Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers

The Markelle Fultz trade that actually makes sense

Markelle Fultz’ days in Philadelphia may be coming to an end. Here’s the one deal that will help the franchise save face and get them a fair return.

Quick quiz: what three things do Sindarius Thornwell, Tyler Dorsey, Damyean Dotson and Wesley Iwundu have in common?

(feel free to imagine the Final Jeopardy theme music in your head)

Give up?

a. They were all taken in the 2017 NBA Draft,

b. They’ve all scored more points than the number one overall pick in that draft, Markelle Fultz, and…

c. They were not recently directed by their attorney to see a shoulder specialist and to sit out practices and games until said specialist’s appointment took place.

Welcome to CrazyTown, folks — home of the player with the most uncertain trade value in modern NBA history. It’s been a winding road that brought us here, but there’s no denying we’ve arrived. It’s kind of nuts considering that just 17 months ago, this was arguably the safest guard prospect to enter the draft since John Wall.

And now…where are we? It’s tough to say. Imagine you’re sitting at work, your phone buzzed, and an alert pops up that your favorite team just traded for Fultz.

Is your reaction, “Awesome! We just got the number one pick from a loaded draft, and he still isn’t old enough to drink! Dude probably just needed a change of scenery. Is it lunch time yet?” or is it “I swear to God if we gave up anything more than an expiring contract and a protected second-round pick, I’m going to sell my fandom on eBay.”

It’s probably somewhere in between, right? At this point, it’s impossible to escape the notion that if Mr. Hot Potato has a successful NBA career, it’s not going to be in Philadelphia. The Jimmy Butler trade not only signaled an impetus to win immediately, but it made the financial implications of hanging onto Fultz even more precarious. He’s due nearly $10 million next season, which is money the 76ers will need to use to fill out the roster with more shooting. If they had to decide on his fourth-year team option right now, there’s at least some question as to whether they’d pick it up.

Great…so they should trade him then, no?

Yeah…about that…

If you’re Philly, you cannot, under any circumstances, unload him for the types of deals that are being bandied about. The Dunc’d On guys just did an entire podcast on fake Fultz trades, and they amounted to deals for middling (at best) players that probably wouldn’t crack the starting five.

While these are fair deals from a standpoint of looking at the on-court product we’ve seen from Fultz, it would be a bad, bad look for the Sixers to get rid of the guy they traded up in the draft to get in what would more or less amount to a salary dump. Maybe they do it, but my guess is that Elton Brand is not going to rush into such a move, especially when Markelle’s value is at its lowest.

So then what’s the answer?

It would seem that Philly needs to find a trade partner with an asset that is shiny enough for the Sixers to be able to save face in the deal but for which the other team can’t get full value.

Enter Boston.

Terry Rozier has reportedly been unhappy with his playing time, and may or may not have recently tweeted out a trade request. It wouldn’t be that far fetched, as this Celtics’ season has not gone according to plan, for either Terry or the Celtics.

Heading into Wednesday night, Rozier was averaging 23.1 minutes (down from 25.9 last season) and shooting an abysmal 37.1 percent from the field. After ending last postseason as the Celtics third-leading scorer, he has finished in double figures in only six of 17 games and has crossed the 20 point threshold just once. Boston sits glumly at a game above .500.

It’s not all bad, of course. With Rozier on the court, the Celtics are giving up just 94.7 points per 100 possessions, which is almost unfathomable given the offensive explosion happening throughout the league. For any of his faults, Rozier is still only 24 years old and seems to get better with more responsibility.

He’s placed Boston in an uncertain position. Terry is a restricted free agent this year, and reading the tea leaves, it seems like someone will go four years, $60 million for Rozier at a minimum. If Boston re-signs Kyrie Irving to a max deal and matched an offer sheet on his backup, that would be nearly $50 million for the point guard position alone (and over $60 million if you count Marcus Smart). Overall, their payroll would balloon to over $140 million, assuming Al Horford opts in to his player option for 2019-20.

The odds are that a move is coming. That could be a sign and trade this offseason, but if you’re Boston, moving the former Louisville Cardinal this season opens far more doors. At the same time, what incentive would any team have to give up a worthwhile asset for Rozier now when it can just slightly overpay for him this summer. If a team believes in his potential that much, why trade a promising young player or key rotation cog midseason when an extra $2 or $3 million will likely scare Boston off in July for the financial reasons discussed above?

This puts Boston in an untenable position: trade a guy for less than he’s worth, or run a significant risk of losing him for nothing in July.

Enter Philly.

Next: Building the perfect NBA roster

It’s almost too perfect. Markelle Fultz goes to a place where there is zero pressure, zero incentive to play and produce right now, and a perfect infrastructure to get him right. If it fails? Boston only sacrificed a guy they were probably going to wind up losing anyway.

Could they get a safer, higher-floor asset in exchange for Rozier at the deadline? Almost certainly. Would that player have nearly the upside Fultz has, even with his recent difficulties? No chance.

Few teams have the luxury of taking this risk. Whether Fultz has a 50 or 15 percent chance of working out, it’s a bet Boston almost has to make. The mere possibility that they could end up with Tatum, the 2019 Kings pick and even a partially actualized version of what Fultz was supposed to be should be enough to convince them.

For Philly? Considering some of the trade ideas being tossed around, getting a guy who averaged 16, 5 and 5 as a starting point guard over 19 playoff games seems like a pretty good consolation prize. Elton Brand gets to save face and comes out looking like the hero. Everybody wins.

Get on the phone Mr. Ainge. You’ve pulled off heists before. Make this thing happen.

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