By: Rajan Nanavati
The latest news that Markelle Fultz is seeing medical specialists about his nebulous shoulder injury is about as noteworthy as water being wet. Because, at this point, Fultz has seen enough shoulder specialists to fill an entire insurance plan directory.
Fultz’ injury, and what it’s done to his professional psyche, has to be one of the most bizarre set of circumstances we’ve ever seen in the NBA, because we simply don’t have a precedent for this.
Don’t let the revisionist history conversation around whether Fultz should’ve been the top pick in that draft fool you. In a draft that featured Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, and Lonzo Ball, Fultz was the “no-brainer, can’t-miss” selection. It’s well-documented that the Boston Celtics were effectively all set to take Fultz with the #1 overall pick in that draft. He was coveted enough to where former Philadelphia 76ers General Manager Bryan Colangelo traded away a future top-10 pick, along with their pick in that same draft, to move up and grab him (and was mostly lauded for the move, at the time).
Whether Colangelo’s failure to understand Fultz’ shoulder situation — or any potential mental fragility that’s very much a part of this plot — was a result of pure negligence, incompetence, or overzealous-ness to acquire Fultz is another one of the great mysteries in this saga. Clearly, something of the sort spooked the Celtics enough, between the preceding NBA Finals, and the NBA Draft a few weeks later, to be willing to trade down from the top overall pick, and pass on Fultz.
In fact, that’s what makes this situation so strange. This wasn’t a case when Colangelo and the 76ers fell in love with a player’s potential in a draft where there’s no consensus “can’t-miss” prospect (think Andrea Bargnani or Anthony Bennett), or over-projecting an under-producing college player because they believe he has elite physical tools (think Andrew Wiggins). It wasn’t a case where the medical red flags were glaring, but a team took the player anyway (think Greg Oden). It wasn’t even a case where a team selected a player, only to have the rest of his teammates destroy his career before it even started (think Kwame Brown). And yet, with hindsight being 20/20, you could now look back and see elements of all three of those cases.
More than a year – and countless visits to shoulder specialists – later, the worst-kept secret in the NBA is finally out in the open for discussion: the 76ers have given up hope on resurrecting Fultz’ career in Philadelphia, and are looking to part ways with him, in exchange for anything that represents even the slightest semblance of value received in return. The problem is, knowing that Fultz’s career could very well be over before it even started, it’s hard to imagine Philadelphia getting even 20 cents on the proverbial dollar back in a trade.
When the trade was made, many saw Fultz as being the last piece of the puzzle that was “The Process.” But instead of one day watching a documentary on Colangelo finishing Sam Hinkie’s project, we might instead be watching a documentary on the tragedy that was Markelle Fultz’ NBA career.