The 76ers will tell you that Markelle Fultz is safe.
They’ll tell you publicly that he’s still an integral part of their family and they don’t intend to trade him.
In a perfect world, they say, Fultz and Ben Simmons are the backcourt of the future. Two ball handlers on the court at the same time. We were told a year ago that Fultz’s ability to shoot from the perimeter and create his own shot would open up things for Simmons and Joel Embiid. The Sixers hope that still may be the case.
But how much of that has to do with an inability to trade him?
Let’s face it, Fultz’s stock is nowhere near where it was when they surrendered a future first-round pick to move up two spots to select him first overall in the 2017 draft. Something about a sharp-shooting guard, who’s forgotten how to shoot, doesn’t have a lot of trade value.
Nor does it help a team in its pursuit of an NBA title.
Perhaps that’s why the Sixers selected three guards in Thursday’s NBA draft three days after Sixers coach and interim general manager Brett Brown checked in on one of Fultz’s workouts in Los Angeles with shooting coach Drew Hanlen.
One would assume that speaks to an organizational uncertainty about the availability or effectiveness of Fultz going forward.
“No, it doesn’t,” Brown said. “It really doesn’t. When we started looking at the players available — and I especially want to look at how we play, and who can be sandwiched in between Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid — we are looking for that modern-day type of player.”
The two first-round additions – swingman Zhaire Smith (16th in a trade with the Phoenix Suns) and point guard Landry Shamet (26th) – have the skill set to fit in perfectly in this era of position-less basketball. Brown noted that the league switches a lot on defense. There are a lot of drives, dishes and three-point shot makers on offense.
“So whether it’s apples for apples, it’s fine by me,” the coach said. “But probably what you should hear the loudest is I don’t think there’s overlap. I think that they can play together” with Fultz.
Well, we have to wait a few months to see for ourselves.
#Sixers coach Brett Brown talked about @MarkelleF’s shot and the PG’s chances of playing in summer league. While he wouldn’t come out and say it, one would assume it’s unlikely that Fultz plays based on Brown’s response. Here’s the video: pic.twitter.com/iF9km7AAON
— Keith Pompey (@PompeyOnSixers) June 22, 2018
At this moment, Fultz has been basically limited to “foundational-type” shooting drills. As a result, don’t expect to see him teaming up with Smith and Shamet on the Sixers’ entrant in the NBA Summer League, which runs from July 6-17 in Las Vegas.
Hanlen has confirmed what sources have told the Inquirer that Fultz had the “yips” and “completely forgot how to shoot.” Several sources continue to say that his problems are mental.
Brown and Hanlen have said Fultz is making progress.
“We’re way ahead of pace, where I thought we were going to be,” Hanlen said in a recent interview on the “Talking Schmidt Podcast.” “I thought it was going to take me at least six weeks before we had, you know, a kind of serviceable jump shot, and we’ve already started to shoot with a jump in Week 2.”
Fultz’s jumper is not perfect.
“But I think that by the end of the summer, it will be perfect,” Hanlen said, “and he’ll be back rolling and he’ll show people why he was the number one pick.”
The Sixers, however, have kind of been down this road before.
While his shot wasn’t perfect, we were told that it was serviceable when he returned to game action on March 28 against the Denver Nuggets after missing 68 games. Lacking confidence in it, Fultz came back and only attempted one three-point shot in his 13 combined regular-season and postseason appearances.
According to sources, his shot had regressed during that time. So in steps Hanlen.
— Keith Pompey (@PompeyOnSixers) June 22, 2018
The Sixers say they aren’t shopping him. However, there was a report that they had internal discussions about packing him with Nos. 10 and 26 picks to move up into the Top 5 in Thursday’s draft. And multiple league sources have said that Fultz was available to be traded.
But it’s hard to get equal value in return for trading someone relearning how to shoot. The Sixers know that. They also know that if things do come together, Fultz will be a special player. He has the potential to become the type of player they would regret trading away.
Right now, things appear to be encouraging.
But what happens if Fultz never fully regains his shooting touch? What happens if Smith is indeed the explosive player the Sixers believe he can become? What happens if Shamet shows that he can knock down threes and run an offense?
And what happens if they both play well and Fultz shoots just well enough to elevate his trade value?
That’s something to think about, right? Especially when Embiid and Simmons are perhaps the only untouchable Sixers in regards to a trade.