A telling game of trade-rumor telephone has been going on today concerning Philadelphia 76ers point guard Michael Carter-Williams. The whisper was first reported by ESPN's draft expert Chad Ford--one of the most influential men in basketball around this time of year, as exemplified by the fact that this isn't even the first article we've posted today in response to a report of his--in an article on intriguing international draft prospect Dante Exum:
The Philadelphia 76ers are Exum fans as well, and if Wiggins is off the board, Exum will be in the mix. They think Exum and Carter-Williams could play together in the backcourt, although it would not be a very good shooting tandem. I think the more obvious fit comes if they trade Carter-Williams, an idea I'm told they have bounced around.
Unsurprisingly, it didn't take long for this rumor to be recirculated as "Sixers have considered trading Michael Carter-Williams" or "Michael Carter-Williams to be traded?" All basketball fans, including us here at the Level, love a sexy little trade rumor, and the idea of the Sixers being amenable to shopping last year's Rookie of the Year Winner is about as tasty a morsel this side of Kevin Love that you're likely to hear pre-draft.
It ignores a lot of context, though, and a lot of variables that need to be considered before one hits the trade machine to start toying with the idea of MCW being shipped elsewhere after just a season in the City of Brotherly Love. So, some points to address here:
1. About the Ford reports that the Sixers have "bounced around" the idea of trading MCW: I don't doubt it for a second. I also don't doubt that they've "bounced around" the idea of trading Nerlens Noel, or the #3 or #10 pick, or the rights to the "1-2-3-4-5 Sixers" song and a mascot to be named later. Every idea is bounceable in the Sixers war room.
This is one of the main reasons we love our dark lord Sam Hinkie. While there are GMs out there that would get a young asset like MCW and then throw a big cloak over him in the off-season and fight off anyone else who tried to get a peek at him, Hinkie is always listening. That's how Jrue Holiday, a 22-year-old first-time All-Star who just signed a bargain of a four-year extension, was made available at last year's deadline, and that's how it's entirely possible Michael Carter-Williams could be traded this season.
But let's also recall that when Jrue was traded, it was for an absolute embarrassment of a return from New Orleans. The Sixers got the #6 pick in last year's draft--with which they were able to take arguably the draft's #1 overall talent in Noel--and a scarcely protected 1st this year, which ended with the Sixers landing the #10 pick this year. Considering the bath that the now-Pelicans are thought to have taken in that deal--losing two top-ten picks for Holiday, who had a good-not-great half-season for NO last year before getting injured and might never make another All-Star team in the point-stuffed West--it might be a minute before the Hink gets an offer like that again for a young point guard coming off a breakout season.
2. It's also worth noting that this discussion is likely contingent on the Sixers planning on drafting Dante Exum with the #3 pick, and that the Sixers taking Exum is, in my opinion at least, extremely contingent on Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid already being off the board by the time it comes for the Sixers to make their pick.
The latter point, as we've previously discussed, is by no means a certainty and by this point might not even be a likelihood. Jabari Parker impressed tremendously in his most recent workout, and would fill an area of obvious and pressing need for both the Cavs and Bucks--particularly the Bucks, who are as bereft of wing production as anyone in the league (besides the Sixers, anyway). The Sixers might not be huge on Jabari, but one of the two teams above them very well might be. Hell, in that Exum article and in his recent draft chat, Ford posits the Bucks even have the Aussie himself rated higher on his boards than Wiggins.
I just can't see the Sixers taking Exum with Embiid or Wiggins still on the board. Wiggins is the home-run pick for the Sixers, the guy with the highest upside who bests fit the team mold that Hinkie seems to be building the team in. And while Embiid causes similar overlap problems as Exum--with Noel rather than MCW--his potential to me would seem so much higher (or at least in today's NBA, rarer) than Exum's that if the Sixers were going to go Best Player Available and not worry about fit, I don't see a justification for them taking Exum over Embiid.
And if the Sixers aren't confident in taking Exum, there's really no reason for them to talk about trading Michael. It's possible that Carter-Williams won't improve in leaps and bounds from the player we've already seen, but he's certainly shown enough in his rookie season not to just be traded for being traded's sake. Unless Hinkie is super-high on Marcus Smart--not impossible, given that Smart's rated well in advanced-stat projections, but there's no assurance he'd be available past the Lakers at #7 (or even past #5, if Utah has faith), and the Sixers have greater areas of need anyway--there's no non-Exum point in this draft to even consider replacing MCW with.
3. The only other reason I could see the Sixers going for a MCW deal is if they were confident they could both move down a couple spots and still get Exum, and get another top ten pick in exchange to go with MCW, thus picking three times in the top ten, while also picking up some extra assets along the way.
So for instance, let's say the Sixers believed Exum would be around at #5, and they traded the #3 pick to the Jazz in the deal we discussed here, for #5, #23 and a future pick. Then they swapped Michael Carter-Williams to the Lakers--whose interest in MCW I'm presuming for argument's sake, though it wouldn't be totally illogical--for the #7 pick. That would leave them with #5, #7, #10 and #23--four first-rounders--as well as a future pick from the Jazz, with the chance to throw out a Fab Five rookie lineup (w/ Noel as the 5th) next season as a very real, very unprecedented possibility.
Tempting, but problematic. First of all, there's probably a reason no one's tried to build around that many rookies at once, aside from the practical considerations of attempting such a roster--it undoubtedly helps to at least have some kind of leadership already in place to steward the team towards development. So much of last year for MCW was about him learning how to be that leader, how to assume ownership of the team, how to take criticism but not credit, and now that he has that, it's arguably as valuable an asset to the Sixers on and off the court as any of the numbers he's put up. He may only be a second-year player, but he's already gone through more adversity than some players go through for their entire rookie contract, and seems a better, more mature player and individual for it. Having him to lead next year and moving forward will be huge for the Sixers.
Also, it's hard for me to believe the Sixers could ever be so confident in Exum being available at #5. Orlando seems a likely bet to nab the point guard at #4, if Milwaukee doesn't grab him first. Of course, then you could say that the Sixers should then just take Aaron Gordon or Noah Vonleh at #5, grab Marcus Smart at #7 and take the best shooter available at #10, or even try to package two of their picks to get into the top three. But if the latter doesn't work, or costs the Sixers too much, then they leave the draft without any of the highest-caliber, franchise-changing guys, and without MCW to boot. Smart-Stauskas-Thad-Vonleh-Noel would be a fun team to watch, for sure, but does anyone think they'll be contending for a championship in four years?
4. Even if the Sixers are deadset on absolutely positutely taking Dante Exum, and can be swayed by no one or nothing to the contrary, it seems unlikely to me that they'd trade MCW before even seeing how he and Exum can play together. The pair are versatile talents, with size and length and athleticism, and there's some thought that Exum might be more natural as a two-guard anyway. Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic showed for Phoenix last year that just because you have two point guards doesn't mean you have to trade one, and though it's not a perfect comparison to Exum/MCW, since the Suns pair could shoot a little better, it's a lesson probably worth heeding anyway.
Take Exum if you're set on doing so, and see if it's a total mismatch of a fit with MCW. If it is, then you can set to work on trading one--you should still get pretty good value for an athletic, high-upside young point guard on a rookie contract no matter which of the two they end up trading. If they can find a way to work together, that's a hell of a backcourt to build your team around moving forward.
Asset collecting is great and all, and the Sixers certainly ain't gonna stop with that anytime soon. But at some point, you have to start building around the players you have, and as many issues as MCW may have had last season--he can't shoot, he turns the ball over too much, he needs to get stronger on defense--it was balanced with evidence of some absolutely blinding talent and high-level production, which the Sixers would be foolish to trade away without extremely, overwhelmingly good cause to do so. Sam Hinkie plays a lot of roles for his Philadelphia minions, but the fool has never been one, and I don't expect him to start anytime soon.
Could Michael Carter-Williams be traded this June? Absolutely, and so could you, your mother and your only still-operational XBox controller. Will he? It's gonna take a lot more than one casually reported rumor of internal discussions to convince me of that.