Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown says Markelle Fultz 'quite close' to return

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Philadelphia 76ers want Markelle Fultz back this season, but only when the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft is comfortable that he’s regained his shooting stroke.

Coach Brett Brown said before Saturday night’s game against Minnesota that it would take Fultz telling the team’s he’s ready to play before a decision is made on his status for the rest of the regular season and playoffs.

“There’s no clandestine conspiracy theory motive,” Brown said. “You know what I know. It’s fluid.”

Fultz played four games in October and shot 9-of-27 from the field and didn’t attempt a 3-pointer. The Sixers then shut down the 19-year-old with what they called “soreness and scapular muscle imbalance in his right shoulder.”

Fultz has long since returned to practice, but is still working on his shooting form. Video from workouts in January showed Fultz awkwardly pushing the ball from his chest. It appears his stroke has improved, but he missed his 68th consecutive game Saturday.

“I think he is quite close,” Brown said Fultz, who has declined to speak to reporters. “I think if we’d all watch the video we’d all probably agree with that.”

The Sixers traded with Boston to move up to the No. 1 spot in the draft last June to take the University of Washington star in hopes he’d be the missing piece on a promising team that includes young stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

Fultz scoring off the dribble and creating his own shot haven’t materialized. Still, the Sixers were closing in on their first playoff berth in six years and aren’t giving up hope on their 6-foot-4 guard even though after Saturday there are only 10 games left in the regular season.

“It’s just something that when Markelle Fultz feels like he can go – he really feels good about himself and his health, the shoulder, everything and the medical people support that — he knows that he has a coaching staff and a team that will welcome him in when he says go,” Brown said. “He also understands the season is around the corner in terms of the end of the regular season. That’s where it’s at.”