This Markelle Fultz situation is a mess. Nah, it’s worse than that. It’s a disaster that doesn’t add up.
The 76ers are saying the first overall pick in June’s NBA draft is relearning how to shoot because of “scapular muscle imbalance” in his right shoulder. They’ll tell you that Saturday night’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers marked the 49th consecutive one he missed because of this ailment.
However, you’ll be hard pressed to find a case in which muscle imbalance prevented someone from playing basketball.
The truth is that this is more mental than the Sixers are willing to say.
Sources around the NBA have said that folks inside the organization have been telling league colleagues since October that it was mental. But if you needed any confirmation, it came during the Sixers’ ESPN-televised game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Jan. 28. That’s when broadcaster Mark Jones said Sixers coach Brett Brown had disclosed in a production meeting that Fultz was suffering from “psychosomatic effects” with his shooting. Translation: Jones said Brown acknowledged that Fultz has a mental block and psychological conflict that prevent him from shooting correctly.
Jones tweeted the following night that Brown never actually used the word “psychosomatic.” However, his tweet didn’t deny that the coach told him it was a mental thing for the University of Washington product.
But, perhaps as way of protecting Fultz, the Sixers keep sticking to muscle imbalance as the main reason that he has forgotten how to shoot.
All this comes after the team announced in a Dec. 9 statement that Fultz was no longer experiencing soreness in his right shoulder and that the muscle imbalance was resolved. For a while after that, his on-court work mostly consisted of individual shooting-form drills with former NBA sharpshooter Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf.
Then, on Jan. 2, the Sixers said in a news release that Fultz had been cleared “to begin the final stage of his return-to-play program.”
Yet no one – not even the combo guard himself – knows when or whether he will return to action this season.
But what we do know is that his situation has been mismanaged from the start. It’s obvious that something on Fultz’s mind is affecting him. And it’s obvious that the Sixers – or someone calling the shots in Fultz’s camp – miscalculated how not being transparent would lead to the negativity now associated with the 19-year-old’s name.
He’s been ridiculed countless times on social media, and videos of him badly missing shots have gone viral.
After watching them, the same people who praised the Sixers for trading up two spots to draft him first overall now question whether Fultz is the biggest bust in NBA history.
On Friday, JJ Redick stood up for his teammate, saying the media’s coverage of Fultz’s shooting is “obsessive.”
The 33-year-old shooting guard is from the old school, where the unwritten rule is to not embarrass a player for his failures at practice. But in today’s media-hyped world, there’s much more exposure to pro athletes, and they need thick skin more than ever before.
None of this happened last year to Ben Simmons, who missed the entire 2016-17 season with a broken right foot. Simmons didn’t even sit on the bench with his teammates until his boot was taken off because he didn’t want to be seen in a fragile state.
Perhaps as a way to protect him, the Sixers never fulfilled their obligation to make Fultz available to the public within a week after announcing that he would be sidelined for an extended period in October. The team still refuses to make him available to explain.
However, the Sixers didn’t block an interview with TNT on Tuesday night that was set up by Fultz’s agent. During that interview with Caron Butler, Fultz said he’s trying to “relearn” his shot.
That’s not exactly what you want to hear from someone who was supposed to be a can’t-miss prospect.
But something obviously is mentally affecting him that has nothing to do with his shoulder.
While he’s usually still pleasant, Fultz, at times doesn’t seem like the guy I met before the draft.
Something obviously is on his mind.
Is it personal? How do you fix it?
Those are the things that must be determined.