USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: (Left) Jimmy Butler, (right) Markelle Fultz.
- The Philadelphia 76ers' trade for All-Star Jimmy Butler is still making waves around the NBA and they are now 16-1 odds at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.
- Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) breaks down how Philly can maximize its assets moving forward, including another potential trade involving Markelle Fultz.
“We are just happy to have him back … I felt like I haven’t seen him in a long time.”
That’s what Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown told the media a year ago in December, after No. 1 overall draft pick Markelle Fultz returned to practice after rehabbing a shoulder injury — and honestly, we can make the argument now, almost a year later, that we still haven’t seen him. The real him.
It’s no secret that Fultz has struggled to find a comfortable role with the team, launching bricks to the point that the opposition isn’t even guarding him on the perimeter and daring him to shoot.
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But this is not meant to be a Fultz takedown article. You can pull up any advanced statistic to help validate your claim, from his subpar 11.7 player efficiency rating to his .460 true shooting percentage (team-low among rotation players) or his -1.9 box score plus/minus.
What the numbers don’t tell you, though, is the 20-year-old kid is insanely talented and filled with limitless potential.
After completing the blockbuster Jimmy Butler on Saturday, the 76ers are now on the clock. In this case, however, their clock carries a different context — the countdown to Dec. 15.
This is one of the most important dates on the NBA calendar; the day when players who signed as free agents this past summer are eligible to be traded to a different team.
While most of these individuals aren’t going anywhere, there are a few currently playing on bad teams who stand out:
- Jeff Green (Wizards)
- Dwight Howard (Wizards)
- Mario Hezonja (Knicks)
- Jabari Parker (Bulls)
- Vince Carter (Hawks)
- And, most importantly, Trevor Ariza (Suns)
We can sit here all day and make the case why your favorite team should look to add one of these guys at minimal cost, but after the Timberwolves/76ers exchange, all eyes turn to Phoenix and their battle-tested swingman on an expiring contract.
The Suns stink and are dungeoned in the Western Conference cellar for a multitude of reasons — the most concerning of which is their dire point guard situation.
God bless Isaiah Canaan for getting those NBA checks — he has earned ’em — but his PER (8.54) is the lowest of all starting point guards in the league by more than a full point behind Collin Sexton (29th).
The plethora of young talent on the roster doesn’t have a floor general to help them develop, and there is absolutely no hope in sight that this is going to improve anytime soon.
So if you’re the Suns, what do you do?
They completely whiffed during free agency, elected to use their franchise cornerstone Devin Booker as the primary off-guard, and fired their general manager eight days before the season started.
That leaves one option: Trade Ariza and an additional intriguing asset for their point guard of their future — Fultz.
Despite his rocky beginning and meme-worthy poor shooting, the Suns have to be salivating at the mere prospect of bringing in someone of Fultz’s caliber.
Phoenix could not be a more perfect fit for him.
There are no expectations, there’s no media pressure, and he’ll get as much time as he needs to develop. I mean, hell, the Suns let Dragan Bender onto the court for years without having him arrested for trespassing or robbery, just imagine the leash that Fultz would receive.
If you’re the 76ers, the hypothetical is not so simple to answer. The franchise went to the pawn shop and sold Jayson Tatum, the Kings’ 2019 lottery pick that they acquired in the laugh-out-loud Nik Stauskas/Carl Landry trade, and grandmother’s wedding ring for Fultz.
They are invested in every facet of the word — emotionally, financially and symbolically. Fair or not, the public would see trading Markelle as a complete systematic failure, not even worthy of the term ‘cutting your losses’.
However, these aren’t normal circumstances and any history with Fultz needs to be compartmentalized in what happens next.
This 76ers team with Butler, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons is an absolute wrecking ball. You could submit the hypothesis that Philadelphia now has three top-20 players and you’d be met with minimal resistance.
They have gone from a fringe Eastern Conference Finals team to legitimate championship contenders overnight.
But at what cost?
Butler has proved he is an agent of chaos.
He’s emasculated his Timberwolves teammates at practice, been described as “a bad locker room guy” by one of his colleagues, and called out his coach for playing him too much.
Butler’s relationship with his teammates and coaches has been notoriously documented as tough love.
Tough love can certainly work in the right situation (i.e. Kobe), but for a player who is struggling physically and mentally, you have to question if he can develop into the elite player the 76ers believe he can be, or if this is what practice is going to look like the first time something goes wrong:
We don’t know how this is going to play out, the two haven’t even played one game together yet. What we do know is that the 76ers have one month to figure it out.
For all the star power they’ve accumulated, they are now in critical need of additional swingmen and stretch fours who can consistently knock down 3s and effectively guard opposing team’s perimeter forwards.
That is exactly what Dario Saric and Robert Covington brought to the table, and their development was a major reason why the franchise went from laughing stock to the second round of the playoffs in just one season.
Don’t get me wrong, Jimmy Butler certainly makes up for their absence and then some, but playoff-reliable depth at this position is now a serious concern. The good news is no contenders can swoop in and steal Ariza away while they figure things out.
Are there other options for the franchise that wouldn’t require Fultz as a centerpiece of the package? Sure. Maybe the Sixers can pry the NBA’s Monopoly Chance Card, Jeff Green, away from Washington D.C. if the Wizards continue to tailspin.
But why be frugal? You are all-in. Ariza is a proven, playoff-experienced commodity with one of the friendliest contracts possible (1 year/$15 million) for a contending team. Have the Suns send Mikal Bridges (TJ Warren makes too much money) with Ariza as compensation for Fultz’s blowup potential, and you have a match made in heaven.
Regardless, if you concur with this talent evaluation, we can all agree that Philadelphia is playing with house money for the next 33 days or so. The clock is ticking, but the Suns aren’t going anywhere.
They would love nothing more than to liquidate Ariza into long-term assets the first chance they get, and will continue to wallow in irrelevance for the foreseeable future.
It is time for the 76ers to dress their soldiers for battle. Whether Fultz makes it through Jimmy Butler’s boot camp or not, and what the Sixers do if he doesn’t, is now the most important storyline in the Eastern Conference.