Deep breath: Let's talk Michael Carter-Williams trades for a minute

Deep breath: Let's talk Michael Carter-Williams trades for a minute
June 20, 2014, 1:45 pm
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Michael Carter-Williams averaged over 16 points, six rebounds and six assists a game in his debut season, numbers only Hall-of-Famers Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson had previously put up as rookies. He led the league among first-year players in all three categories and was a landslide Rookie of the Year winner. He was also the best (and many times only) reason to watch the Sixers last year, an explosive talent that played hard and never complained, even as the team endured historic levels of losing with a roster around him barely fit for a Summer League squad. Does all this make him untradeable, though? No, it doesn't make him untradeable. In the Sam Hinkie era, everyone is tradeable, and that includes our ROY-winning point guard. In fact, reports yesterday from trusted Yahoo hoops reporter Adrian Wojnarowski in the midst of the frenzy over Joel Embiid's latest injury mentioned how the Sixers were "intrigued with the possibility of drafting a point guard with one of its picks in the draft," and that the team "had discussions with teams about gathering an additional pick between its two current choices at No. 3 and No. 10." The two statements in conjunction understandably led Sixer fans to conclude that perhaps their current PG would be the primary trade bait used to land that third top-ten pick. This was corroborated some later in the day when ESPN's Chad Ford--can't go an article this time of year without mentioning him-- posted his latest mock draft, assessing the damage caused by the fallout from the Embiid injury. He now had the Sixers ending up with Aussie point guard Dante Exum, finishing his blurb by cautioning Sixers fans: "With Exum a bigger possibility, don't be surprised if they step up their efforts to trade Michael Carter-Williams for another lottery pick." Now, I still don't believe this is actually gonna happen. I wrote a whole post some weeks ago about how I didn't think Carter-Williams was really going to be traded, and I stand by that. MCW has proven himself a highly valuable part of this team's future, and there's reason to believe that even if the Sixers took Exum, the two could eventually fit well in a backcourt together. There's no point in trading the Rookie of the Year just for the sake of trading him. Still, there is an argument to be made for dealing MCW now, and it'd probably be foolish to disregard it altogether. His presence as Philly's established ball-handler and leader could make developing Exum as a lead guard--if that's who Sixers brass want, and how they see him--more of a challenge. You could say that if the Sixers get a better-fitting piece in the mid-to-high lottery to build around Exum with, that might be smart for the team's long-term balance and health. Meanwhile, it's likely that MCW's trade value is as high right now, while he's still just 22 and has that Rookie of the Year shine on him, as it ever will be. His numbers last season were obviously inflated a good deal by the Sixers being so bereft of other NBA-caliber players to put up shots, grab rebounds and make plays, and it's possible that once the team starts to fill out a little, his numbers won't look so impressive. He could end up like Tyreke Evans, who put up a 20-5-5 his ROY-winning debut season for the Kings, but kinda plateaued from there as a player and never put up numbers that good again. If the Kings had traded Tyreke at the end of his rookie season, they could've commanded a king's (no pun intended) ransom for him, but instead, by the time his rookie deal elapsed, all they could get for him was Greivis Vasquez and a couple future second-rounders in a sign-and-trade. Hinkie would be loath to let that happen with MCW, I expect. Of course, it's possible that none of this applies to Michael Carter-Williams--that he still has miles to go as an NBA player, that playing with other pro-caliber talent will only enhance his numbers, that the Sixers would be better off keeping him near at all costs. His trade is not imminent, nor is it probable, nor is it even necessarily advisable. But it is possible, and with these reports and these arguments, I think it's worth considering what MCW's value might be on the open market--particularly among those teams with top ten picks. Would any of them be a good landing spot for Carter-Williams, and if so, what could we hope to get in return? Here's a couple possible trade targets for the Sixers--most operating under the (by no means guaranteed) assumption that Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker go 1-2 in the draft and the Sixers nab Exum at #3: Los Angeles Lakers. The top-ten team with the most interest in MCW could be the Lakers, who have had to give up the dream of a Nash-Kobe backcourt with the former hobbled with a series of career-derailing injuries. LA needs a point guard, and if both Exum and Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart are off the board where the Lakers pick at #7--as they are in Ford's latest mock--they might look to Carter-Williams as a better option than anyone else they could get in that spot. It wouldn't be a totally perfect fit for the Lakers, as Kobe has always been their primary ball-handler, and he usually prefers to play with point guards--like Nash, and Derek Fisher before him--that can double as knockdown shooters, something MCW has never been. And in addition to point guard, the Lakers have needs just about everywhere on the court--they only have a handful of players under contract for next year to begin with--so they might just go frontcourt in the draft with a Julius Randle or Aaron Gordon instead. But LA might have its sets sight on free agency anyway to add frontcourt players--Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love, to name a couple--and want to stabilize its backcourt first. Not to mention that with Kobe getting older and now extremely susceptible to injury, they might want a guard to take the pressure off him, to spell him on occasion, and to eventually take over leadership responsibilities from him. If they think MCW can be that star-caliber guard, it wouldn't be surprising to see L.A. try to deal for him. Would the #7 pick be enough to secure the Sixers' interest, straight up? Possibly. If they took Exum at #3, and especially if Smart was already off the board at #7, that would mean the Sixers could likely get their choice between Aaron Gordon and Julius Randle to pair with Nerlens Noel in the frontcourt. Then they could take a wing shooter like Gary Harris or James Young at #10, and go into next year with a lineup of Exum-Harris-Young-Gordon-Noel. Not a perfect lineup, and Thad would eventually probably have to be moved for some more shooting, but one with about as much long-term potential as any other young team in the East. Sacramento Kings. Another good fit for MCW might come one spot down from the Lakers, with the Kings at #8. Sacramento has an electric scoring point guard in Isaiah Thomas that they don't entirely seem to be comfortable with, mostly because of his diminutive size and his inability to really contain anybody on defense. With his size, defensive potential and more conventional point guard skills, Carter-Williams would seem a better fit for them--particularly alongside Ben McLemore, a shooting guard with star upside and freakish athleticism, but one currently unable of creating much for himself or others in the half-court. A #8-for-MCW swap would probably also fit pretty well for the Sixers, though it would depend a little more on who was already off the board. If the Celtics took Marcus Smart at #6 and the Lakers took Julius Randle at #7, then they might want to swoop in at #8 to get Aaron Gordon. But if the Lakers took Gordon, the Sixers could probably hang back and just hope to land Randle at #10. Both the Kings and the Hornets (at #9) already have dominant low-post players with defensive failings (DeMarcus Cousins and Al Jefferson, respectively) and would be unlikely to add another in Randle. If that was the case, the Kings might have to throw in something else to make the deal worthwhile. Promising backup point guard Ray McCallum, perhaps, or some of those previously mentioned second-rounders they got for Tyreke last summer, or maybe even long-disappointing forward bust Derrick Williams if Hinkie feels like kicking the tires on him. In any event, the Kings should be one of the more motivated buyers in the MCW market, so I'm sure Hink has Sacramento GM Pete D'Alessandro towards the very top of his call log these days. Orlando Magic. The Magic desperately want a point guard, and have been put in as tough a position as anybody in this draft by the Embiid injury. Now if Wiggins/Parker go 1-2 and the Sixers end up taking Exum at #3, the Magic have to decide whether they want to roll the dice on Embiid at #4, reach for Marcus Smart, or just take whatever frontcourt player they feel slightly comfortable with. Could Orlando end up just dealing for MCW to fill their point guard vacancy instead? It's possible, though they'd be unlikely to do it straight up--the #4 pick is too valuable for that. It'd probably take Carter-Williams and Thaddeus Young as a minimum, possibly with a second-rounder or another Sixers scrap (Sims, Wroten, Thompson, whoever) or two to go along with them. And Orlando would have to be convinced that MCW and combo guard (and 2014 ROY runner-up) Victor Oladipo could fit together, which certainly wouldn't leave the Magic with a ton of shooting in the backcourt. Still, the deal might be tempting enough for the Sixers--two top-five picks in the same loaded draft!--to try to make it work. Then at #4, they could either take Embiid and hope for the best, safe that they got something out of this draft regardless in Exum and whoever they take #10. Or they could take Noah Vonleh, the Indiana power forward who seems close to the ideal frontcourt pairing with Noel. It's a lot for Philly to give up, for sure, but it could set the team up for some time to come. -- Those are probably the three most practical landing spots for MCW if we're looking to add another top-ten pick. The Bucks might be interested, since they need a point guard as much as anybody, but they'd probably rather just take Exum at #2 than look to deal with the Sixers for Carter-Williams. Cleveland has Kyrie Irving, Utah has Trey Burke, Boston has Rajon Rondo (for now) and Charlotte has Kemba Walker, likely taking any of those teams out of the running for our point guard's services. I'd still selfishly rather they didn't look to deal Michael Carter-Williams--I want to see him rewarded for being such a soldier his miserable rookie year with the chance to actually help lead this team back to prominence--and I don't think they will. But in the Hinkieverse, everyone is expendable, and if he sees a chance to legitimately upgrade this team's talent level at MCW's expense, you can bet he's not gonna be let sentiment stand in the way. It'd be a hard pill to swallow, but ultimately, we're better off with a GM willing to make such tough decisions--as we were last year with the Jrue/Noel deal--than with one who rests on his laurels and just hopes everything will work out.

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