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Markelle Fultz needs time outside the limelight

The Philadelphia 76ers will be without Markelle Fultz for at least a week. Maybe it should be longer.

Since adding Jimmy Butler, the Philadelphia 76ers are 3-1, including narrow victories over Utah, Charlotte and Phoenix. The addition seems to be working, with Butler adjusting well to his role next to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

One byproduct of that move, however, was Markelle Fultz‘s return to the bench. The 20-year-old’s season hit a new low Monday night, playing just seven first-half minutes before watching T.J. McConnell absorb his playing time. Now Brett Brown isn’t sure who the backup point guard is.

Being the Sixers, though, the news didn’t stop there. According to The Athletic’s David Aldridge, Fultz is scheduled to visit a shoulder specialist early next week. He won’t play or practice until then. There has been mounting speculation over Fultz’s health in recent days, but that shouldn’t be the main story.

It’s clear Fultz is going through a difficult and trying time, both in his career and his life in general. Most people his age are in college or just entering the workforce, not being dragged on national television for something that’s largely out of  his control.

After a year-plus of reporting, we still don’t know the full story behind Fultz’s injury and how it happened. We do know he received poor advice from his former trainer Keith Williams, missed 68 games his rookie season, and went on to work with Drew Hanlen over the summer.

Now the Hanlen connection is gone, with someone in Fultz’s camp confronting Hanlen over the lack of expected results. Expectations never should have been high, but Hanlen didn’t do Fultz any favors with his lengthy social media campaign.

It also appears as though Fultz was pressured into working with Hanlen, who again, didn’t handle Fultz’s unique situation with the proper delicacy.

Fultz has endured questionable decisions from those around him, as well as unfortunate issues with his shoulder. We’ve also seen him shy away from the three-point line and tinker with his free throws, which suggests there are probably some mental blocks he needs to get over.

That doesn’t make Fultz a head case, or someone who lacks the toughness to succeed in the NBA. It means he’s dealing with an unprecedented injury situation that, for obvious reasons, is affecting his confidence.

He lost shooting touch for reasons that aren’t his fault. He worked his entire life to get drafted first overall, only to see his game (and situation) devolve into unmitigated chaos. Nobody really knows what’s going on, and there’s a good chance Fultz is in the very same boat.

With all that in mind, it’s becoming abundantly clear that Fultz’s current situation isn’t working. Whether he’s starting or coming off the bench, putting him on the floor every night — only to have more critics lob criticism in his direction — isn’t doing much good.

I’ve always been a staunch supporter of giving Fultz heavy minutes and prioritizing his development. Even after the Butler trade, I never considered taking a stance against playing Fultz with the second unit.

But now more than ever, it’s clear Fultz needs a change of scenery. That doesn’t mean trading him. It doesn’t mean cutting him from the roster, or anything that drastic. It just means shuffling the deck and seeing where the cards land.

Some have suggested sending Fultz to the G-League, which until now, always seemed extreme. He’s the reigning No. 1 pick and, despite the circus around him, showed very real flashes during the first 19 games.

But with NBA games, again, comes NBA criticism. Twitter critics highlight every slight twitch like it’s some world-ending phenomenon. Perhaps hyping up every mid-range jumper, in the long run, was just as bad.

The noise around Fultz and his shooting woes has been deafening at every turn. Watch ESPN, and you’ll see talking heads dubbing Fultz a potential bust. Take to Twitter, and you’ll see someone getting jokes off about unconventional (but well-reasoned) changes to his free throw routine.

Delaware may or may not be the best place to stash Fultz, but the sentiment is wholly reasonable. Allow Fultz to handle the ball and build confidence against lesser competition, all while removing him — however long it may be — from the intense spotlight currently on his game.

If the Sixers aren’t fans of the G-League, perhaps giving Fultz some time off is the best route — time to train, search for answers, and get comfortable with his situation. He can still practice with the team, just don’t put him on the floor. Let him dwell outside the public sphere.

Nothing will dissipate peoples’ undying desire to nitpick Fultz’s development, but just giving him the chance to soul search and find answers makes sense.

It’s also worth exploring every avenue with his shoulder. Countless online doctors have voiced their opinions on the issue, but it’s unwise to take those opinions at face value. Until there is credible reporting from someone close to the Fultz camp, there’s no room to speculate on his current state.

Raymond Brothers, who operates as Fultz’s agent, pulling him away from the team with no warning isn’t the best look. Getting multiple opinions on Fultz’s shoulder, however, is probably the best step. At least make sure there are no lingering issues.

The Sixers are in no position to rush Fultz. He’s purely a long-term investment at this point. He doesn’t help the team win, so there’s no reason to put him on the floor if it doesn’t directly benefit his development.

Both Brett Brown and Elton Brand addressed the media regarding Fultz. While neither suspected his shoulder was still a problem, both continue to emphasize the love and support Fultz has within the organization. That’s beyond important.

Next: 4 potential trades if the Wizards implode

Also, despite Brothers suggesting Fultz won’t practice until his appointment, Fultz went through “light shooting” with teammates this morning. The story isn’t going away anytime soon.



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