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PHILADELPHIA — Markelle Fultz heard 20,000 fans chanting “Fultz! Fultz! Fultz!” and for a fleeting moment he thought they were serenading Philly’s most popular athlete.

“I thought they were saying `Nick Foles,” Fultz said of the Super Bowl MVP for the champion Philadelphia Eagles.

“Then I realized it, and it was pretty dope. These fans are great, and I love them.”

The Sixers and their fans wanted the No. 1 pick to play and — after five often-confusing months — they got him.

Fultz scored 10 points and had eight assists in his first game since October, helping the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Denver Nuggets 123-104 on Monday night.

The first selection of the 2017 draft shot an airball, had three shots blocked and artfully attacked the lane, flashing glimpses of what has made him both a mystery project and prominent prospect.

With Philadelphia having clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 2012, Fultz decided the time was right to return from the injured shoulder and busted confidence that had cost him all but four games of his rookie season.

Fultz was on a media blackout in his absence and said nothing in his public return to clarify his situation.

He basically ignored the first two questions about his shoulder, and instead thanked teammates and coaches for their support during rehab.

Why was today the day to play?

“Just woke up and it was that day,” he said.

His next two answers were as empty as his stat line since October.

Did he do something to hurt his shoulder or just feel soreness?

Fultz rubbed his face and stared straight without talking and grabbed a towel someone tossed him. His wiped his face during a few more seconds of awkward silence.

Why not talk about the injury?

Blank stare.

Fultz sparked the 76ers at times in actions, certainly not words, in a reserve role.

“He looked confident,” coach Brett Brown said. “I thought it was a real, sort of bold, gutsy effort that he made given where he was now where he is.”

The 19-year-old Fultz played the 76ers’ first four games of the season before he was ruled out indefinitely in October with soreness and a scapular muscle imbalance in the shoulder.

The Sixers aren’t sure what they’ll get out of Fultz as they push toward 50 wins.

“That is a great unknown,” team president Bryan Colangelo said. “I’m not sure I have the answer. We will have to … certainly not judge tonight as the sole case of what to expect going forward.”

Fultz checked in to a standing ovation with 2:54 left in the first quarter and drove down the baseline for a quick basket. But Fultz — whose awkward shooting form made him a punchline in the NBA — fired an airball later in the quarter.

Perhaps trying to force his shot too much, Fultz also had two shots blocked on the same possession. He was a pedestrian 1 for 4 with three assists in the first half.

Fultz scored two baskets in the third quarter, missed a spin move in the lane and had another shot blocked.

“It was a little bit of excitement and little bit of just like, I gotta help the team,” Fultz said. “Once I stepped on the floor, it felt great just to be back out there with my brothers.”

He did not shoot a 3-pointer or attempt a free-throw. It was his gruesome, clunky form at the line that got him mocked on social media.

“That’s what the media’s job is, to try to do what they have to do to get paid,” Fultz said.

The fans hardly seemed to care.

Fultz was cheered each time he touched the ball, and they went wild when he sank two jumpers late in the game. The 6-foot-4 guard out of Washington just may have a significant impact after all in the postseason.

“I love these guys. They’re my guys,” Fultz said. “I’m just trying to be the best teammate I can possibly be.”

Joel Embiid had 20 points and 13 rebounds and Ben Simmons had 11 assists for the Sixers.

Will Barton led Denver with 25 points.

Embiid had perhaps his dunk of the season on a one-handed jam over Paul Millsap. Embiid raised the roof in celebration as the crowd roared and the replay was still on the big screen when the Sixers got the ball back and JJ Redick buried a 3.

TIP-INS
Nuggets: Denver scored only 15 points in the third and blew an eight-point halftime lead. … Jamal Murray had 17 points and Millsap 16.

“They got their defense into the game in the third quarter and we didn’t handle it well,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “We started becoming tentative. We started playing against the shot clock.”

Sixers: Waived G James Young. Young averaged 2.8 points in six games. … Simmons topped Allen Iverson to set the team rookie record for assists.

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Thanks to the miracle of modern baseball projection systems, we already know precisely how the 2018 season will play out. Because of that, even though we’re three weeks away from Opening Day, we might as well dive into trade deadline coverage as teams, already consigned to their 2018 fates, begin positioning themselves for next year.

EDITOR’S PICKS

The player from each MLB team who doesn’t get talked about enough
From the Cubs’ ace not enough people notice to the AL’s answer to Nolan Arenado, these under-the-radar guys help teams win.

MLB Future Power Rankings: Are dynasties brewing in New York and L.A.?
Which franchises will rule baseball for the next five years? Using Keith Law’s prospect rankings, Buster Olney’s insights and Dan Szymborski’s analysis, we look at where all 30 teams stand through 2022.

From Harvey’s revival to Thor’s heat, all things remain possible for Mets’ talented but fragile rotation
The cast of pitchers remains largely the same, but there are new eyes watching New York’s starters this season. Will that be enough for the group to finally live up to its vast potential?
If you believe that opening paragraph… well, you shouldn’t. Nevertheless, while a few impact free agents continue to dangle in limbo, at this point we have a pretty solid handle on each team’s baseline of expectation for the coming season. And yes, we can start to look ahead and muse about the in-season trade market.

I did this last year (seller edition | buyer edition), and the methodology hasn’t changed, with two small exceptions. The prospect ratings were compiled by aggregating the work of ESPN’s Keith Law and that of Baseball America. Also, rather than using consensus projections, I used the forecasts from my system, MLBPET. Finally, contract and free-agent data were taken from spotrac.com.

Today, we start with the teams marked as likely sellers — all clubs with a less than 20 percent probability of reaching the postseason. The group is ranked according to free-agent WAR, the projected 2018 value of each team’s prospective free agents. A player was included in this calculation if he can become a free agent after this season or next or if a contract option exists that would put him on the market after the 2018 season.

Toronto Blue Jays

STATUS: Sell maybe

WIN RANGE: 70 to 90

FREE-AGENT WAR: 19.5

Best trade piece if they are sellers: Josh Donaldson

Prospect they could trade if they surprise and become buyers: Nate Pearson

The top teams in the seller group, the Blue Jays being one, could have just as easily been listed in the forthcoming buyers piece, though Toronto finished just below my arbitrary 20 percent threshold for playoff probability. I bring that up because the prospect part of this becomes the focal point if a team is buying. However, these teams clustered around the cutoff, such as Toronto, would be unlikely to deal a top prospect for a fringe playoff push. Thus, Pearson is listed here and not Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette or Anthony Alford.

If indeed Toronto sells and extension talks with Donaldson have not progressed, he could become the biggest impact acquisition a contender makes during the season.

Baltimore Orioles

STATUS: Sell probably

WIN RANGE: 61 to 81

FREE-AGENT WAR: 15.2

Best trade piece if they are sellers: Manny Machado

Prospect they could trade if they surprise and become buyers: Austin Hays

The Orioles probably shouldn’t be trading prospects, but if they surprise during the first half of the season, maybe it would be worth it go all-in for what feels like Machado’s last stand in Baltimore.

However, if the season goes as expected and both the Orioles and Blue Jays end up selling, it would be interesting to see what happens to the quality of the offers clubs get for Donaldson and Machado, two of the better stretch-run rentals we’ve had in a few years.

Texas Rangers

STATUS: Sell maybe

WIN RANGE: 64 to 84

FREE-AGENT WAR: 14.9

Best trade piece if they are sellers: Cole Hamels

Prospect they could trade if they surprise and become buyers: Leody Taveras

As long as you’re not running a six-man rotation, Hamels could be a tremendous boost for a contender that could absorb all or most of his contract. Hamels has a club option on his deal for the 2019 season, so the Rangers should be able to extract a better return than you’d expect for a straight rental.

If Texas contends, it would have the advantage of a young and deep group of position players at the big league level, making it less painful to part with a non-pitching prospect.

Finally, if the Rangers don’t contend, future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre could be moved to a team that could get him a ring, and he could become one of the feel-good stories of the second half of the season.

Colorado Rockies

STATUS: Sell maybe

WIN RANGE: 67 to 87

FREE-AGENT WAR: 11.2

Best trade piece if they are sellers: Charlie Blackmon/DJ LeMahieu

Prospect they could trade if they surprise and become buyers: Ryan McMahon

The Rockies didn’t spend all that money on their bullpen to become sellers, but right now, I have them fourth in the NL West, not far behind the Diamondbacks and Giants.

Nolan Arenado has one more year of arbitration eligibility, so I would think an extension with the Rockies is far more likely than him leaving Colorado at the deadline. After all, if you’re not doing everything you can to make that guy the face of your franchise, what is really the point of anything? But the return on an Arenado deal would be huge, so it’s something to keep in the back of your head.

More likely, deadline deals would probably include free-agents-to-be LeMahieu and Blackmon. If the Rox are in the playoff chase, it would be surprising to see them deal top prospect Brendan Rodgers, especially with a possible LeMahieu departure freeing up a spot in the middle of the diamond. McMahon looks like Colorado’s Opening Day first baseman, but if he’s not ready, his versatility could bring back a quality arm for the stretch run.

San Francisco Giants

STATUS: Sell maybe

WIN RANGE: 70 to 90

FREE-AGENT WAR: 8.9

Best trade piece if they are sellers: Madison Bumgarner

Prospect they could trade if they surprise and become buyers: Heliot Ramos

Even if the Giants contend, they don’t figure to be big players in the deadline market, with neither the prospect stock nor the room under the luxury-tax threshold to make much happen.

To plug a hole, they might have to deal a prospect such as Ramos for a veteran of middling impact in hopes of the other team picking up most of the cash tab.

If the Giants sell and this season is as bad as last, then moving Bumgarner starts to make a lot more sense. His team-friendly contract is not only light on dollars but also includes a club option for next season. That’s San Francisco’s best option for a system-replenishing transaction.

Pittsburgh Pirates

STATUS: Sell maybe

WIN RANGE: 66 to 86

FREE-AGENT WAR: 8.6

Best trade piece if they are sellers: Josh Harrison

Prospect they could trade if they surprise and become buyers: Shane Baz

Harrison, who has a club option for 2019, would be a quality pickup for a contender with a hole in the infield. If his offseason rumblings are to be believed, he might not hang around for a rebuild anyway.

On the other hand, for all the talk of a Pirates tank job, they project to be as mediocre as ever. If Pittsburgh were to mount a surprise run at a wild card, then maybe dealing an arm such as Baz for a rental bat or rotation piece could help smooth some of this winter’s bad feelings.

Chicago White Sox

STATUS: Sell now

WIN RANGE: 57 to 77

FREE-AGENT WAR: 8.6

Best trade piece if they are sellers: Jose Abreu

Prospect they could trade if they surprise and become buyers: Alex Hansen

Really, I just picked Hansen’s name out of a hat. He’s a quality pitching prospect, and the White Sox have a lot of those. However, if the Sox are in position to buy, it’ll be because a number of their prospects have hit their stride and there might be no reason to add a vet.

In the more likely selling scenario, because of Chicago’s prospect depth, there is no urgency to deal a remaining veteran such as Abreu or Avisail Garcia. The White Sox would have all the leverage in those talks.

San Diego Padres

STATUS: Sell probably

WIN RANGE: 60 to 80

FREE-AGENT WAR: 7.2

Best trade piece if they are sellers: Brad Hand

Prospect they could trade if they surprise and become buyers: Adrian Morejon

Hand signed a three-year extension with a club option for 2021 during the offseason. It’s a reasonable and scalable deal that makes him a valuable trade asset if he continues to perform as he did during his 2017 breakout.

As with the White Sox, if San Diego contends, it will be because some of the prospects hit the ground running, with both Luis Urias and Fernando Tatis Jr. looking capable of doing just that based on their spring performances. But if the Padres find themselves in a borderline-shocking playoff chase, they might be willing to deal from their prospect depth to upgrade the rotation.

Oakland Athletics

STATUS: Sell probably

WIN RANGE: 64 to 84

FREE-AGENT WAR: 6.8

Best trade piece if they are sellers: Khris Davis

Prospect they could trade if they surprise and become buyers: James Kaprielian

Davis has another year of arbitration eligibility left on his deal. Oakland has a lot of under-25 big leaguers, or others close to that, to replace him in the lineup and avoid that expense. For a contender looking for some middle-of-the-order pop, Davis would be attractive, and the cost in prospects likely wouldn’t be prohibitive.

A surprise Oakland run would probably send Billy Beane in search of a rental or two, and he has the supply of young arms to make something happen.

Kansas City Royals

STATUS: Sell now

WIN RANGE: 56 to 76

FREE-AGENT WAR: 5.9

Best trade piece if they are sellers: Danny Duffy

Prospect they could trade if they surprise and become buyers: Nicky Lopez

Duffy is on a team-friendly deal that has four years remaining on it, providing a lot of future WAR to a team willing to help provide a boost to Kansas City’s farm system.

As for a surprise Royals run … it wouldn’t be boosted much by dealing prospects from the barren system. More likely, it would be a lower-tier prospect or two and a willingness to take on some money.

Detroit Tigers

STATUS: Sell now

WIN RANGE: 57 to 77

FREE-AGENT WAR: 5.6

Best trade piece if they are sellers: Michael Fulmer

Prospect they could trade if they surprise and become buyers: Derek Hill

If Fulmer is healthy, he could be as attractive a trade target as will exist on the in-season market, with the stuff to be a No. 2 or 3 in a contending rotation and four years of team control remaining. That combination should command a hefty price in another team’s prospects.

The Tigers aren’t in position to start trading the prospects they’ve already gathered for their burgeoning rebuild. Even a season of soft contention would likely see Detroit remain in sell mode, though it might make it that much harder to swing a big deal involving Fulmer.

Atlanta Braves

STATUS: Sell probably

WIN RANGE: 63 to 83

FREE-AGENT WAR: 5.2

Best trade piece if they are sellers: Ender Inciarte

Prospect they could trade if they surprise and become buyers: Cristian Pache

Inciarte is a joy to watch in center field. He also had a nice season at the plate in 2017 and has four years and an option remaining on an extremely team-friendly deal. If the Giants had the prospects to deal, they would be wearing out the smartphone of Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos.

Whether or not Atlanta contends, with Ronald Acuna and Pache in the system, the Braves have center field covered, literally and figuratively. However … in a surprise contention scenario, the presence of Inciarte and Acuna could move Anthopoulos to chase an impact veteran for the rotation. Hamels seems like he’d be a fit in that case, with Pache becoming Texas’ center fielder of the future.

A problem for any Braves in-season deal could be money, as they took on a lot of it in exchange for flexibility after the season. Despite all of this excitement, Atlanta’s actual in-season dealing might be much blander.

Miami Marlins

STATUS: Sell now

WIN RANGE: 53 to 73

FREE-AGENT WAR: 3.5

Best trade piece if they are sellers: J.T. Realmuto

Prospect they could trade if they surprise and become buyers: Brian Anderson

Given his age, production and position, catcher J.T. Realmuto should bring back another welcome jolt for the Marlins’ rebuild if (or when) he is finally traded.

I list Anderson as the prospect, but in reality, it’s exceedingly unlikely that Miami would move a cost-controlled player for a veteran contract. But if Miami is close to the wild card and one pitcher seems like he could make the difference, you never know.

Cincinnati Reds
STATUS: Sell probably

WIN RANGE: 64 to 84

FREE-AGENT WAR: 3.1

Best trade piece if they are sellers: Billy Hamilton

Prospect they could trade if they surprise and become buyers: Tyler Mahle

Hamilton is nearing the end of his arbitration window, and while his on-base skills continue to lag, you could see a contender putting his disruptive baserunning and terrific defense to good use in the postseason format. The Reds have a center-field prospect coming in Taylor Trammell and good depth elsewhere in the outfield, so Hamilton seems like a good bet to be moved at some point.

If Cincinnati is in the wild-card race, that means some of its young starting pitchers have finally turned the corner, one of whom very well could be Mahle. However, if the Reds want to go all-in, Dick Williams might look to package a couple of those young arms for a little veteran certainty for the rotation.