining a Sixer and continuing to struggle. Former general manager Bryan Colangelo, who drafted Fultz, would get the blame in the latter scenario. However, the front-office holdovers and ownership group would have to look at themselves in the mirror if they trade Fultz for next to nothing and he goes on to become the star they thought he was going to be when they drafted him,” Pompey wrote in his Dec. 15 article regarding Fultz’s trade situation.
“The thought is the Sixers will have more serious discussions once it becomes apparent certain teams will be eliminated from the postseason. Those teams will look to unload desirable players in the final year of their contracts in exchange to take a look at Fultz.”
For now, the Sixers are in what Bleacher Report’s Timothy Rapp said is “a holding pattern,” but a major decision looms for the franchise as the trade deadline quickly approaches. The league’s 30 teams have until Feb. 7, 2019, which leaves only six weeks for teams to finalize their trades and deals.
As noted in various reports, teams that have expressed interest in trading for Fultz include the Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns, Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers.