We’ve been wondering for the past month why, exactly, No. 1 overall draft pick Markelle Fultz completely overhauled his free-throw stroke and the form on his jump shot in the weeks leading up to his rookie season with the Philadelphia 76ers. We’ve known for weeks that something’s up with the former Washington point guard’s right shoulder, but he has remained in the lineup. I mean, sure, Fultz has shot poorly and scarcely even looked at the basket in his first four pro games, but he has played in them; it couldn’t be anything too serious physically, right?
The already confusing situation surrounding Fultz’s shoulder became only more muddled on Tuesday evening, as his agent, Raymond Brothers, offered two conflicting versions of events in interviews with Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
First, Brothers told Wojnarowski that the 19-year-old Fultz “had fluid drained from his right shoulder” before the start of the regular season, and is “planning to visit a specialist soon” to try to get to the bottom of his ongoing discomfort:
“Markelle had a shoulder injury and fluid drained out of the back of his shoulder,” agent Raymond Brothers told ESPN. “He literally cannot raise up his arms to shoot the basketball. He decided to try and fight through the pain to help the team. He has a great attitude. We are committed to finding a solution to get Markelle back to 100 percent.” […]
Fultz had the shoulder drained prior to start of the regular season, which caused him to miss the end of the Sixers’ preseason schedule, Brothers said.
The report came one day after another down game for Fultz — just two points on 1-for-4 shooting, with three assists against three turnovers in 16 1/2 minutes off the bench — in Philly’s Monday night win over the Detroit Pistons. It also came on the heels of a report from Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer indicating that Fultz has “been frequently having a tough time raising his arm, which is easy to notice when he was shooting three-pointers and foul shots,” and that the rookie “has also been hampered with right knee soreness, which contributed to his missing time in the preseason.”
Despite those ailments, and the persistent shooting woes that have come with them — just 9-for-27 from the field and 6-for-12 from the free-throw line through four games — the Sixers had reportedly not yet considered sitting Fultz.
“It’s not to the point where it’s affecting other parts of his game,” Sixers coach Brett Brown told reporters over the weekend.
We wouldn’t have to wait a day for the next twist in this saga, though. Less than five hours post-publication, Wojnarowski updated his story after Brothers, apparently, completely changed his tune:
“He had a cortisone shot on Oct. 5, which means fluid was put into his shoulder — not taken out,” agent Raymond Brothers told ESPN on Tuesday night. “My intention earlier was to let people know that he’s been experiencing discomfort. We will continue to work with [Sixers general manager] Bryan Colangelo and the medical staff.”
Cortisone shots are used to relieve pain and inflammation. Sixers officials confirmed to ESPN a treatment took place several weeks ago and Fultz’s inflammation and symptoms have improved.
On one hand, the initial statement seemed a bit off. As Ben Goldberg-Morse noted earlier Tuesday, Fultz has raised his arms above his shoulders to shoot. He just hasn’t done so from further than 14 feet away from the basket, one season removed from firing five 3-pointers a game at Washington.
On the other: it sure seems like an agent should know which direction the fluid traveled through his premier client’s shoulder, right?!?
That's, um, that's a completely different treatment.
— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) October 25, 2017
Given Fultz’s early season struggles and the significant local and national coverage they’ve received, it wasn’t hard to read Brothers’ remarks as an attempt at damage control aimed at protecting his client by essentially putting Colangelo on the spot. Reaching out publicly like that seemed to send a message: sit my guy down until he’s fully right, physically and mentally, so that we can prevent things from going from bad to worse before they get too far away from us and we can’t get him back on track. The abrupt reversal several hours later, featuring team confirmation of the change in treatment — seriously: the fluid went the other way! — feels like a swift and stern reply to that message.
Woj’s initial story made mention of the fact that “no decision has been made for Fultz to miss games” due to the ongoing soreness in his shoulder. The update cites “second opinions” that “have confirmed the 76ers’ ongoing treatment plan of physiotherapy,” and makes no mention of the No. 1 pick sitting to get healthy. So I guess we’ll see Fultz in the lineup for Wednesday night’s meeting with the Houston Rockets.
The Sixers are treating and monitoring Markelle Fultz for irritation and discomfort on a daily basis, according to team source.
— Jessica Camerato (@JCameratoNBCS) October 25, 2017
That approach — it’s soreness, it’s not that big of a deal, he’ll get through it — and the “no, wait, just kidding” nature of this story’s evolution over the course of Tuesday evening will likely arch some eyebrows in the City of Brotherly Love, especially after the way Sixers general manager Bryan Colangelo and company have handled injury issues in the past.
Jahlil Okafor needed more than six months to recover from a meniscus surgery the team said would put him out for six weeks. Guard Jerryd Bayless was listed as sidelined by a “sore wrist” for almost two months before being brought back for three games, and then forced to undergo season-ending surgery to repair a torn ligament.
There were the perennially shifting return dates and status reports for Ben Simmons‘ Jones fracture before he was eventually shut down for the year. And, perhaps most notably, there was the fiasco surrounding Joel Embiid’s knee injury, which was initially announced as a left knee contusion before being confirmed as a torn meniscus only after Sixers reporter Derek Bodner broke the news that the team wasn’t being fully forthcoming. Embiid himself was angry with the way the Sixers handled that injury, which wound up costing him the remainder of the season, too.
After that, Colangelo insisted that the 76ers weren’t playing fast and loose with the truth when it comes to the health and well-being of their players.
“There was no effort to deceive fans, deceive the media,” he said. “Injuries are unpredictable.”
And so, evidently, are the stories about them that emerge from the 76ers and those around them.
In the meantime, here’s hoping Markelle Fultz’s shoulder stops hurting him so much that he shoots like he’s trying to place a fishbowl on a shelf just beyond his reach while leaning over a dresser … and let’s hope this whole mess gets sorted out before there’s any lasting damage done.
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