Markelle Fultz’s basketball career has been more media attention than on-court production, and the Philadelphia 76ers have decided that it’s time to move on. The Sixers traded Fultz to the Orlando Magic for Jonathan Simmons and two draft picks on trade deadline day, ending Fultz’s time in Philly.
For Fultz, Orlando is an opportunity to hit the reset button on his career and start from the ground up. Orlando hasn’t had an All-Star point guard since Jameer Nelson in 2009, who has carved out a decent career for himself bouncing around to different teams since leaving the Magic. Before Nelson was Tracy McGrady, the uber-athletic, Hall-of-Fame scoring machine.
The Sixers thought they would be getting a player similar to McGrady when they traded up to draft Fultz with the first overall pick in 2017. Fultz’s athleticism, scoring arsenal and defensive upside were apparent during his time in Washington, and there was confidence that his skills would translate to the NBA.
Fast forward a year and a half, from off-the-court issues to bizarre shooting forms (yes, plural), Fultz has yet to prove his status as a worthy #1 pick. Orlando trading for him is a low-risk, high-reward opportunity — if he flames out and isn’t an NBA-worthy talent, they could decline the team option on his contract. But if he does pan out, he can be a special player.
Remember, Fultz is only 20 years old and the Magic haven’t made the playoffs since Dwight Howard left for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012. The Magic have put together a strong run this year with center, Nikola Vucevic making his first All-Star selection, but they’ve been irrelevant otherwise.
The Magic’s peak success have come with a talented, dominant big man, whether it was Shaquille O’Neal in the ‘90s or Dwight Howard bringing them to the NBA Finals in 2009. While Vucevic isn’t that type of player, Orlando has clearly found themselves a scoring big-man that has kept them afloat for the past few seasons.
Vucevic will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and the Magic should hope and pray that his market value is low. The 28-year-old Montenegrin is just hitting his peak, and would be deadly alongside a peak Markelle Fultz.
For the past 7 years, the Magic haven’t had a draft pick that has lived up to their hype: Victor Oladipo flourished long after his time in Orlando, Aaron Gordon is still finding his way, Mario Hezonja is a bust, Jonathan Issac has promise but is still raw and Mo Bamba could miss the rest of this season with a stress fracture in his leg.
The Magic have an opportunity to do something special with Fultz, but should be patient and cautious. They’re 3.5 games away from the last spot in the playoffs, and should push to make the postseason to give the fans something to look forward to. Fultz doesn’t have to be inserted into the lineup right away — he should take as much time as he needs off the court to fix any issues, shoulder or otherwise.
Orlando hasn’t had a great track record of taking misfits or misfired talents and helping them reach their potential, but Fultz is a long-term project. If he somehow becomes the player that he was touted to be prior to the draft, the Magic could be a force in the Eastern Conference once again.
The Magic are dealing with a huge what-if with Fultz, but it’s a swing worth taking. Fultz had a lot of pressure on him in Philadelphia, as he was perceived as the final piece of The Process to complete a Big Three with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
While the Sixers have gone full-on win-now, the Magic have an intriguing young prospect to work with that had, and still might have, star potential.