The Philadelphia 76ers are in an impossible situation with former No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz. Elton Brand and Philadelphia’s front office are now all-in on a four-man core of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler and newly acquired forward Tobias Harris, leaving some level of uncertainty (at least outside of sharpshooter J.J. Redick) with the rest of the roster. Beyond that, Fultz hasn’t appeared in a game since Nov. 19 as a result of thoracic outlet syndrome and the former Washington star has battled unprecedented (and high-profile) struggles with his jump shot during his professional career.
With that said, rumblings exist that the Sixers could move on from Fultz in advance of the trade deadline on Thursday and the Atlanta Hawks might be a potential landing spot. As part of a report tying Philadelphia to a potential pursuit of Hawks big man Dewayne Dedmon in late January, Tim Bontemps of ESPN floated the possibility of Fultz heading to Atlanta and, on Wednesday afternoon, that hypothetical reemerged with vigor.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, as part of his two-man television show with Zach Lowe, pointed to the Hawks as a potential landing spot for Fultz.
“Teams like Atlanta, Orlando they’ve talked with Philadelphia on Markelle Fultz,” Wojnarowski said. “I think there is a real possibility he’s played his last game with the Sixers, but they’ve got until 3 PM on Thursday to figure that out.”
In addition to uncertainty about Fultz’s future on the court, he comes with a lofty financial price tag. The second-year guard is earning $8.3 million this season and Fultz’s contract is already guaranteed for more than $9.7 million for the 2019-20 campaign. Then, any team with interest in acquiring Fultz would have to weigh a looming decision on his fourth-year team option (for almost $12.3 million) that would have to be declined or exercised by the end of October.
Given that Fultz was a near-unanimous No. 1 overall prospect in the 2017 NBA Draft class, his theoretical talent isn’t in question. The 6’4 guard brings a dynamic off-the-dribble game, the potential for defensive impact and big-time athleticism that would translate at the NBA level. The overarching question of his jump shot remains, though, and Fultz’s ceiling drops immensely if teams (like the Hawks) pursuing him in trade don’t buy in to the notion that he will be eventually able to pose a floor-spacing threat from the perimeter.
The Hawks are set at the point guard position long-term, with Trae Young performing at a high level in his rookie season and all kinds of investment from the team in his future. As a result, buzz about the addition of Fultz may seem odd, but the 20-year-old guard does bring enough size and physical stature to allow for visions of intriguing two-guard fronts with Young and, more than anything, the Hawks (and any team acquiring Fultz) would be doing so as an asset play.
Executives and fans are sharply split on what Fultz’s future may entail and, as a result, what his trade value should be at this juncture. Some believe Fultz should be treated as a positive asset (when compared to his contract) in trade talks because of his conceptual upside, with others seeing him as a player projected to fall short of his previously lofty expectations. However, the future-facing Hawks do make some modicum of sense as a trade partner in a world in which Philadelphia is looking to add a player like Dedmon (or even Jeremy Lin) to the fold for a playoff push, and this is a situation to keep an eye on in the coming hours.