Navigating through the Markelle Fultz saga has been like running through a giant hedge maze that has no start or end point. There’s no way to get out of it, and you can’t figure out how you got in it in the first place.
Tuesday night, another nugget was tossed in, adding a new section to the maze that I’m now calling the never-ending spiral.
Here’s what happened:
During the Sixers’ home game against the Wizards, Fultz did an in-game interview with Caron Butler that aired on TNT. That ruffled the feathers of local media, because Fultz had not been made available to the media since being shut down with a shoulder injury in October. Teams are not required to make players available to media if they are not full participants in practice.
The Sixers declined to make Fultz available to the local media after Tuesday’s game, saying that Fultz, the No. 1 overall draft pick last year who has still yet to be a full participant in practice, set up the TNT interview without the knowledge of the Sixers’ communication staff, because Fultz and Butler share the same agent, Raymond Brothers.
So why can’t Fultz be considered a full participant at practice? What is he not doing that is preventing us from talking to him?
We turned to Brett Brown, who for too long has been the only one made available to provide answers about Fultz. Instead of answering questions just about his team’s performance against the Wizards, after the game, Brown fielded Fultz questions.
What is Markelle able to do, and what is he held out of?
“He doesn’t go through everything — there are some drills that I take him out of — but he does go through a lot. He does go through a large majority of the practice. It isn’t 100 percent yet, but it a very large majority of our practices.”
What are the drills that you take him out of?
“When I feel there’s some conditioning stuff, I’ll take him out of it. But it’s not much.”
What’s the reason for taking him out of conditioning stuff?
“Because I feel like he looks like he hasn’t played basketball for a while so I take him out of it.”
Are there drills that Markelle is held out of because of his shoulder?
“Not entirely, no.”
So, a little bit?
“No, that’s not my purpose. I stand by what I said: When I see that he is completely fatigued, I’ll take him out of the drill.”
In his interview with Butler, which was less than a minute long, Fultz, in response to a question about relearning things, said it has been a slow process.
“It’s been a long journey just trying to relearn it,” he told TNT. “I’m just going through it, and I want to get back out there as quick as I can.”
Fultz was cleared for full-contact, five-on-five action a month ago, five days after the Sixers released an update that read: “Philadelphia 76ers guard Markelle Fultz has been cleared to begin the final stage of his return-to-play program. The program consists of gradual re-integration into team practices and training, complemented with additional conditioning work to support fitness readiness for game play.”
Since then, he has been seen, filmed, and scrutinized multiple times when shooting after practice or before games. He can throw down dunks and hit full-court shots.
When Joel Embiid was facing fatigue problems, and was not fully conditioned, he would often not participate fully in practice and Brown said that the only time Embiid was able to get his cardio in was in games.
But Fultz does not have that luxury. He is not playing in games and he is being taken out of drills when he is fatigued. So when will he have the time to get into game shape? When will he return?
There is no timetable for Fultz’s return. Which means there is no timetable for answers.
Sixers general manager Bryan Colangelo is expected to speak with the media Friday, a day after the NBA trade deadline. Since this is the first time he will be available since he traded Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas to Brooklyn for Trevor Booker, he will be expected to answer some questions about Fultz.