The Curious Case of Markelle Fultz (and why the Warriors should acquire him)

A proposal to send Shaun Livingston to the Sixers for the former 1st pick

Matt Kolsky
December 01, 2018 - 12:53 pm

Listen, I’m not really a “hot take” kind of guy.

Surely I have crazy ideas now and again — and I’m wrong plenty — but I try not to wildly shout things that I don’t actually believe or that even I can’t make sense of. So understand that when I put this to you, I know it sounds crazy, but I also really think it might be a great idea:

The Golden State Warriors should call up the Philadelphia 76ers and offer them Shaun Livingston in exchange for embattled second-year, first-overall pick Markelle Fultz.

I know you have many questions and objections, dear Warriors fan, and I don’t blame you. On its face, parting ways with a beloved and valued veteran presence to bring in a kid with a potentially Chuck Knoblauch-sized shooting problem is enough to get a sports pundit committed.

Honestly, though, I’m very sincere about this. I’m not trolling you, and I’m certainly not saying anything I don’t believe.

Let me at least try to make you think about it…

The Most Basic Case:

Shaun Livingston is great, which might be a curious way to start this off. I love his game, and I love his story, and I saw him play in high school in our mutual home state of Illinois. None of this is about “unloading” S-dot, and it isn’t a reflection on his contributions or current value — certainly not a negative reflection.

The sole reason that Livingston is the candidate for this cockamamie scheme is that he makes $8.3 million this season. Markelle Fultz, embattled second-year first-overall pick, is under contract with the 76ers for $8.3 million this season. Boom, salaries matched — and that, essentially, is all you need to execute a trade in the NBA.

But why? Why on earth are you trying to do this in the first place?

This is also relatively simple — because there is virtually no other way for the Warriors to add a player with Fultz’s raw ability and development potential at this point or at any point in the foreseeable near future.

Markelle Fultz was considered by most scouts to be a future all-star coming out of Washington. Based on reporting at the time, the vast majority of NBA teams would have taken him with that first pick. He is, at the moment, an unplayable head case, believed by the Sixers to have a case of the yips when it comes to shooting a basketball (which is a pretty big problem for a basketball player).

He’s still that talent, though, and given the Warriors likely winning percentage and cap situation over the next several seasons, there is simply no way they’ll draft high enough to acquire a rookie of Fultz’s ability. As tantalizing as the prospect of Anthony Davis (or [INSERT OTHER MAX CONTRACT PLAYER HERE]) in blue and gold may be, it’s equally unlikely to materialize.

Fultz’s odd mental predicament gives the Warriors a unique opportunity, and I would argue that Shaun Livingston is a reasonable buy-in for what is admittedly a gamble (but a high-reward, low-risk one).

A Compendium of Responses to Some of Your Questions and Concerns:

(1) How could you consider parting ways with a veteran of Livingston’s experience and calming locker room presence when this team is trying to win a title? Don’t the Warriors need Shaun’s leadership, especially in the wake of the Durant/Green kerfuffle?

Well, for one thing I don’t think there’s anything to worry about with KD and Draymond. You can’t convince me that either of them will let whatever petty squabbles they may have had distract or deter them from winning a third straight title.

All that stands in the way of that are major injuries to the team’s all-stars — and if that happens, Shaun Livingston won’t save you.

More broadly, the Warriors have plenty of veteran leadership in their four (five, if you count Boogie) all-stars, not to mention Andre Iguodala (who incidentally can do most if not all of what Livingston brings to the table).

Bottom line — if the Warriors give up Livingston and essentially get nothing in return, I still believe they have a relatively easy path to their three-peat, provided they stay healthy.

(2) Wait a second, now that you mention it, wouldn’t it be better to trade Andre Iguodala and keep Livingston? You get better contract value with S-dot, and he seems generally less washed.

Sure, but the contracts don’t match up (see “The Most Basic Case,” above).

I do have an idea for a much bigger, more dramatic Fultz trade involving BOTH Livingston and Iguodala, but to be frank you’re not ready for that.

(3) Listen, I’m just not into the idea of making any move to acquire a guy who’s playing Reverse Plinko [TM Joe Fortenbaugh] to try to psych himself up for free throw attempts…

Understandable.

The thing is, he was universally considered a top-three talent in a very good NBA Draft for a reason. When he has played, there have been flashes of why — he just seems to have a mental block with shooting. The other possibility is that he has a shoulder (or possibly now thumb?) injury that is forcing him to compensate with odd shooting mechanics.

Either way, what better environment is there to heal than Golden State? This is the only team in the league that could say to him, “Hey kid, relax! Take your time, figure your stuff out with the help of all of our top-notch sports psychology and medicine experts… You know what? Hang out over here with Boogie! He’s a blast! Can’t play this year? No worries, just spend some time working on you.”

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Fultz has a 50% chance of figuring it out and getting past his yips-and-or-injury issues — I feel like the odds are better than that, but even if they’re not, isn’t a 50% shot at an all-star combo guard worth parting ways with a limited veteran like Livingston?

For goodness sakes, as much as I love Shaun, he’s a 33-year-old guard with reconstructed knees who’s playing less than 17 minutes per game despite the Warriors’ injury-depleted roster — and by the way, he also can’t shoot. We’re just used to it.

Worried about losing Livingston’s length on defense? Markelle Fultz has a 6-foot-10 wingspan. He’s a solid passer (like Shaun) and great in transition (like Shaun was when he was drafted out of high school in 2004). NBADraft.net’s profile describes Fultz as, “a very low risk, high reward player; one of the most complete college guards in the last decade.”

He’s clearly a higher risk now than he was then, but again — he’s still that talent.

(4) Ok ok ok I get it, but if Fultz is so good and Livingston is such a bargain price, why would the 76ers even entertain this offer?

This is your best question, reader, and the answer is that I’m not totally sure.

If I was the 76ers, I’d be patient. But as a mid-level (aspirationally, anyway) radio host, I’m forced to depend on NBA reporters I trust to give me information about the league, and the information I’m seeing reported is that Philadelphia doesn’t believe they can get a first-round pick for Fultz.

Frankly, I’d offer the Warriors first-round pick (likely to be between 27 and 30) along with Livingston if it was what Philly needed to swallow this pill. Certainly I’d be happy to throw in a Warriors’ second-rounder, which is barely distinguishable from an undrafted free agent.

That said, the Sixers are also the very rare team that is both in possession of copious young talent and also absolutely in competition for a conference title. Most teams with players like Fultz on the roster are much earlier in their building process, and would happily wait on him.

Philadelphia, particularly with the addition of Jimmy Butler, believes the waiting period is over. They might see great value in a veteran of Livingston’s experience — a three-time champion who has been through the wars, so to speak. The only player with comparable playoff experience on the 76ers roster is JJ Redick, who hasn’t been to the Finals since 2009 with Orlando.

In a lot of ways, Livingston is actually a more useful return than a mediocre draft pick for a team that’s unwilling to wait on for a potential all-star prospect to get his act together.

(5) Well, you’ve made a pretty convincing case, I guess… But has anyone important agreed with you?

Yes. Bay Area legend and 95.7 The Game mid-day personality Greg Papa told me on the air that he would make this trade, given the chance.

I rest my case.

ADDENDUM:

(6) Hey, Kolsky, wait!! I meant to ask — do you actually think there’s any chance of this happening in the real world?

Um… no. Sorry. Thanks for reading :) Now go watch Steph Curry’s return to the floor.

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