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Markelle Fultz to see a shoulder specialist

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A familiar pattern in a perplexing story

The Markelle Fultz saga begins another chapter today, as The Athletic’s David Aldridge has reported that Fultz will see a shoulder specialist next week:

Around and around we go.

The first time Fultz’s agent Raymond Brothers made headlines regarding Fultz’s shoulder issue, we received this curious quote, delivered by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. It came right around the time everyone was trying to figure out what was going on with Fultz’s bizarre new shooting form in October 2017. Here was Brothers, apparently swooping in for some damage control:

Of course Sixers obsessed fans on Reddit suspected this wasn’t true because of videos like these. By February, news that Fultz never really stopped shooting (even on the day Brothers made those claims) was made mainstream by the PhillyVoice’s Kyle Neubeck.

Eventually, Brothers would revise, via ESPN, his ludicrous statement and said that Fultz was given a cortisone shot. Fluid in not out.

Fultz was shut down from game-play around that time last year, and made no public comments until around February of 2018.

There was a line from The Athletic’s Shouldergate article from October by Derek Bodner that seems to have been quite prescient: “If the Sixers weren’t willing to be forceful enough that his shoulder left him unable to shoot, Fultz’s camp would.”

No doubt frustrated with the lack of adequate expectation-setting and insulation by the team, agent Raymond Brothers appeared to have stepped up to try to better protect his marquis client again last winter.

This time he set up a TNT interview, without the knowledge of the Sixers Communication Staff where his other client Caron Butler, interviewed Fultz, and said “you have a case of Scapular Dyskinesis, you know from reports from the doctors.”

The team has never used this injury name, nor were they even asked to confirm or deny it per public transcripts at the team press-conference a few days later. Liberty Ballers has been told that this is indeed a diagnosis he was given around that time.

Which brings us to today. Fultz’s minutes have plummeted since the team’s acquisition of Jimmy Butler. Fultz has played just 21, 14, 19, and 7 minutes in his last four appearances since the trade that sent Robert Covington, Dario Šarić, and a 2022 second round pick for Butler two weekends ago.

Fultz’s shot has even regressed recently from what little progress he had made this summer. Fultz has been included in numerous trade-scenarios in the news recently, as Butler’s fit has taken the team’s need for floor spacing and shooting from “desperate” to “panic-mode.”

And finally, backup point guard T.J. McConnell who has been supportive and professional as the team has reduced his own role this season (in an attempt to develop Fultz), saw his first game action in 3 contests last night vs. the Suns and performed well.

Tea Leaves

If one were to read the tea-leaves, an extended absence for Fultz, purportedly to seek further opinion on his shoulder, comes at a convenient time to avoid that his head coach may be drastically reducing his role in the game plan and his front office may be actively considering trade scenarios.

This does not mean that Fultz could not benefit from time away from the team. This does not mean that taking some measures to learn more about his situation isn’t the right thing. This does not mean he doesn’t have an injury even though he may also have issues with his confidence.

But it does fit the familiar sequence we’ve now seen: when Fultz hits public low-points, his agent (or attorney?) comes to his rescue with at times absurd exaggerated descriptions of his shoulder issue that the team often doesn’t back up.

Final Angle

If the team is shopping him, is this a way to keep him healthy for an impending trade sometime between today and the NBA trade deadline? The key dates are December 15th and January 15th when handfuls of recently signed players become eligible to be moved. Or did the team not even know about this development? Even if it’s the latter it does not mean this cannot work out for everyone involved. Consider:

it’s possible this trip to NYC A) saves Fultz some of the embarrassment of being deactivated in the lineup, B) keeps him healthy as those dates approach, and C) allows complete due-diligence as he undergoes further medical evaluation.

The decision may be multi-purpose and helpful even if a bit transparent in its timing. Regardless, it’s one familiar pattern in a very perplexing saga.