Joel Embiid begged us all to "trust the process" on Twitter this afternoon. I still trust the process. Let's make that clear from the jump.
But the process seemed to be heading in a faster direction that I was eagerly awaiting. Brett Brown and his coaching staff have shown tremendous, tangible capabilities to develop raw, young talent this season, whether it be the team's 12th-ranked defense or the rapid shooting improvements from Jerami Grant and (pour one out) K.J. McDaniels. I was excited to see Joel Embiid and two first round picks added to this core next fall. Throw in a few more additional raw second-rounders and perhaps Brown's crew of miracle workers could have guided this team to a playoff appearance next spring, on the doorstep of a potentially monumental 2016 offseason.
At the crux of it all, summer 2016 was always when the Sixers would truly take their step into legitimate playoff contention. That's why this article isn't about turning the roster into a turnstile, heartlessly flipping players for assets year after year. And that's why Brown demanded a fourth year on his contract. He didn't want to build up this roster with the potential of turning into Mark Jackson and watching some Steve Kerr take the Sixers to new heights in 2016-17.
I simply find it difficult to stomach trading Michael Carter-Williams essentially straight-up for the Lakers' top-five protected 2015 first round pick.
I'm fully aware he ranked 45th in PER amongst all point guards at the All-Star break. I'm fully aware he's shooting 38/25.6/64.3 this season. I'm fully aware he's looked absolutely lost at times in pick-and-roll coverage, occasionally forces too many poor shots in the paint and coughs the ball up aplenty.
But I've been enamored with Carter-Williams ever since he, basically single-handedly, took Syracuse to the Final Four in 2013. I remember watching him slither into the paint at will, finish amongst the trees and kick out to Cuse's dangerous shooters while I drank a whiskey sour at the bar during my younger cousin's Bar Mitzvah party. He posted 12-8-6 with 5 steals against a really good Marquette team in the Elite 8. I remember thinking, "It's too bad the Sixers are locked in with Jrue Holiday, this guy and C.J. McCollum are both going to be studs."
Ever since the night of the Jrue trade and selecting MCW a few picks later, I've truly believed it's impossible that a guy with his size, athleticism and innate passing ability won't make an All-Star team at some point in his life. I know the phrase "If He Can Learn How to Shoot" has reached "Weapons of Mass Destruction" levels in Philadelphia, but his form isn't entirely broken. And he's never had a full, healthy NBA offseason to really get in the gym and workshop that jumper with a professional coaching staff.
The Sixers were 7.2 points per 100 possessions better defensively with MCW on the floor this season. Man-to-man, Carter-Williams has limited opponents to 38 percent shooting in isolations, 37 percent on spot-ups, 29 percent on hand-offs, 30 percent when curling off screens and 32 percent as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, per Synergy Sports (h/t Chrischar). That's very, very, very good.
Trading away MCW for this future pick is absolutely a gamble. Whether you're in favor, against, or lukewarm about the move, you have to agree that dealing a point guard with those physical traits, defensive ability and offensive potential with improved shooting for an unknown commodity is a risk. I understand what this move means on paper: Trading a currently replacement-level point guard in a league loaded with talent at that position for what appears to be a top-five lottery pick. That's incredible value, especially when there's the chance MCW simply never grows into a true starting point guard.
But I'm worried that Sam Hinkie punted on second down here.
The Lakers pick is protected for selections 1-5 in 2015, 1-3 in 2016, 1-3 in 2017 and unprotected in 2018. With the Lakers currently positioned for the 4th overall pick with a 2.5-game cushion on the Orlando Magic and a 5.5-game edge over the Sacramento Kings, it will take some lucky ping pong ball bounces for Los Angeles to convey that pick this year. Both of those teams enter the second half of the season with new head coaches as well. There's a greater chance both teams become better down the stretch than worse.
Sure, the Lakers could have about $35 million in cap room this summer, but that doesn't necessarily mean they'll make smart decisions or be able to add players that will catapult them out of the league's cellar. That was the plan last July, but Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Kyle Lowry and even Isaiah Thomas didn't bite. Would a core of Nick Young, Julius Randle, Ryan Kelly, this year's top-five pick and what is left of Kobe Bryant really be that competitive? It's not all that unlikely L.A. is right back towards the top of the lottery this time next year, crossing their fingers about landing in the top three.
It's not the most probable possibility, but the Lakers could keep this pick until 2017. It is a realistic scenario. At that point, the Sixers would have traded MCW for a kid who's a junior in high school right now who will first enter the NBA around the time Carter-Williams could potentially have turned into an NBA-savvy point guard with four years under his belt, running a fun Bucks offense alongside Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo for two full seasons. That Bucks team should be a top Eastern Conference contender.
Then again, the Sixers might not ever make this pick. They might package this Lakers' pick, the Thunder's pick — if it also isn't conveyed this season — Nerlens Noel, Jerami Grant and five second rounders when someone like Goran Dragic suddenly becomes available. Who knows? And, the first time I spun the lottery on tankathon.com last night, the Pistons and Nuggets leap-frogged into the top-three and the Sixers were granted the No. 5 and No. 6 overall picks in the draft.
But pragmatically, if the season ended today — and there shouldn't be much shuffling at the top of the lottery — there would be only a 17.2 percent chance the Lakers, with the fourth-worst record, fall out of the top-five. Even in that scenario, the Sixers would most likely fall two spots in the draft, and would likely lose out on drafting a top point guard prospect in D'Angelo Russell or Emmanuel Mudiay — which most Sixers fans on Twitter seem to expect the team's next move to be.
This is absolutely a lot to digest, and we're thinking two, three years down the road. But that's the way this front office thinks. And I wish their thinking would have been to wait and see what MCW could have become. I understand that his value may have never been higher. I support the general concept of selling high in this rebuild just as much as I support this rebuild as a whole. But when it comes to MCW, I think he was too valuable a cog in this machine at this point in time, regardless of his painstakingly obvious deficiencies. This was a ballsy move, no matter the angle you look at it.
No, Michael Carter-Williams was never going to be the guy. But I think it's going to be awfully hard to develop the guy without a point guard who can get him the ball night in and night out.