After six weeks of silence since the decision to shut down injured point guard Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia 76ers general manager Bryan Colangelo spoke Thursday night about the condition of the No. 1 overall draft pick’s ailing right shoulder … and things sound good!
Speaking to reporters during a session following Thursday’s trade of center Jahlil Okafor, shooting guard Nik Stauskas and a 2019 second-round draft pick to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for power forward Trevor Booker, Colangelo also fielded a question about the status of Fultz, who last saw game action all the way back on Oct. 23 before being parked indefinitely to address “soreness and scapular muscle imbalance” in his right shoulder that had rendered him all but unable to shoot the ball.
In a break with Philadelphia’s consistently close-the-the-vest approach to commenting on the situation — shortly before Colangelo spoke, head coach Brett Brown told reporters that he had no update on Fultz’s shoulder beyond Wednesday’s note that the rookie had returned from undergoing physical therapy in Kentucky — Colangelo actually offered something:
Colangelo on Fultz: "The soreness is completely gone. The muscle imbalance is completely gone."
Says there's no timeline on his return, but "we anticipate that the end is near."
— Mike O'Connor (@MOConnor_NBA) December 8, 2017
It’s wonderful to hear that Fultz’s physical health has improved; frankly, it was downright difficult to watch him try to play professional basketball without wanting to shoot because his arm hurt so badly. If his arm really is back to 100 percent, the next challenge facing Brown and company will be getting Fultz right between the ears, because man, short of a season-ending injury — which, obviously, the Sixers know all about — it’s tough to draw up a rougher start to a rookie season than what Fultz has gone through thus far.
Fultz hasn’t suited up since Oct. 23, when he scored two points on 1-for-4 shooting with three assists, three turnovers, two rebounds and a steal in 16 minutes of work in Philly’s 97-86 win over the Detroit Pistons. The performance — tentative, labored, and pained for a fourth straight game — exacerbated concerns that something was seriously wrong with the former Washington standout.
The concerns began to crop up before the start of the season, when footage from Sixers training camp and preseason games showed Fultz sporting a drastically different, and significantly less successful, shooting motion than the one he’d featured while knocking down 41 percent of his 3-point tries and 65 percent of his free throws in his lone year on campus. They persisted as Fultz began his career by making only nine of his first 27 field-goal attempts — with none coming from farther than 14 feet away — and six of his first 12 free throws.
The rumblings quickly grew loud enough that neither Fultz’s camp nor the Sixers could ignore them anymore. Fultz’s agent issuing a pair of confusing and seemingly contradictory statements about what exactly was going on with his client’s right shoulder. First, Raymond Brothers said that the 19-year-old had had “fluid drained out of the back of his shoulder” before the start of the regular season and “literally cannot raise up his arms to shoot the basketball.” Several hours after that, he reversed course, saying Fultz “had a cortisone shot on Oct. 5, which means fluid was put into his shoulder — not taken out.”
A day later, the Sixers — who have had more than their fair share of issues with injuries to their top draft picks, and with a method of communicating information about those injuries that doesn’t exactly inspire much confidence in what’s going on behind the scenes — shut Fultz down. In so doing, they committed to giving 2017’s top choice — a pick the Sixers got from the Boston Celtics in exchange for 2017’s No. 1 selection (used on Jayson Tatum, who looks great) and another first-round pick in either 2018 (if the Los Angeles Lakers’ choice falls between Nos. 2 and 5) or 2019 (belonging to either Philly or the Sacramento Kings, whichever lands higher) — as much time as he needed to get right.
Colangelo said Thursday that the physical part’s done, and that while they’re not putting a timetable on the rookie, the Sixers hope that “the end is near.” Here’s hoping they’re right. It’d be good to see the real Markelle Fultz in the NBA for the first time before too long. I bet we’re going to like him.
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