February 21, 2019

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Markelle Fultz and the Smaller N.B.A. Deals That Mattered

Markelle Fultz and the Smaller N.B.A. Deals That Mattered
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N.B.A. fans can be forgiven for being distracted by shiny objects. And there are few objects shinier than a star who is being added to a playoff contender.

But even though the powerhouses of the Eastern Conference went to war over which team could add the biggest piece, it is worth taking a look at some under-the-radar moves that could prove significant this season or in the near future.

Amid the flurry of moves this week, these three deals stood out as opportunities for players to thrive in situations far more advantageous to their careers than where they had been, which could end up paying significant dividends to the teams that acquired them.


The Magic are trading Jonathon Simmons, a first-round pick and a second-round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers for Fultz, according to The Athletic.

Why it matters: The very public breakdown of Fultz’s career has made any move involving him relevant. A consensus No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft after a terrific freshman season at Washington, Fultz was viewed by Philadelphia as the endgame of the team’s long-running Process. The Sixers traded the No. 3 pick in that draft (which ended up being Jayson Tatum) and a future first-round pick (likely to be Sacramento’s pick in this year’s draft) to Boston so they could move up two spots to get him.

Things fell apart almost immediately. Fultz’s shooting form went from quirky to horrendous, debates emerged as to whether he had been injured or had simply lost his confidence, and he played just 14 games last season and 19 this season before shutting down with a diagnosis of thoracic outlet syndrome.

No one knows what Fultz is capable of, but it had become painfully obvious that he was not going to have the opportunity to play his way through his problems with the Sixers, a team that believes it has a legitimate chance of winning the East this year.

In Orlando, the pressure should be turned down considerably. The team values length, and while Fultz is a modest 6-foot-4, he has a seven-foot wingspan and has at times shown flashes of brilliance, including during a game last April in which he became the first teenager to officially record a triple-double in the N.B.A.

In this week’s trade, Philadelphia managed to land a few picks to replace what it gave up to be able to draft Fultz. But Simmons is primarily filler to make the trade work, and the move is mostly about clearing an unproductive player off the Sixers’ roster and letting him try to find a better situation elsewhere. As Fultz looks to avoid joining Anthony Bennett and LaRue Martin as the biggest busts to be taken with the No. 1 overall pick, Orlando seems as good of a place as any to get started.


The Kings traded Justin Jackson and Zach Randolph to the Dallas Mavericks for Barnes.

Why it matters: The Kings entered Thursday night’s games as the No. 9 seed in the West, one and a half games behind the Los Angeles Clippers and one game ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers. With the Clippers having just traded Tobias Harris, the door is open for Sacramento to secure its first playoff spot since 2006.

Sacramento plays extraordinarily fast, partly as a result of repeatedly using lineups with three guards, but they play at a significant size disadvantage.

Enter Barnes, a 6-8 small forward who gives the team a bigger body without requiring the offense to slow down all that much.

It’s hard to remember after three productive-if-uninspiring seasons in Dallas, but Barnes was once a member of Golden State’s ultrafluid Death Lineup, and if he can get back to a 3-and-D style of play, he could be a perfect addition to the Kings’ starting five, though that does not mean the deal is without drawbacks.

First and foremost, Barnes has been used to a high-usage role in Dallas, and that will not be available to him in Sacramento, a team with an offensive pecking order that will make him a third option at best. He also has let his defense slide to the point where he was a net negative on the court for Dallas. The Kings will probably be on the hook for his $25.1 million player option next year, and if he isn’t on board to shift his style of play, he could make the team worse.

All of that said, Barnes is still just 26, and after winning a championship in his third season, and 73 regular-season games in his fourth year, he has not sniffed the playoffs since. A return to a relevant team could unlock the complementary player who helped Golden State soar, and for a franchise that has often been accused of sabotaging itself, this is a real attempt to make the team better.


The Bulls traded Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis to the Washington Wizards for Porter.

Why it matters: Neither team is going anywhere this season, but Chicago is trying to set up the team’s future by acquiring Porter, a player with loads of potential — and an enormous contract — who has sometimes failed to click in Washington.

Porter, a 25-year-old forward who has plenty of size at 6-8, has seen his statistics decline this season, at least in part because of the overall decline of the Wizards. But at his best, he is capable of shooting better than 40 percent from 3-point range while also contributing rebounding and passing.

For an example of why Chicago would take a flier on a frustrating player owed a great deal of money, look no further than one of the players he was traded for: Parker. Last off-season, the Bulls had money to spend and wanted to make a free-agent splash. Parker, a player known as much for being injury prone as for being defense-averse, was the best they could do.

In Porter they pick up a young player with plenty of potential who is owed a little more than $27 million next season and has a player option of a bit less than $28.5 million in 2020-21. That is probably better than what Chicago could get on the open market, which makes it worth saying goodbye to Portis, a decent rotation player who was mostly wasted on a team that is several big pieces away from contention.





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