How did Markelle Fultz leave you?
Sad? Relieved? Maybe a little angry?
Any or all of those feelings are valid, now that another bizarre chapter of The Process is closed.
Anyone who lived through the Andrew Bynum catastrophe in 2012-13 knows these feeling: wasted assets and wasted money on a wastrel of a player.
A massive talent, unwisely acquired, entitled and indifferent and injured and, ultimately gone.
Two years ago, when the Sixers traded up from No. 3 to No. 1 to secure the player that everyone considered the best in the draft, The Process seemed complete. For the next decade, Brett Brown would use rookie Ben Simmons as a point-forward beside Fultz, a shooter and scorer who also could play the point, as Joel Embiid dominated everything inside of 15 feet.
Even when Fultz returned from his summer workouts with a hitch in his jump shot it seemed like a typical Sixers glitch, because every Sixers pick during The Process has wound up injured. It looked like a shoulder injury, and it was diagnosed as such. At least he hadn’t broken his foot or messed up his knee.
As it turned out, Fultz was much more messed up than Embiid or Simmons ever were.
The hitch never went away.
Now, he has, in a trade Thursday, to Orlando.
Fultz, 20, played just 33 regular-season games, and he looked amazing at times. He was the first teenager to record a triple-double. He was a significant part of the final 10 games of the Sixers’ 16-game winning streak to end last season. He even played in the Sixers’ first three playoff games last year.
But he was never quite right. He rehabilitated his shoulder last season and this season but he never regained the form that enticed scouts during his lone season at Washington.
What was it? What is it? Thoracic outlet syndrome — a diagnosis of elimination — as his agent insists? Did it result from misuse or from an accident? Is it, simply, mental? Does he have the yips? Can he overcome it?
That’s somebody else’s problem now. It doesn’t matter.
But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t matter.
It’s sad that Fultz spent the first two seasons of his NBA career cast as mentally fragile, uninterested and entitled. On the same floor as the world’s greatest athletes he showed flashes of elite athleticism. He did things with the ball and with his body that other guys simply couldn’t. He understood the game. He liked to play.
It’s a relief, certainly, that the shadow Fultz no longer darkens a corner of the franchise. The team is off the hook for the $9.745 million he is owed next season. Brett Brown is off the hook because he no longer has to think about how Fultz would complicate the lineup if he ever returned. His teammates, who genuinely like him, are off the hook, because they no longer have to address his presence or his absence. General manager Elton Brand is off the hook, having almost completely erased the sour aftertaste left by his Twittergate predecessor, Bryan Colangelo.
Colangelo will never be off the hook, and that might start to make you angry.
Colangelo the Younger (his daddy, Jerry, hired him to run the Sixers in 2016) will always be the guy who got duped by Danny Ainge, perhaps the basketball figure most despised by Philadelphians, which only increases the ire. It was Ainge who convinced Colangelo to trade a first-round pick to move up, and after the Celtics picked Jayson Tatum, it was Ainge who convinced everyone that he wanted Tatum all along, which further boils the blood. The entire flavor of the Fultz saga always was and always will be poisoned by the reality that the Celtics not only knew better, but that Tatum led them to a second-round playoff series win over the Sixers as Fultz watched from the bench.
Worse than any and all of that: Fultz was never fully invested. Which is infuriating.
He was never in the sort of shape NBA players need to be in. He cruised through maintenance workouts. He acted as though the NBA was lucky to have him.
His notoriously defiant and cryptic tweets and retweets accurately portrayed a petulant, paranoid kid unprepared for life on his own, much less life in the NBA, with its freedoms, riches and temptations.
Sheltered and enabled by an inner circle that held him accountable for nothing, he was accountable to no one.
And he simply could not handle failure.
In November, the Sixers acquired Jimmy Butler in a move that pushed Fultz out of the starting lineup, where he had spent the first 15 games, without merit. The morning of his first game as a reserve, Fultz retweeted one of his tweets from January of 2018: “You can’t trust NO ONE!”
About the same time, Fultz fired his offseason coach, Drew Hanlen, after Hanlen tweeted that Fultz was not completely healthy, a tweet Hanlen quickly deleted. Hanlen did not specify whether Fultz’s issues were mental or physical.
Four games later Fultz’s agent, Raymond Brothers, pulled Fultz out of the rotation because Brothers insisted that Fultz was injured. After a series of visits to specialists, two weeks later Fultz was diagnosed with TOS. He has not played since, and he hasn’t even been around the team; he has spent most of that time rehabilitating in Los Angeles.
In total, the Sixers spent two first-round picks and about $15 million in salary for 36 games from Fultz, including playoffs. They spent untold energy trying to develop him and accommodate him and turn him into a professional. They wasted what they spent.
So, yes, feel relieved that Fultz is out of the Sixers’ hair. And yes, anger is a valid feeling concerning Fultz.
It’s probably the dominant feeling.
It shouldn’t be.