The German currency in 1923.
Florida real estate before the advent of air conditioning.
A ticket to the next Fyre Festival.
All of these things were worth more than Markelle Fultz at this year’s NBA trade deadline. But that shouldn’t be much of a newsflash to anybody who had been following the recent machinations of the Sixers and their one-time No. 1 overall pick. No, the damning part of the news that broke around 3 o’clock on Thursday afternoon was the realization that Fultz’s rock-bottom value did not matter to the team. They did not care what they got for him. They just wanted to see him gone.
You can argue that framing it like that is an exaggeration. In receiving a likely late first-round pick and fourth-year wing Jonathon Simmons, the Sixers at least landed a pair of assets that give them more present-day value than they were getting from Fultz. While Simmons might be shooting a cool .229 from three-point range this season, and while he might be unlikely to crack the upcoming playoff rotation, he will at least be available to play in the event of foul trouble or some Bird Box-ian phenomenon in which the Sixers wake up to find half of their roster missing. At the very least, he was playing in basketball games for the Magic, which is something Fultz had not done for the Sixers since checking himself out of commission in mid-November without so much as a hint at when he might be ready to return.
Likewise, the future first-round pick the Sixers acquired has about as much of a chance at playing a meaningful role in this year’s postseason as Fultz would have had. And while that percentage may be zero for this season, the Sixers did manage to parlay a late first-round pick in this season’s draft into a player who made a meaningful contribution on the court for four months and then a meaningful contribution off of it when the Sixers included him in the package that landed them Tobias Harris earlier this week. Sure, the odds say the pick is just as likely to become Anzejs Pasecniks as it is Landry Shamet. In fact, the pick has already become Pasecniks once, as it is the pick the Sixers once traded to the Magic in exchange for the draft rights to the player, who has been stashed overseas since and seems likely to remain so in perpetuity. But at least there’s a chance of it amounting to something.
The remarkable thing is that the Sixers apparently decided that, however slim the chance of that late first-round pick contributing meaningful value in the future, it was greater than the chance that Fultz himself would do so. As the trade deadline approached, a casual poll of public opinion suggested that the Sixers fan base was split into three camps. One was in favor of trading Fultz for a real asset with tangible present day value or significant future value. Another was in favor of trading him for the best available offer, even if that meant settling for a rental player on an expiring contract who would help the Sixers during this year’s stretch run. A third faction thought it self-evidential that the Sixers should hang on to Fultz, given that his value was at its nadir and whatever limited upside he had was still guaranteed to be more than whatever marginal package the Sixers could muster in return.
In the end, none of the three contingents got their wish. When all is said and done, the most meaningful return the Sixers ended up getting in this trade could very well have been the opportunity to have it overshadowed by the blockbuster deal they’d just swung with the Clippers.
You got the sense that Fultz’s days were numbered earlier this week when Brett Brown responded to a question about Fultz’s future in his rotation by saying that, rather than having him penciled in as an eventual contributor, the head coach instead hoped he would end up being “pleasantly surprised." Two months after Fultz’s self-selected -- and still unnamed -- specialists diagnosed him with thoracic outlet syndrome, the Sixers had all but given up on the hope that the rookie and his inner circle would end up overcoming whatever has robbed him of his mojo. At least, they decided, it wasn’t going to happen here, in Philadelphia.
From a human standpoint, everybody’s hope should be that a change of scenery ends up offering some semblance of a cure. It is hard to find anybody outside of Fultz’s circle of personal confidants who thinks that his problems are strictly physical in nature. Maybe this sort of move will relieve some of the pressure has no doubt confronted since the Sixers traded up from No. 3 to select him with the top overall pick in the 2017 draft. Maybe it will serve as a wake up call for the people who have been feeding him advice over the last couple of years.
Whatever the case, it is no longer the Sixers’ concern. You cannot make a sunk cost float, and Elton Brand and the ownership group clearly decided that Fultz was irredeemably bad money.
A mistake was made. All the Sixers can do now is try to overcome it.