Let’s get one thing straight: Markelle Fultz is not a bust. Despite the curious case of Fultz’s shoulder leading to horrendous looking jumpers and free throws, Markelle has shown flashes of greatness that infatuated NBA executives into picking him first overall.
However, since ESPN broke the news on Tuesday that Fultz has been diagnosed with neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome, it may behoove Philly to trade Fultz for a low-risk floor spacer that they desperately need.
The ailment “affects nerves between the neck and shoulder resulting in abnormal functional movement and range of motion, thus severely limiting Markelle’s ability to shoot a basketball,” said Fultz’s attorney/agent to ESPN. With this news, Fultz was also estimated to only miss anywhere between three to six weeks.
Now, I’m no doctor who is going to get into the specifics of Fultz’s ailment and physical therapy process, but this isn’t Philadelphia’s first rodeo. Fultz has seen many shoulder specialists over the past year; do the 76ers really want to spend another year with their number-one draft pick intermittently sidelined?
“Trusting the process” has done Philadelphia wonders thus far, but they’re contenders to take the east now, and with Toronto and Milwaukee looming over their heads, it may be smart for the 76ers to think about winning pronto.
Sure, the arrival of Jimmy Butler and Redick having a career year do help Philly’s spacing problem a ton, but when their first overall pick is on the bench in a suit and tie, one can’t help but think that Philly could be doing a little better. Even with Markelle on the floor, his lack of a consistent outside jumper hampers the ability for Embiid and Simmons to operate in the paint due to help defense; if Markelle is on the floor, Butler and/or Redick will have to be also. Plus, Philly’s second unit leaves a lot to be desired — Landry Shamet and Mike Muscala won’t cut it.
So, if Philly and Markelle were to part ways, what would be an ideal move for Philly?
Philadelphia should pursue a trade with the Phoenix Suns, involving a package surrounding Markelle Fultz for Trevor Ariza.
This situation works out perfectly for Philadelphia, as they would be receiving a battle-tested NBA Champion with plenty of gas in the tank — just enough to be viable for this year and potentially the next. Ariza would be the ideal fit for Philly, as he provides the “3-and-D” style of play that they desperately need; minutes wouldn’t be a problem either as Ariza’s value trumps that of Wilson Chandlers and can easily start in place of Chandler or stagger his minutes amongst the second unit.
On the other side of the spectrum, Fultz would be dealt to a team with really nothing to lose. Since the Suns are in full tank mode, they would have no qualms playing Fultz once he’s healthy. Being in a such a low risk environment would do wonders for Fultz’s development as a player. Plus, with an above-average wingspan for his position, Fultz has the tools to be the perfect lead guard to pair alongside Devin Booker.
Philadelphia is no stranger to trading top picks either when looking at the cases of Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor.
Regardless of whether Philly invests in Fultz or not, they will still be poised to be among the East’s best this year. It’s just a matter of whether they want to take the risk of either keeping Markelle Fultz or trading Markelle Fultz.
Over the course of NBA history, split decisions like these have proven to shape the careers players or the performance of teams, so Philadelphia ought to choose wisely.