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Man, is it a jumble of emotions and triggers when there’s a new clip of Markelle Fultz basketball action circulating around the Internet. It’s the summer, and it’s officially Grainy Video Season, so there’s really no choice but to watch, and it’s virtually impossible not to find yourself having the same internal (and external) discussions we had for nearly two seasons when Fultz was here. Well, his shooting form still doesn’t look great… but does it matter if the shot’s going in?... and geez he looks serious spinning and maneuvering with the ball... maybe he doesn’t even need to be a reliable shooter to be good for us?
The “for us” part still feels real, even though we traded him at last year’s deadline for Jonathan Simmons, a protected OKC first and an ORL second we traded in the deal for Mathisse Thybulle. Google “Fultz video” and the first few results that come up are Philly sports blogs. After two years, dozens of weird news updates and hundreds of videos like this to be pored over for the slightest clue of what the fuck might be going on -- tweet about it now and you’ll still get a couple truthers and conspiracy theorists popping off in the replies -- Sixers fans remain far more invested in the outcome of the Markelle Fultz odyssey than anyone. A lot of Magic fans (?) probably forget he’s even on the team.
But what are we even hoping for that outcome to end up being? There’s really no honest answer to that question, at least that I’ve found. Attempting magnanimity is tempting, and truthfully I don’t think there are many Process Trusters who actively want Markelle Fultz to suffer over the remainder of his NBA career. He was hardly a problem child while he was here, and his teammates clearly loved him, and continue to stick up for him to this day -- if Kevin Pritchard offered T.J. McConnell the chance to knock a million and change off his Indiana salary so they could take a flyer on Fultz, Teej would probably be too busy planning the Hoosiers viewing party at his new house to haggle over the details. It’s not like Markelle didn’t try to do good here.
Does that mean we’re really rooting for him to succeed in Orlando, though? Well, you tell me how you’re feeling watching that video. Is there a part of you that’s more than a little bit relieved that his shot still seems to have some degree of hitchiness to it, that its alignment still looks off, that your body still kinda reflexively winces at the sight of it, because that’s just not really what a good jumper is supposed to look like? How do you think you would feel if instead, in that video, the shooting form on his pull up suddenly looked indistinguishable from Damian Lillard? What if, after two years of almost unprecedented frustration, with no root cause and no obvious path to improvement, he suddenly looked cured?
Sixers fans will never have a simple relationship with Markelle Fultz. We all wanted so badly for him to succeed here, but the fact that his time here was defined by off-court mystery and not on-court production means that he feels less like a basketball player in our memory than a talking point, a political debate. And while I don’t think many fans turned on him as a person while he was here, he didn’t do a ton to let us in, either -- he kept his struggles at a distance from fans, letting his primary communication on the matter be vague, defensive tweets like “Haters going Hate!!” and “You really can’t trust NO ONE !!.” The latter is still pinned to his page over a year and a half later.
So while we all want the best for Markelle Fultz in theory, I’m not sure that we really have the stomach for it in practice. The fact that we traded him for a B-side and a couple SoundCloud-only freestyles doesn’t exactly leave us secure in the feeling that we were better off trading him regardless, especially when we could still really use a dynamic scoring guard in our rotation, even just off the bench. Bringing him was a Colangelo call, but it was our current front office that cut bait with him; if it turns out to be a disastrous decision, we don’t get to write that off as Sins of the Father(s). If Fultz realizes his All-Star potential in Orlando, it will probably haunt this franchise forever.
None of that is to say that Fultz flopping on the Magic would feel all that much better, though. Even if there’s some solace in the reassurance that he didn’t magically flip the Lillard switch over the summer, him still struggle to shoot like a regular NBA player still feels weird, uncomfortable, wrong. Watching Fultz take his jumper this way is like remembering every nagging doubt, insecurity and fear that never leaves the back of your head, forever holding you back from realizing your best self. Watching that video is remembering that feeling that nothing will ever be totally all right. It’s a terrible, terrible feeling, and one that most Process Trusters wouldn’t wish on Aron Baynes in the middle of a 6-7 shooting night from deep.
What is there for Sixers fans to do with Markelle Fultz in his post-Philly career, then? Not much. The front office can talk as much as they want about wishing Markelle nothing but the best -- and they might not have had much of a choice in the first place -- but by dealing him early in his career for a couple loosies, they essentially placed a big bet on him never becoming a normal basketball player. We have to live with the emotional consequences of that decision, as well as the decision to trade for him in the first place, as well as all the other drama (trauma?) he endured while here, which we can still feel the reverberations of as acutely as ever.
What outcome can we hope for with Markelle Fultz? That one day, someone will post one of his offseason videos, and we won’t even be tempted to click on it.