The NBA trade winds are blowing, and there’s a hint of a whisper in the breeze with the Pistons and Philadelphia 76ers guard Markelle Fultz.
The Pistons are doing their due diligence and are showing interest in the trade market for the oft-injured Fultz, a league source confirmed to The Detroit News on Thursday.
The Sixers made Fultz, 20, the top overall pick after they traded two first-round picks to the Boston Celtics to move up from third to No. 1.
The gamble hasn’t paid off. Fultz has played in just 19 games this season and has been out since Nov. 19; he’s been diagnosed with neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome, a nerve-compression disorder that affects muscles in the torso. Fultz is doing rehabilitation in California to strengthen his muscle and is looking to return this season.
The announced timetable was three to six weeks. Fultz averaged 7.1 points, 3.8 assists and 3.1 rebounds as a rookie last season but played in only 14 games, as his shoulder injuries mounted. This season, the numbers are similar: 8.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists at about 23 minutes per game.
After the Sixers’ high-profile pursuit and trade for Fultz, his case has become one of the most mysterious in recent years in the NBA, with many experts believing some of Fultz’s basketball struggles to be as much mental and psychological as they are physical.
It’s unclear what the asking price for Fultz would be, but with the Pistons’ precarious salary-cap situation, there would have to be some corresponding moves or potentially a third team involved in any potential trade. Fultz’s contract calls for salaries of $8.3 million this season, $9.7 million next year and a team option for $12.3 million in 2020-21.
He was moved to the bench after the Sixers acquired Jimmy Butler from the Minnesota Timberwolves and there’s no clear role for Fultz in their long-term future, which could be the reasoning behind the trade talks.
Because the Pistons dealt their 2018 first-round pick in January’s big trade to obtain Blake Griffin, it appears very unlikely that they would include another first-rounder in a deal for Fultz. In that case, the potential trade pieces could include expiring contracts, such as Ish Smith ($7 million) or Reggie Bullock ($2.5 million) or a promising young player that the Sixers covet.
Both Smith and Bullock would interest the Sixers because they seek smaller contracts and 3-point shooting after acquiring Butler. They already have three centerpieces in Butler, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
Last season, Bullock was second in the NBA from beyond the arc, at 44.6 percent. Bullock, 27, is shooting 35 percent but has had a sprained ankle on two occasions this season, causing him to miss eight games. He would be an addition to the Sixers’ reserve group and his size and defense would be an upgrade.
Smith, 30, has had two stints with the Sixers, in 2014-15 and the following season, before signing a three-year deal for $18 million with the Pistons. He’s shooting 33 percent on 3-pointers this season and could provide a change-of-pace option in their second unit, to augment T.J. McConnell.
After a strong 13-7 start, the Pistons have lost six straight games, including two games in the past week to the Sixers.
While no move appears imminent, the Pistons are exploring trade options.
LibertyBallers.com was first to report the Pistons’ interest, on Wednesday. The site also cited the Orlando Magic as another team that is showing interest in obtaining Fultz.