As a part of the 76ers exit interviews, general manager Bryan Colangelo gave each player a copy of the book The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday.
The book, which has made its rounds in professional sports circles over the last few years, has a subtitle: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials Into Triumph. It seems like the right kind of message to give to a team that just experienced the playoffs together for the first time before being eliminated in the second round.
For some of the Sixers, the book seems to be particularly fitting — specifically, for T.J. McConnell and Markelle Fultz.
McConnell, who has had to work for everything he’s accomplished and take solace in small triumphs through season-long trials, could very well have mastered the book’s message as a 26 year old.
He goes into every situation trying to be as professional and as prepared as possible. He even said that he heard the phrase “exit interview” and didn’t want to show up for any kind of interview looking too casual, so he put on one of the few suits he owns — the one he wore for his wedding last summer.
Fultz, who wore jeans and a T-shirt, spent his rookie season working through what could end up being the most trying span of his NBA career at just 19 years old.
He’s hoping to create better eating habits in the offseason and improve his game enough that he can prove he belongs in the league.
If Fultz’s shot is improved and he is playing at the level that earned him the No. 1 overall draft selection by the Sixers, it could easily mean that there will not be a spot in the regular rotation for McConnell.
“Unfortunately that’s not up to me,” McConnell said Thursday. “Markelle is a special player, that’s not a lie. When he plays at the level that they drafted him to play at, if there’s a spot for me, great; if not, I’m not really sure what I can do about that. Unfortunately, that’s out of my hands. But I’d love to be here.”
He’s not alone. coach Brett Brown has been the president of the T.J. McConnell fan club since they met. Even before the 2017-18 campaign started, before any of the Fultz shoulder saga unfolded, Brown asked: “How can you not play T.J.?”
The Sixers’ biggest star, Joel Embiid, is positive that Fultz will be back to normal and playing like “a beast” next season. As for what that might mean for McConnell, Embiid took a deep breath and a long pause before answering.
“It’s tough,” he said with a sigh, before quickly changing his tone. “But T.J. is the type of guy that you have to play him. He proved that in this series against Boston. Without him in Game 4, I don’t think we win that game.”
It’s true that McConnell was the hero of the Sixers’ lone win in the Eastern Conference semifinals and has proven to be a valuable player loved by his teammates, but it’s also true that an improved Fultz would replace him.
The Sixers have a team option on McConnell’s contract for next season, and though he didn’t seem to realize that was the case, he sounded confident about the probability that the Sixers would exercise the option.
But, nothing is set in stone, and the Sixers will need to make tough decisions when they dip their toes into the free-agency waters. The goals for the team have changed again. Anything less than home-court advantage and a deep playoff run would be a disappointment after a 52-30 season.
To reach the newer and more lofty goals, the Sixers might be going after some big fish, which could affect the rotation further.
McConnell hasn’t let on that there would be even the tiniest speck of resentment if Fultz ended up taking the minutes he would have had. Fultz said he has received nothing but support and love from McConnell and all of his teammates. It’s that support that helped the rookie make it through the trials of this unorthodox debut season.
It’s no wonder that Colangelo chose this book for the players to read. It already resonates with them, even if they aren’t aware of its message.
“I’m looking forward to reading it,” Fultz said, “and figuring out more about it.”