Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Sixers failed Markelle Fultz by giving him an unearned spot in starting lineup | Marcus Hayes

They pushed their young guard to save face. Now, there's egg all over it.

Markelle Fultz and T.J. McConnell talk on the bench during the Sixers' loss to the Cavaliers on Friday.
Markelle Fultz and T.J. McConnell talk on the bench during the Sixers' loss to the Cavaliers on Friday.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

Markelle Fultz continued his strike Friday night. Don't expect it to end any time soon.

It didn't have to come to this. The Fultz saga didn't have to disintegrate into this distasteful stew of misinformation, deceit, and humiliation.

It did, though, because the Sixers felt they had to save face. Having failed in their attempt to lure a star to Philadelphia to join The Process, Brett Brown put Fultz in the starting lineup. He cast Fultz as a shooting guard, except he can't shoot, or won't shoot, or forgot how to shoot. Fultz started in front of JJ Redick, one of the best shooters of a generation. He was a punchline for more than a month.

It's been easy to agree with pretty much every decision Brown has made in the tumultuous six seasons he has been the face and voice of this dysfunctionally reconstructed franchise. But from Game 1 this season it was impossible to agree with this decision. Brown should have kept Fultz on the bench. Fultz should have earned his way onto the court, like everyone else.

Now he's not on the court at all.

Fultz did not play against the Pelicans on Wednesday, sat again Friday against the Cavaliers, and won't play Sunday in Brooklyn.

The team says he is healthy. Raymond Brothers, his agent, says he is not. Brothers told The Athletic on Tuesday that Fultz will not play again until his shoulder is examined by a specialist in New York City on Monday (where the shoulders of No. 1 overall NBA picks in the middle of their season apparently cannot be squeezed in ahead of the general populace). The Athletic then reported Wednesday that Fultz's wrist hurts, too, and he wants to be traded.

Little wonder the Dallas Cowboys are mocking Markelle. In a touchdown celebration on Thanksgiving evening, receiver Amari Cooper mimicked the latest mechanism Fultz is using to help improve his free-throw stroke. Fultz, who uses Twitter as public therapy, seemed to take the taunt in good humor.

Maybe his humor is not so good. Less than 24 hours later Fultz posted a religious tweet condemning his enemies.

And, of course, there is his pinned re-tweet from earlier this month, in which Fultz declares his mistrust of everyone, after his personal shooting coach tweeted that Fultz is not healthy, and after the Sixers traded for Jimmy Butler.

Fultz clearly feels betrayed, which makes sense. We all were led to believe Fultz was much closer to competence than he really is. Fultz knew he would struggle. It was painful to watch.

We watched him start first halves but come off the bench behind Redick in second halves, and get benched in the games' final minutes. We watched him refuse to take three-pointers (he has tried only 14 and made four). We watched him spasm and pitty-pat and air-ball free throws (he's 21-for-37, 56.8 percent).

Finally, we watched him get benched Monday in favor of reserve point guard T.J. McConnell. This prompted the sudden concern about Fultz's shoulder, and unearthed a wrist injury that appeared out of nowhere.

All to save a little face. To make true something that clearly was false.

For weeks this summer we heard how hoops guru Drew Hanlen was reconstructing Fultz's jumper. Brown told us Fultz took 150,000 shots. How many went in? Six? Because that's how many he has made between 16 and 24 feet this season. This summer, Hanlen said Fultz had the shooting yips; then, the day after a particularly shameful shooting display from Fultz on Nov. 4, Hanlen tweeted that Fultz wasn't "healthy." Hanlen didn't specify if Fultz's health problems were mental or physical. Fultz has since reportedly distanced himself from Hanlen.

None of this would have happened if Fultz hadn't started. Fultz was never equipped to deal with this sort of scrutiny, mockery, and shame. Brown put a petulant, entitled kid in a position to fail.

Why? Because Fultz had to play the role of consolation prize. The Sixers didn't land LeBron, Kawhi, or Paul George, so, having failed in their star-hunting expedition, the Sixers immediately made Fultz the star they would develop, even if he wasn't ready.

There was no good reason to put Fultz, a ball-dominant point guard who can't shoot, in the starting lineup with Ben Simmons — a ball-dominant point guard who can't shoot. There was no logical reason for it. It was irresponsible. Now, it's a disaster.

Don't blame Fultz. He's 20. You'd be blaming a kid who didn't make the varsity team as a high school sophomore and shot to the top of the draft after one season at Washington. You'd be blaming a kid who would still be a junior in college if he was 6-feet tall and not 6-5.

You'd be blaming a kid who, between the 2017 draft and training camp, got bad coaching from a buddy, injured his shoulder, lost his confidence, and played just 17 games as a rookie, including playoffs. He was then benched after three playoff games. Then he had to watch a bunch of other kids win a playoff round; then, worse, lose a playoff round to the Celtics, led by Jayson Tatum, who was taken two spots behind Fultz after the Sixers swapped picks and threw in a first-rounder to move up.

Numbers haunt him. Fultz is shooting 27.8 percent from 16 feet to three-point range. He has taken 36 of those shots in 19 games.

Tatum is shooting 37.3 percent from that range. He has taken 126 of those shots in 18 games. No, Fultz and Tatum don't play the same position, but both were drafted for their scoring ability. Besides, whom do you think most people are comparing Fultz to these days? Whom do you think Fultz is comparing himself to?

Fultz might look bad right now, but the Sixers look ridiculous. Already, their usage of him has been a disaster. If Fultz returns with a diagnosis that explains his failure to launch,  then the team's new medical staff, complete with a brilliant chief doctor stolen from FC Barcelona last year, will have mucho huevos on its face.

And rest assured, Fultz could be as fit as a fiddle, but he's not coming back from a New York City specialist with a clean bill of health.

Who ever does?