Fresh start may not make a difference

Markelle Fultz was traded from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Orlando Magic on Thursday at the NBA trade deadline, and after it happened the reaction was near unanimous among NBA fans: This was great. Fultz, the former No. 1 overall pick, had struggled in Philadelphia, dealing with either the yips or injury issues (or both) throughout his time with the team.

Now he would get a fresh start. He could get rid of the baggage and finally be the player he was always meant to become.

But that doesn’t really happen in the NBA. Draft busts tend to stay busts. If they do get a good look in a fresh city, they can maybe become a solid NBA starter. But if Fultz were to live up to the No. 1 hype and become a franchise player, he would be bucking history.

Before we dive into the guys who never figured it out, let’s talk about an NBA Draft bust who went on to make good when given a fresh start.

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Tyson Chandler was drafted No. 2 overall in the 2001 NBA Draft by the Clippers, before immediately being traded to the Chicago Bulls, where he was supposed to be their starting center for the next decade.

Injury issues plagued him, and while he showed flashes, his career never took off like it was supposed to. In 2006, though, he was traded to New Orleans. It was a fresh start. And it worked.

Chandler was healthy, and his career was rejuvenated by his partnership with Chris Paul. He became a fearsome defender and an expert runner of the pick-and-roll, finishing most of his buckets on drives to the lane that were rewarded by the brilliant point guard.

He became a really good starting center in the NBA, won a title with the Mavericks in 2011, and even got into an All-Star Game when he was with the Knicks in 2013.

That is the dream scenario for Fultz. Get healthy, find a team where you fit in perfectly, embrace the role you were born to play, and carve out a solid NBA career. Was Chandler ever a franchise player? No. But he became a really good NBA player.

(You could argue that Chandler had the benefit of playing with a generational point guard, and was always going to be as good as the talent around him, while Fultz is a scoring guard who can’t find his shot, so it will be tougher for him to figure it out. This is a solid argument!)

Some other players have shirked off the draft bust label to build solid NBA careers – Michael Beasley has been in the league a long time despite not living up to his No. 2 pick. Michael Olowokandi built himself a totally respectable NBA career, though not what you’d expect from a No 1. Wesley Johnson has become a fine role player after being selected No. 4 overall.

Those are the success stories. Those are the guys who got stuck with the bust label, then figured it out (in their own way) when they got to a new team.

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But here are some players who never figured it out: Anthony Bennett. Darko Milicic. Nikoloz Tskitishvili. Adam Morrison. Kwame Brown. Hasheem Thabeet. Greg Oden.

We don’t have to go into all the details. Every story above is different. Some never got healthy, some never figured out confidence issues, some were just plain scouted wrong. But more often than not, once you’re stuck with the bust label, that’s what you remain, no matter how many fresh starts you get.

It’s fantastic that Markelle Fultz is getting to a new team. It really is. I’m happy for him, and I hope he has a solid NBA career in Orlando. But that has to be considered the ceiling for him at this point – a solid NBA career.

 

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