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Markelle Fultz expects to return in 2019 after rehab

An on-court Philadelphia 76ers and Markelle Fultz reunion, which was previously in doubt, seems likely to occur later this season.

The Philadelphia 76ers and Markelle Fultz are on uncertain terms after the 2017 No. 1 pick was diagnosed with Neurogenic Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, which is caused by compressed nerves between the ribs and neck.

Fultz is currently undergoing physical therapy in Los Angeles, where he’s working with Judy Seto — former therapist for Kobe Bryant and Elton Brand, the current Sixers GM. In a recent interview, Brand expressed doubt regarding Fultz’s status for the 2018-19 season.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi, however, Fultz and his agent believe the point guard will return to action sometime in the new year, giving the Sixers another chance to evaluate their once-priced asset. Woj also notes the Sixers are holding off on trades for the time being.

Fultz’s agent, Raymond Brothers, also told Woj the physical therapy has led to “improvement” in his range of motion, something that was obviously deteriorating in the games leading up to Fultz’s impromptu departure.

If the physical therapy provides a permanent resolution to Fultz’s shoulder woes — and hey, the Mayo Clinic says TOS is treatable via physical therapy — the Sixers could get a pleasant surprise down the stretch. One that pushes them closer to Boston and Toronto in the Eastern Conference hierarchy.

While it feels almost impossible to raise expectations for Fultz, a healthy No. 1 pick gives the Sixers another gear. Whether it’s in the starting lineup or a sixth man role, a legitimate comboguard who can space the floor, create his own shot and defend massively improves the team’s overall depth.

Of course, it’s best to temper expectations. Fultz presumably hasn’t experienced comfortable range of motion in his shoulder since 2017. He also re-leanred his shooting mechanics over the summer, prior to reverting to bad habits and receiving his latest diagnosis.

Even if Fultz gets healthy, it will likely take time for him to comfortably shoot threes on a regular basis. His confidence will almost certainly improve — and we’ve seen him add value with playmaking, defense and rebounding — but it will take time for Fultz to reach 100 percent on offense.

It’s wise for the Sixers to keep Fultz on the roster for now. Even with a near-$10 million cap hit next season, Fultz’s upside outweighs the potential reward in almost every imaginable trade scenario.

Unless the Sixers can legitimately move the needle toward title contention, there’s no reason to make a trade for short-term gains. Fultz continues to work hard, his teammates are supportive, and he was the top pick under two years ago. It’s worth riding out another season.

In the absolute worst-case scenario, the Sixers can trade or stretch Fultz over the summer in an effort to clear max cap space. That’s only necessary if one or two major free agents decide Philadelphia is their preferred destination.

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With all that in mind, expect Fultz to stick around for another season. Things change quickly in the NBA — and Woj did note the Sixers have fielded offers for Fultz — but right now, the signs point toward Markelle staying in a PHILA uniform.

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