Markelle Fultz is the biggest #1 bust in NBA history, according to social media hyperbole. Closer to the truth is that Fultz hasn’t yet defined who he is as a player. He’s been hurt, or he’s been mentally exhausted, or he’s been depressed, or he’s insecure. Or, he’s just not good enough to wear the #1 draft pick mantle which isn’t a crime. There are tons of #1 picks that didn’t rise up to Allen Iverson excellence. Consider Kent Benson of the Bucks, Pervis Ellison of the Kings, Joe Smith of the Warriors, Michael Olowokandi of the Clippers. It’s so long a list that I left out Kwame Brown and LaRue Martin purely on accident.
It’s no shame for Fultz to have a good career, and not a great career. It was happenstance and guile that the Celtics traded down to draft Jayson Tatum. Tatum has been a very consistent young player who can put the ball in the hole and defend his position. He has All-Star(s) in his future while Fultz has…$12 million dollars on the way.
The Orlando Magic who traded for Fultz picked up his fourth year option. What they were telling Fultz and, by default, the rest of us is that Fultz is going to be able to play, that Fultz isn’t the joke that usually comes up when his name enters the convo, that Fultz is going to redeem himself in Orlando, and that Orlando has the staff to develop Fultz and get the most out of him. The good news is the Magic are going all in on one of their players. They bad news is the risk is enormous, if it doesn’t work out. And it just may not.
Had they not picked up his option and let Fultz play this season out, the Magic could have allowed Fultz to try to earn that fourth year payday by his play this season but now Fultz can take his time. On the face of it, the Magic were taking the pressure off of Fultz and putting it on their organization’s ability to develop talent. But the way these things go, Fultz just traded one burden for another, and the organization will skate on the consequences. Although he will always have #1 pick mediocrity as part of his bio, Markelle Fultz has to figure out how to be a NBA player. That the Magic are paying him $12 million dollars to figure it all out redirects the pressure back on Fultz to be worth it.
Markelle Fultz has to prove the Magic were right. That the Magic didn’t make a mistake. That the money isn’t wasted. Because if Fultz can’t survive in Orlando, it’s a dead contract that can’t be moved. No one is going to come in and rescue Orlando from their brain freeze. Failing in Philly with all eyes on him is one thing. Failing in Orlando probably means Fultz can’t play at this level.
He now has to prove two things at the same time. That he is a NBA player, even if that means coming off the bench. And that his game is worth $12 million. The Magic are being optimistic thinking Fultz is their point guard of the future without having much of a resume to go on. It’s a chance. A big one. But there is a reason why Fultz was thought to be James Harden-lite. He’s a good passer with hops and athleticism. His shot needs a lot of help and so does his confidence. Orlando is the perfect place to begin the rebuilding of everything Markelle Fultz. That is what the Magic are hoping happens, that the patient recovers and is a phenom. That they stole an All-Star from Philadelphia.
But gambles are called gambles for a reason. They are emotional and after the initial burst of activity they leave you depressed when they regress to the mean.