CLEVELAND – There are few things that are certain in the NBA, but Markelle Fultz and the 76ers being better off without each other is one of them.
The 2017 first-overall pick needs a fresh start on a team that will make him the starting point guard. The change of scenery could also help him overcome the negative stigma that comes with failing to live up to the lofty expectations of others.
The Sixers need to cut their losses and move past what has become a major distraction during a successful season.
But the team is in no rush to trade Fultz.
A lot of that has to do with his dwindling trade value combined with the ownership group’s philosophy of not giving up assets for zilch. The ownership group also isn’t in total agreement with what do with Fultz, according to league sources.
Should they just cut their losses and take in an expiring contract at the appropriate time? Would it better to wait and see if the well-liked Fultz can overcome his shooting woes and get past the things that’s made his tenure a huge distraction?
After all, the Sixers did trade up two spots and give up a future first-round pick to the Boston Celtics to select him first overall. That’s why some in the ownership group, which doesn’t like to look bad, are now pondering if it’s too early to give up on a guy that had so much promise at the University of Washington.
They view his becoming a star for another team worse than him remaining a Sixer and continuing to struggle. Former general manager Bryan Colangelo, who drafted Fultz, would get the blame in the latter scenario. However, the front-office holdovers and ownership group would have to look at themselves in the mirror if they trade Fultz for next to nothing and he goes on to become the star they thought he was going to be when they drafted him.
Perhaps that’s why, at this time, the Sixers are unwilling to settle for just any deal.
A league source said the Sixers don’t want to part ways with Fultz unless a first-round pick is packaged in a deal for him. And they’re not talking about a late first-rounder, either.
League executives believe the Sixers will settle for less as it gets closer to the Feb. 7 trade deadline, because there really isn’t a trade market for Fultz right now. There’s too much skepticism surrounding his shooting woes and his shoulder issues.
Raymond Brothers, Fultz’s agent, announced on Dec. 4 that Fultz was diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Brothers said the condition is the reason for Fultz’s shooting woes and that his client will remain sidelined at least three to six weeks. Fultz is spending time working out with former Lakers physical therapist Judy Seto in Los Angeles.
Six weeks from Dec. 4 is Jan. 15. Including the 11 games he’s already missed, Fultz will be sidelined for at least 25 games if it goes the full six weeks. Fultz hasn’t played since Nov. 19.
Fultz has already been sidelined a total of 79 games, dating back to last season. After going along with Fultz’s shoulder ailment last season, the Sixers appear to be unsure of what to believe anymore this season.
As a result, there are only a few teams, maybe 10, that would take a chance on Fultz.
Those are teams that are not free-agent destinations and/or teams that won’t get a top pick.
Other teams could sell Fultz to their fan base by saying we just traded for the No. 1 pick in the draft. They can boast about basically getting him for nothing. Teams like the Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic, and at one point the Phoenix Suns, were the perfect spots for him.
A team like the Miami Heat, who are over the cap and can’t sign free agents, can take a chance on him with a solid culture. Teams like that aren’t scared of Fultz’s $9.7 million salary for next season or having to decide on picking up his fourth-year option in October.
They’ll have the rest of this season to evaluate him even if he’s not playing. They can diagnose what’s wrong with his shot. They’ll even have the summer and the 2019-20 preseason to look at him. That’s enough time to decide if you want to pick up his option.
A league source said the Detroit Pistons were among three teams to reach out to the Sixers to inquire about Fultz’s availability. As of Friday night, the Sixers have not had any serious discussions with teams about moving the 20-year-old.
The Sixers, who have an open roster spot, could even wait until the February trade deadline or the buyout market to add a player.
The thought is the Sixers will have more serious discussions once it becomes apparent certain teams will be eliminated from the postseason. Those teams will look to unload desirable players in the final year of their contracts in exchange to take a look at Fultz.
For the Sixers, trading for a player in the final year of his contract would enable them to avoid taking on another contract and save the $9.7 million that Fultz is guaranteed for next season.
Jimmy Butler is expected to opt out of the final season of his deal. The money saved by trading Fultz could allow the Sixers to add another top free agent in addition to re-signing Butler.
But there are some risks with waiting too long.
If Fultz remains on the roster past the trade deadline, they would have a tough time getting rid of his salary.
If they want to keep his 2019-20 salary under that scenario, the Sixers would have to trade him to a team with available cap space, a player with a team option next season, or a non-guaranteed contract.
And even if they made a trade right before the deadline, the trade market could dry up the longer they wait.
That what’s happened when the Sixers traded Evan Turner at the 2014 trade deadline.
They turned down several offers while waiting until the Feb. 20 deadline to trade the 2010 second-overall pick. They ended up packaging him and Lavoy Allen to the Indiana Pacers for Danny Granger’s expiring contract and the 60th and final pick of the 2015 draft. Granger never played for the Sixers, who bought out his contract.
So they definitely have a decision to make.