Fultz Returns to Sixers' Lineup as Shoulder Origin Remains a Mystery

"I want to tell you something about Markelle Fultz. He's going to play tonight."

With those words from Brett Brown, the wait was over.

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Markelle Fultz made his return from a near-season-long injury Monday against the Nuggets. The 2017 No. 1 pick informed the team he was ready that day, Brown said, prior to the Sixers' 73rd game.

Fultz was diagnosed with right shoulder and scapular muscle imbalance in late October. His return never had been ruled out, though it seemed less and less likely as the playoffs neared and the team tightened up rotations in a battle for home-court advantage. 

"We all felt it was very important for him to get out there if he could and get a taste of this prior to the end of the season and hopefully contribute in a way that is meaningful and impactful," Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said. 

The exact cause of Fultz's unusual injury remains unclear. The Sixers have not pinpointed whether he changed his shot because he hurt his shoulder or vice versa. 

"The cause is unknown at this stage," Colangelo said. "We don't know where it started, when it started, but it was sometime from the time we saw him in summer league, when everyone saw that he did not have a shoulder problem and there was no indication that there was a problem with his shot, to something that very quickly rose to awareness in late September and early October as we started the season.

"It literally was just a breakdown of muscle function. I don't know enough about the injury, it's very uncommon in basketball, it's very complicated and complex, and that's why there's been so much unknown here."

The Sixers are implementing Fultz into their system as a backup to Ben Simmons. Brown estimates there is a window of 14 minutes available. As a result of Fultz's return, T.J. McConnell moved off the ball and Justin Anderson is out of the rotation. The team will look for Fultz to be effective as a shot creator as he regains his shot. 

The Sixers have 10 games before the start of the playoffs to evaluate how Fultz fits into the mix. Colangelo said Fultz will not be judged on just his first game back. 

"Any player coming back from a debilitating injury, there's going to be a mental component," Colangelo said. "But this was just about regaining form. You're talking about a young player, 19 years old, that had to regain his shooting form and feel comfortable doing so. There's going to be setbacks along the way in terms of your confidence. 

"He's at a point where I'm not even certain we can say he's a 100 percent, but he's a 100 percent ready to get out there on the floor in his own mind and in the minds of our coaching staff who have worked so diligently to get him back to this point."

Fultz had appeared in four games this season, averaging 6.0 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists.

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