Trade Candidate: Michael Carter-Williams

Usually, when players in the early years of their rookie deals find themselves in trade discussions, it’s typically because there’s a lack of production or the player is a poor fit on his team. Michael Carter-Williams doesn’t go into either of those categories but the Sixers aren’t operating like a typical NBA franchise. The team’s plans to obtain superstar-caliber players via high lottery picks are well-documented, and Philadelphia seems in no rush to assemble a winning team that doesn’t have a few of these sorts of players on it.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Philadelphia 76ersIt’s unclear whether the Sixers view Carter-Williams as a rising superstar. Some team officials reportedly don’t view him as part of the club’s long-term plan. The point guard has impressed during his first season and a half, but there are major concerns about whether he can lead a contending team. Carter-Williams owns a .381/.250/.642 slash line this season, which ranks 71st, 71st, and 79th respectively among all point guards in the league. His shooting has been historically poor for a player getting starter’s minutes, and that kind of production can seriously hinder a team’s ability to win games.

Philadelphia is on a mission to win championships in the long run, but it’s going to take more than improved shooting from MCW to get there. While the team’s strategy to aim for superstars in order to win titles seems foolproof, only one team per year actually comes away with the Larry O’Brien trophy. Only once every few years does a team come away with a transcendent talent in the top of the draft. For every LeBron James or Anthony Davis, there are several players whose ceilings aren’t in that ballpark.

The Magic are a prime example of what can happen when a franchise accumulates high draft picks without obtaining a transcendent talent. Orlando had a top five pick in the last two drafts and traded up to get another top 10 pick last June. Those selections have netted the team Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon, and Elfrid Payton. Those are nice players and the Magic have a good nucleus, but they lack a game-changer who will keep them dispatched as a perennial contender. Without some good luck, Orlando won’t be able to grab a elite prospect in this year’s draft, and they won’t sniff the postseason this year, either. MCW isn’t that much better than most of the players on Orlando’s roster and the Sixers want to avoid being stuck with that fate.

By trading Carter-Williams, the Sixers can dwell in the very bottom of the league’s cellar and prolong their rebuilding project, thus increasing the chances of obtaining a transcendent talent. The team plan appears to be lather, rinse, repeat until that special talent becomes available or ownership decides it wants to put a competent team on the floor. There has never been an ownership group willing to oversee this kind of rebuild in NBA history, but as long as attendance in Philadelphia continues to show a slight year over year rise, I would suspect that executives stay on course with the franchise’s current plan.

Finding the right trade partner could be a tricky obstacle, because Philly is apparently holding out for a high return. There were rumors that the Lakers were interested in giving up the No. 7 overall pick in last summer’s draft as well as Steve Nash’s expiring contract for Carter-Williams and Thaddeus Young. The Sixers didn’t believe that was enough for the reigning Rookie of the Year and they might be hard pressed to find a team with a better offer.  MCW’s value comes from his play being worth more than his contract during the next few seasons. The point guard will make roughly $2.3MM this season and slightly less than $5.6MM combined over the next two years.

Production at that cost is a real asset in the NBA, but most of the teams that are set to have the sort of high draft pick that Philly covets, like the Wolves and the Celtics, won’t be inclined to trade those picks. They’re pursuing their own rebuilding efforts that most likely won’t come to fruition over the next two years. Teams that are pressing harder to win now, like the Knicks and the Lakers, don’t have the enough desirable assets to spare in order to make a trade worthwhile for both parties. Carter-Williams would be a great fit on a few contending teams, including the Clippers or Cavs. These teams would love the opportunity to upgrade their backup point guard situations with starter talent without paying a starter’s contract.  However, these teams probably lack the willingness to give up assets that the Sixers would demand.

A franchise with the right elements to be a trade partner for Carter-Williams might be the Kings. They are currently eighth overall in our Reverse Standings, meaning if the season ended today, they would likely have a top 10 pick. They also have an owner who wants to win now, and while the team hasn’t traded any top draft picks during its quest to contend, no player whom Sacramento acquired over the last several years possesses quite the trade value that Carter-Williams has. Rudy Gay might be a better player but because of his oversized contract, the Kings only had to give up multiple role players to acquire him. Carter-Williams’ contract is very team friendly and I would speculate that it would take the Kings dangling their 2015 first-round pick plus someone like Derrick Williams, who apparently is on the trade block, to intrigue the Sixers.

Indiana makes another logical destination for the point guard. The Pacers may not be in position to qualify for the playoffs this season, but with a healthy Paul George on the court next year, the team will be a contender again. The Pacers currently have the sixth worst record, and without some luck, they will not have a top-five draft pick. History suggests that players who are drafted outside the top five are much less likely to become star-caliber players than those who are drafted in the top five. With the Pacers’ current situation, they might be more inclined to trade their pick for an established, above-average talent rather than gambling for a star and ending up without a player who can contribute.

The Sixers are more than willing to gamble on obtaining a superstar. Carter-Williams has established that he belongs in an NBA rotation and he can contribute right now if put in the right situation. Many teams could use an above-average player, but it’s easier for those would-be trade partners of the Sixers to find those players than it is for them to find superstars. MCW could certainly improve his shooting and start showing more consistent flashes of being a star player, similar to how Jason Kidd improved as his career progressed. Yet if the Sixers don’t believe that is going to happen, now is the time to deal Carter-Williams, while his trade value remains at its highest.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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