Markelle Fultz available to play for 76ers after missing 68 games


PHILADELPHIA — 76ers rookie guard Markelle Fultz will return to action on Monday for the first time since Oct. 23, coach Brett Brown said in his pregame news conference before the 76ers face the Denver Nuggets.

“It was [Fultz]’s decision,” Brown said. “It’s been fluid and I get goose bumps telling you all that. I’m so proud of him. The people around him have done great things and I give that kid credit.”

An emotional Brown announced that the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft, who has been sidelined for five months with a shoulder injury, will come off the bench as starting point guard Ben Simmons‘ backup. Brown said he expects Fultz to play about 14 minutes on Monday night.

“Initially, a drip feed,” Brown said. “It’s March. It’s Game 71. He’s 19. It needs to be an intelligent, realistic plan for him, and we’re all going to learn and see how this plays out. But it’s just fantastic news for him.”

Fultz was shut down by the 76ers four games into the regular season after struggling with his shot, a manifestation of the injury. Over the past several months, Fultz has sought to rebuild his mechanics with the help of both the Sixers coaching staff and his personal trainer.

There’s been a degree of intrigue surrounding Fultz’s timetable, with indefinite information on his return emanating from both the 76ers organization and Fultz’s camp. In February, 76ers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo told the media that Fultz was limited to practicing his shot in the painted area.

“Any player coming back from a debilitating injury, there’s going to be a mental component,” Colangelo said pregame on Monday night. “But this was just about regaining form. You’re talking about a young player, 19-years-old, that had to regain his shooting form and feel comfortable doing so. There are going to be setbacks along the way in terms of your confidence. He’s at a point where — I’m not even certain we can say he’s 100 percent, but he’s 100 percent ready to get out on the floor in his own mind and in the minds of our coaching staff, who have worked so diligently to get him back to this point.”

According to Brown on Monday night, Fultz’ return this season was uncertain. But in recent weeks, Fultz intensified his workouts. Sources within the 76ers believed it was increasingly possible that Fultz might be activated as the team moved closer to clinching a playoff berth, which they did on Sunday.

“He and I have been talking a lot, and never was it at a stage where definitely it’s going to happen,” Brown said. “Today, I felt something good with the performances he has been having in practices and some workouts. You could tell he has a confidence in his spirit. You could feel that, you could see that. He came to me and said, ‘Coach, I’m ready to play. Coach, I want to play tonight.'”

A week before June’s draft, the Sixers traded the No. 3 pick, along with an additional draft pick from either the Sacramento Kings or Los Angeles Lakers to the Boston Celtics in exchange for the No. 1 pick, with which they selected Fultz, a combo guard from the University of Washington.

“Just look at what he’s been through,” Brown said. “It’s ridiculous what he’s been through. He understands it. I understand it. That’s the scrutiny you get when somebody says, ‘And with the first pick in the 2017 NBA draft, the Philadelphia 76ers select Markelle Fultz.’ That comes with pressures and responsibilities and acknowledgements. It’s just such an atypical way anybody enters pro sports. Knowing what I know and seeing what I’ve seen, and understanding how special that kid is from a human being standpoint, it’s a good day.”

To mark Fultz’s season suddenly springing to life, All-Star center Joel Embiid tweeted a GIF of WWE star The Undertaker rising from a casket.

Led by Embiid and rookie of the year favorite Simmons, the Sixers have won 42 games and put one of the worst stretches of basketball in NBA history behind them.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.



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