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In a surprise to team, Sixers’ Markelle Fultz to miss time, see specialist for shoulder

That Fultz was having shoulder issues to the point that he would require medical attention was news to the Sixers on Tuesday, when his agent called general manager Elton Brand.

Markelle Fultz goes up against the Suns' Devin Booker during Monday's win.
Markelle Fultz goes up against the Suns' Devin Booker during Monday's win.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

The Markelle Fultz saga continues.

The 76ers' 2017 No. 1 overall draft pick will see a shoulder specialist on Monday in New York and will not take part in team practices or games until he has been evaluated. The Athletic was first to report the news.

Fultz will see the specialist at the direction of Raymond Brothers, his agent, who was referred to as "his attorney" in the original report.

That Fultz was having shoulder issues to the point that he would require medical attention was news to the Sixers on Tuesday, when Brothers called general manager Elton Brand.

"I spoke to Raymond Brothers this morning and he stated that his recommendation was for Markelle to see a doctor in New York for a consultation," Brand said. "He will not practice or play in a game until he does that. I said, 'OK, when is that?' He said it was Monday. Then we got off the phone."

Fultz participated in light shooting with the Sixers on Tuesday even after his agent said he would not. One would assume the second-year guard will miss at least three games with the scheduled appointment in New York, beginning with Wednesday night's visit by the New Orleans Pelicans. However, his agent's message didn't stop him from attending Tuesday's informal workout.

"We've allowed Markelle to see many specialists as our recommendation, Raymond's recommendation, his agent's recommendation; that's who Raymond is," Brand said. "Raymond's job is different than my job. Raymond's job is to do what he thinks is best for his client. My job is to continue our positive trend and try to get deeper into the playoffs."

In Fultz's absence, T.J. McConnell will receive the bulk of the backup point guard duties, with rookie Landry Shamet also available to play point if necessary.

Just two weeks ago, Fultz, Brett Brown, and Brand were assuring reporters that Fultz was as healthy as an NBA player could be, with just minor bumps and bruises.

"Something that kept him medically off the court? No, not that we knew of, that he couldn't play and play at a high level," Brand said of any knowledge of an injury.

Brown and the Sixers staff have been operating under information from their own medical team that the scapular muscle imbalance that Fultz suffered last season was completely resolved and no longer an issue. Though Fultz has seen specialists and been treated for general soreness, no one in the Sixers organization said they had any indication that there was any underlying issue.

"I mean, really, it's kind of the first real sort of red-flag-type news," Brown said Tuesday. "I played him 20-something minutes four days ago and I thought he played OK. In fact, I thought he did well."

Less than 24 hours before the news broke that Fultz would see a shoulder specialist in New York, Brown sounded more unsure than he ever has about Fultz.

In Monday's 119-114 win over the Phoenix Suns, Brown played McConnell instead of Fultz throughout the second half. When asked after the game whether he would continue playing McConnell as the backup point guard, Brown was noncommittal.

"I don't know. I don't know," he said.

>> DAVID MURPHY: Fultz news is another bizarre twist in a saga that is wearing thin

It was a big shift from the answers Brown usually gives about Fultz. The coach historically has been more upbeat in his explanations, saying that decisions between McConnell and Fultz or about putting Fultz in the starting lineup are determined by matchup or a desire to grow Fultz and instill confidence.

A trailing admission of uncertainty was a noticeable change in tone.

Brand said he did discuss some "on-court stuff" with Brothers during their conversation, but Brand said he steered the conversation in the direction of the scheduled appointment.

"Do I find the timing odd?" Brand said when asked whether this news, coming the day after Fultz was benched in the second half of a game, seemed suspect. He paused before answering.

"Whatever Markelle wants at this time, his timing, it is what it is," he said. "I can't say there's a direct correlation, and I don't want to speculate. But I got the call this morning and let coach Brown know and let my staff know."

Brand was visibly unhappy to be discussing yet another Fultz mystery when he should be celebrating a blockbuster trade and the success of his team with newly acquired Jimmy Butler.

This all comes after a year of what has been one of the strangest stories in the NBA.

Drafted because of his ability to shoot and create, the 20-year-old began showing a change in his shooting form. Then, unexpectedly, he was shut down for 68 games. He returned to play the final 10 games of the 2017-18 regular season. In those games, he never shot from distance.

His time away from the court was shrouded in speculation. The team said he was dealing with a shoulder injury, but there were multiple reports that Fultz's issues were not physical.

He spent his summer with trainer Drew Hanlen, who also works with players such as Joel Embiid and Jayson Tatum. It was rumored Fultz had regained his mojo — or at least was on the path to reclaiming the skills that made him the top pick. Hanlen declared publicly and loudly that Fultz would be playing at an All-Star level.

Fultz's reluctance from distance in the first few games of this season and some questionable and jaw-dropping free-throw attempts have left many wondering whether he'll ever return to what he was in college at Washington.

On Nov. 6, Fultz disputed a tweet sent out by Hanlen that suggested Fultz was still not healthy. Soon after that, Fultz cut ties with Hanlen.

For Brown, the latest in the Fultz mystery is just one of many unusual things he has had to deal with at the helm of the Sixers. From players who rarely take the court in their rookie year because of injuries to Twitter scandals and multiple GMs.

"You know what, our definition of normal in this building and our program is probably different than most, and I'm personally fine with it," he said. "You just roll. You have to absorb things and move and it's just one more example as you do this job, that if the base is strong, and the culture is strong, and the belief and the things that we're doing on-court, off-court are strong, then you can take things like this and move along."