Focus shifts from joy of Jimmy Butler to concern over Markelle Fultz


CAMDEN, N.J. — Tuesday was supposed to be about Jimmy Butler and his introductory press conference at the Sixers' practice facility. 

There were donuts with Butler’s likeness on them and just about every team employee — save for the players and coaches — was in attendance.

But once the obligatory new jersey photo op concluded, the focus shifted to Markelle Fultz.

On Monday night, Fultz uncorked one of the oddest free throws in NBA history. After the game, he claimed the ball “slipped” out of his hands (see story), but there’s been a notable hitch in his shot from the line recently.

“It would have been concerning if he didn’t come back and shoot three more shots and look really fluid,” Brand said. “I was actually proud that he came back, hit a shot and did what he did out there after that, because he deals with a lot. He’s 20 years old. And like I said, very talented. It’s our role, my job, to get the best out of him.”

Of course, it wasn’t just Monday’s bizarre free-throw attempt that’s cause for concern. The Sixers traded for the rights to draft Fultz because they believed he was a perfect complement to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. They envisioned Fultz becoming the team’s third star.

Then over the weekend, in the midst of Fultz having an uneven second season, Brand pulled off arguably the biggest trade in franchise history since Moses Malone in 1982. He went star hunting instead of waiting on star development.

Brand was adamant that the trade was not an indictment of Fultz, rather an opportunity he wanted to jump at with the East improving. On a team that already had championship aspirations before the Butler trade, Fultz seems out of place. A 20-year-old guard trying to find his game doesn’t seem like a fit on a team with visions of the NBA Finals.

“I still think it’s the best place for him to develop because we love him and we care,” Brand said. “He’s with us, he’s a part of us. If he goes somewhere else, I don’t know what that looks like. For him to develop, it may be the best place for him still.”

Fultz insists the issues with his shot last season were the result of the scapular imbalance. This season, he believes it’s just a matter of his shot needing to get better with more reps. He’s denounced his (former?) trainer Drew Hanlen’s comments that he had the “yips.”

Watching Fultz through 15 games, the issues look like they’re in his head. As Brand alluded to, you’ll often see Fultz throw up an ugly jumper and then follow it up with a perfect stroke a play or two later. 

Butler has seen Fultz and knows the talent and effort are there. 

“I think that, from what I can tell, a lot of things are mental,” Butler said when asked about Fultz’s struggles. “In this league, I think 90 percent of it is mental. If you think you can do something you really can. I know how hard he works because I'm in L.A. and I know that he comes by there and trains. I know some of the people that know him and they tell me how great he wants to be. 

“As long as he's going hard and giving his all out every day, the guy has my respect. I just want him to go out there, play hard, be who he is, stick to his strengths and I know he's just going to thrive. He's going to be successful.”

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