Bryan Colangelo said the 76ers don’t know when or if Markelle Fultz will play again this season.
“There always a chance that he’s going to be out there soon,” the team president of basketball operations and general manager said Friday, “and there’s a chance that’s he not going to play this year. I can’t answer that question because we don’t know the answer to that.”
That’s somewhat different from what Sixers coach Brett Brown has been saying. In various interviews, the coach said he expected Fultz to return this season.
Sixers guard JJ Redick, meanwhile, says he and his teammates are supportive of Fultz, and he wishes the media would not be so “obsessive” about the situation.
Friday night’s matchup against the New Orleans Pelicans at Wells Fargo Center marked the 48th consecutive game that the first overall pick missed because of what the team labeled right shoulder soreness and muscle imbalance. However, Fultz was cleared to resume all basketball activities on Dec. 9. He and the team are saying he had just to fully relearn how to shoot because of the shoulder injury.
Colangelo said that he’s “retraining his shooting mechanics, he’s retraining his muscle movement patterns.”
“And that’s the part of this that is a little bit of an unknown for us, and for our medical team,” he said.
The problems with his shooting form, though, also appear to be mental, perhaps more so than the team will say publically.
“Mental preparedness and overcoming an injury is part of any athlete, especially an elite athlete, overcoming a debilitating injury,” Colangelo said. “It’s been proven in studies that is a big component. All you have to do is talk to Ben [Simmons] and Joel [Embiid] and talk about what they’ve been through.”
Embiid was sidelined the first two seasons after two surgeries on his right foot. Then he played in only 31 games last season because of knee surgery and other ailments. Simmons, the first overall pick in 2016, missed all of last season after breaking his right foot on the final day of training camp.
“We are talking about a situation where someone is relearning how to shoot a basketball, and that was one of his elite skill sets,” Colangelo said of Fultz. “That has to be frustrating.
“But overall, I think he’s making great strides in every capacity. We are going to see a better Markelle Fultz because of it.”
Right now, Fultz’s shooting range doesn’t extend beyond the paint. Colangelo said that’s where you draw the line. Fultz can make anything instinctive going to the hole, he added.
“We talked about shot creation and some of the rise-ups,” Colangelo said. “It’s nice to see it coming along the way it is.”
But his shots from outside of the paint are far from NBA ready.
So for now, the 19-year-old and his jump shot has become a sideshow following Sixers practices. Media members all have their smartphones out to video Fultz during shooting drills. That doesn’t sit well with Redick, at 33 his oldest teammate.
“He’s working his [butt] off,” Redick said. “I understand that fans want to see his progress, but this is maybe going to be a longer process that we all hoped for. He may be back on the court soon. I don’t know, that’s not my thing.
“But I don’t get the coming in here every day to like watch him shoot pull-up jumpers. That’s a little obsessive.”
Asked how Fultz is dealing with the situation, Redick responded that it’s a question to ask Fultz. He wasn’t going to speak for his teammate, whom the Sixers won’t make available to the local media.
“But we’re all supportive of him,” Redick said. “We all want to see him back on the court and enjoying what he loves to do.”
He said the Sixers players show Fultz support daily through conversations and group text messages.
Redick acknowledged seeing strange things during his 12 seasons in the NBA. He added that you ultimately have to put a player out there if he’s going to be in a position to be successful.
“When that is, that’s not up to me,” Redick said. “So there’s no point in me speculating. But again, we are all here for [Fultz].”