It's time for No. 1 pick Fultz to turn 76ers into winners
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By DAN GELSTON
PHILADELPHIA (AP) Markelle Fultz already has his first turnover as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers.
It came in an Instagram post sponsored by a watch company. "Excited to head to (City) and join the (team name). (at)Tissot.us is helping me get started with my (team name) watch," Fultz posted, not bothering to actually fill in the blanks.
Ah, it's a process. Or rather, The Process. And the Sixers have plenty of blanks to fill in on their roster before becoming a playoff contender.
The No. 1 overall pick in this NBA draft has become an instant fan favorite before signing his rookie contract. The 6-foot-4 guard out of Washington has gone on late-night TV and boasted of his love of Philly cheesesteaks, made a social media connection with franchise player Joel Embiid and dazzled on draft night with a pair of orange sneakers made of the same leather used to make NBA game balls.
If that wasn't enough, Philly fans found an open love letter from Fultz to the city on The Players' Tribune.
"What's up, Philly? You good? I'm pretty good," Fultz wrote . "Today is a good day. Today we take The Process to another level."
Long the league laughingstock, it's the Sixers' turn to clap back, with Embiid and Ben Simmons poking fun on Twitter at Lonzo Ball and his father, LaVar.
Moments after LaVar Ball went on TV and declared of his son, "From the words of Zeus, Jesus, everybody said he gonna be a Laker," Simmons simply tweeted, "Crazy pills ." Embiid quickly chimed in with, "Please dunk on him so hard that his daddy runs on the court to save him."
But the Sixers aren't counting on the Fultz-Simmons-Embiid core to simply entertain in 140-character bursts. They expect the trio to help lead the franchise to their first playoff appearance since 2012 and first championship since 1983.
"It's been a while," team president Bryan Colangelo said, pointing toward championship banners hanging in the team's New Jersey complex.
Here's a look at how they might get to 35-50 wins over the next two seasons:
STEP ON THE GAS
First, Simmons and Embiid need to be healthy.
Embiid, who missed his first two seasons with foot injuries, was placed on minutes restrictions in 2016-17 and was banned from playing both games of back-to-back contests. Despite the precautionary steps, Embiid played in only 31 games and needed surgery on his left knee in March.
Simmons missed his rookie season with a broken right foot.
"I think both Ben and Joel are on course for recovery," Colangelo said Friday. "We anticipate a full, healthy roster."
Colangelo said Embiid would have no minutes' restrictions this season, provided he stays healthy.
"He plays with reckless abandon and some of that has got to be controlled," Colangelo said.
IT TAKES TWO
Coach Brett Brown had said all year that Simmons would open next season as the point guard. Simmons seemed excited at his shot to run the show until a confluence of events and a trade with Boston for the No. 1 pick that netted Fultz.
No worries, for now. Brown said Simmons and Fultz, who will play in the summer league, could work well together in the backcourt, no matter which player is the ballhandler.
"It's a really exciting challenge to have where you try to grow those two players and let them coexist and learn more about each other," Brown said. "The start of the season and training camp and the month of September are really going to be important for us to allow those guys to feel each other and the coaching staff to be able to truly see it on the court."
TOUCH OF GREY
So who shall lead the talented trio of Embiid-Fultz-Simmons, a trifecta of first- and second-year players. The Sixers have long needed a veteran both in the locker room and to help lead on the court.
"Those young guys need nurturing and they need veteran leadership. To think that you're going to go into a season with a 19-year-old, a 20-year-old and Joel Embiid, as much as we love him and see how special he is, the reality is those three players have played a cumulative 31 NBA games," Brown said. "And holding a locker room, growing those guys, helping them navigate NBA life and NBA games is a very powerful message when it comes from a player. And trying to identify veterans that have the ability to nurture and help those three, especially, is one of the main priorities."
WAITING IS THE HARDEST PART
Sixers fans have been very patient, and they may have stay that way.
They waited two years for Dario Saric to come from his overseas commitments. They waited two years for Embiid to recover from injuries.
They may have to wait two more years for Latvian center, and first-round pick, Anzejs Pasecniks. Pasecniks, who most recently played with Gran Canaria, a Spanish basketball club, has two more years left on his deal and may not immediately join the Sixers. Second-round picks Jonah Bolden and power forward Mathias Lessort out of France also won't join the team next season.
But when they do, they could be the final pieces for a contender.
"Everything is designed with a championship in mind," Colangelo said.
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Updated June 23, 2017