Fultz Plays Against Former Team For First Time Since Trade
ORLANDO – Markelle Fultz made plenty of friends during his tumultuous two seasons in Philadelphia, foremost among them superstars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, but the point guard said those friendships will be put on hold on the basketball court now that he plays for the Orlando Magic.
Orlando made the bold move of trading for the 6-foot-4, 207-pound Fultz last February even though the No. 1 pick from the 2017 NBA Draft played just 33 games in two seasons with the Sixers. Fultz worked last spring and throughout the summer to solve the thoracic outlet syndrome injury in his right shoulder that marred most of his time with the Sixers.
Now healthy again, Fultz has shown flashes of becoming a potential game-changing playmaker for the Magic, averaging 5.8 points, 4.3 assists, 1.75 steals and 1.8 rebounds in three preseason games. He still hasn’t shot the ball well from the floor (10 of 36) and from 3-point range (zero of five). He came into Sunday having yet scored outside of the paint, but he has shown progress with his free throw form (three of four).
On Sunday, Fultz faced his former team and close friends for the first time. Prior to the game, he vowed to put those friendships aside in the name of competition.
``Almost everybody (on the Sixers were friends of his) because that team was really close. Joel (Embiid), Ben (Simmons) and it goes on and on,’’ Fultz said. ``A couple of my old (Philadelphia) teammates got traded, but it’s all love. We bonded while we were there, but I’m on a new team. No offense to them, but I’ve got to face them, and we’ll compete on the floor. Then, off the court we can go back to being bros.’’
Brett Brown, Fultz’s coach during his time with Philadelphia, said he’s delighted with the guard’s progress to getting healthy and back to basketball. He also pointed out that the point guard’s future is in good hands considering that he is playing for Orlando’s Steve Clifford, long a family friend of Brown’s.
``First, (Fultz) is a quality human being and a tremendous teammate,’’ Brown said. ``The adversity that he went through that none of us can ever know, and I shared some of it with the City of Philadelphia. To navigate all of that and be under the scrutiny, microscope or call it as you will, and come out the other side and be with a program that is coached by my close friend … to see (Fultz) back in the mix and playing basketball again, just from a human standpoint, that’s a feel-good story.
``The times that he spent with us, me with him, I’m proud of his endurance, perseverance and opportunity, and I think it’s somebody that I personally pay attention to from afar all the time,’’ Brown added.
MAGIC SHORTHANDED AGAIN: For a second straight preseason game, the Magic were playing without several key players on Sunday night because of injuries.
Nikola Vucevic (sprained left ankle) missed his second straight game, while Evan Fournier (back spasms) was out once again. Fournier left the Magic’s loss to Boston on Friday night with pain and stiffness in his lower back and was again unable to play on Sunday.
Also, the Magic were without standout reserve Terrence Ross, who suffered a mild sprain to his left ankle in Friday’s game while scoring 21 points and making four 3-pointers. Ross wasn’t too concerned about the injury or missing a preseason game.
``I just tweaked it a little,’’ Ross said prior to Sunday’s game. ``It’s just sore. I’ll be back soon.’’
None of the injuries are considered to be serious by the Magic, and Clifford said the hope is to have all three players back at practice on Monday or Tuesday.
BROWN ENVIOUS OF MAGIC’S STABILITY: Just two nights after Boston coach Brad Stevens raved about the stability on the Magic’s roster, Philadelphia coach Brett Brown echoed those thoughts and even sounded a bit envious.
Boston and Philadelphia shook up their teams this summer after losing free agent guards Kyrie Irving (to Brooklyn) and Jimmy Butler (to Miami). The Celtics signed Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter, while the Sixers lured Al Horford away from Boston and traded for former Heat guard Josh Richardson.
The Magic, meanwhile, brought back 12 players from a team that finished last season 22-9 and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Adding to that continuity, Orlando still has Clifford in place as head coach and President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and GM John Hammond making the basketball decisions.
Brown said the continuity that the Magic carry over from last season to this one reminds him of his time in San Antonio while working with the Spurs.
``(Continuity) is a priceless gift,’’ Brown gushed. ``If you’ve got the same coach and the large majority of the same players, you’re just so far out in front of things. It’s part of my challenge because we have expectations on our (76ers) program. We have talent, but it’s not like there’s an extreme amount of continuity.
``I’ve said it many times and I’ll say it now: Talent does not trump time,’’ Brown added. ``You know, you need time and you want to expedite it and move it forward, but you need time. I respected the (Magic’s) organizational decision – which it obviously was – to persevere with the group that they have and coach that they have. Personally, I lived that life for 12 years in San Antonio. I have not lived it in Philadelphia, but it’s what we all aspire to ultimately find.’’
UP NEXT: The Magic wrap up the exhibition season on Thursday against the rival Miami Heat at the Amway Center (7 p.m., TV: Fox Sports Florida).
After that, the Magic will have five days to prepare for the Oct. 23 regular-season opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Orlando will open the regular season at the Amway Center for a fifth straight year, only this time it won’t be against Miami as it has done the previous three seasons.
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