BOSTON — Back in June, the 76ers were applauded for moving up two spots to select Markelle Fultz first overall in the NBA draft.
The Sixers got that pick from the Boston Celtics in exchange for their No. 3 pick and a 2018 or 2019 protected pick. Boston ended up taking Jayson Tatum third.
These days, folks — including at least one person with ties to the Sixers — question moving up to draft Fultz, who missed considerable time this season and is currently out of the rotation.
“Tatum probably should have been the first pick in the draft,” Sixers legend and Hall of Famer Julius Erving said Thursday morning on ESPN’s Get Up. “He was there. I guess there was just … it was all about fit. And we took Fultz, Philly took Fultz.”
Fultz shrugged off Erving’s comments before the Sixers faced the Celtics in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinal at TD Garden.
“It’s set in stone what happened,” he said. “I don’t have anything to say about it. I proved why I should be the No.1 pick in college and they drafted me as the No. 1 pick. Now, I’m here.
“All I can do is improve and keep moving from here. That’s all it is.”
Sixers general manager Bryan Colangelo declined to comment.
But Erving praised Tatum, who torched the Sixers for 28 points in Game 1. The 6-foot-8 starting small forward is averaging 17 points through eight playoff games heading into Thursday’s Game 2 at TD Garden. That came after he averaged 13.9 points while shooting 43.4 percent on three-pointers in 80 regular-season games.
“Tatum has been awesome,” Erving said. “It just seems as though when you get a player who can raise the level of their game at playoff time, you’ve got somebody special.”
In what was his last game played, Fultz was limited to 4 minutes, 21 seconds in the first half of Game 3 of the first-round series against the Miami Heat on March 19. T.J. McConnell then took over the reserve point-guard duties in the second half while Fultz watched from the bench. He only saw 4:38 of action — all in the first half — of Game 2 on March 16.
All that came after Fultz played 13:57 in Game 1 of that series and saw action in the final 10 regular-season games.
Fultz said he and Sixers coach Brett Brown have not discussed possible playing time this series.
“We’ve just been talking about growing me as a player,” Fultz said. “At the end of the day, when my name is called I’m going to be ready to play.”
The Celtics will get the Lakers pick if it falls in slots 2-5 in June’s NBA draft lottery. If it does not, Boston will receive either the Sacramento Kings’ or Sixers’ first-round pick in 2019. The Celtics would take whichever one is more favorable, unless one of those picks is the first overall. Then the Celtics will receive the lesser of the picks.
Fultz said he’s “never” going to let Erving’s comments get to him.
“It’s motivates me if anything,” Fultz said.
Embiid on national media hype: “Where was everybody three or four years ago?”
The Sixers’ national media bandwagon is enormous, and Joel Embiid hears and sees all the hype the team has been receiving over the past few weeks.
“But my mind-set has always been three, four years ago no one was around, no one was talking about us,” he said. “So … anything that always comes, I’m like, that’s nice, but where was everybody three or four years ago?
“So it’s nice, but I don’t really pay attention to it. That’s when you got to keep staying focused and keep doing your job.”
The Sixers had won 20 of their last 22 games heading into Thursday’s contest.
They were the laughingstock of the NBA as recently as two seasons ago, when they finished the 2015-16 season at 10-72, the second-worst record in franchise and NBA history. Only the 1972-73 Sixers, at 9-73, were worse.
The 2015-16 season was the third of what turned out to be four seasons of tanking. And the Sixers were ridiculed nationally for their shortcomings.
Think back to March 26, 2014. The Sixers made history, matching the record for consecutive losses by a U.S. professional team with their 26th defeat, a 120-98 beatdown in Houston.
The Sixers equaled the run of futility established by the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1976 and 1977 seasons and by the Cleveland Cavaliers, who set an NBA mark with 26 straight losses during the 2010-11 season.
Then after losing their last 10 games of the 2014-15 season, the Sixers began the 2015-16 campaign by dropping their first 18 games to establish an NBA-record 28-game losing streak. They would go on to lose 29 of their first 30 games en route to going 10-72.
Nowadays, the ineptness seems like distant memories.
But Embiid hasn’t forgotten how the team was viewed. He said he holds grudges “because three, four years ago, we were the laughingstock of the whole NBA.”
“Now we are here,” Embiid said. “Everybody is talking about us. I don’t think it makes a difference.
“Like Sonny Hill always tells me, ‘You can’t get too high. You can’t get too low. You have to always keep your balance.’ ”