Revisiting The Carter-Williams Deal That Shaped 76ers’ Season

Jan 4, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Michael Carter-Williams (5) sets up a play in the first quarter during the game against the San Antonio Spurs at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 4, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Michael Carter-Williams (5) sets up a play in the first quarter during the game against the San Antonio Spurs at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /

With Milwaukee point guard and former Sixer Michael Carter-Williams reportedly on the trading block, let’s reflect on Sam Hinkie’s bold move that sent MCW to Milwaukee and shaped the 76ers’ season.

The NBA trade deadline is quickly approaching, with little activity fueling fears of a forgettable spectacle come Feb. 18. It will be tough to match last year’s barrage of movement, but it’s always enticing to believe that many big-name talents will be making an impact for another organization than the one they suited up for just days earlier.

On Feb. 19 last season, the Philadelphia 76ers jettisoned their most productive player, in Michael Carter-Williams, in a deal that’s given all three teams involved serious aftershocks. Initially, general manager Sam Hinkie took major heat for dealing what looked to be the Sixers’ point guard that would help assist the rebuilding process.

On a struggling team, his averages of 15.0 points, 7.4 assists and 6.2 rebounds per game were vastly superior to his counterparts. Carter-Williams will make a living trying to produce in areas outside of scoring the basketball via the jump shot. When the basketball wasn’t entering the hoop from the 2014 Rookie of the Year’s hands, it eventually became a major scare for Hinkie.

Luckily for Philadelphia, they sold high. Like Michael Burry, the hedge fund manager Christian Bale played in The Big Short, the Sixers cashed in on Carter-Williams’ stock. Milwaukee’s participation in the deal was a surprising facet of this hyper-complex deal.

Michael Carter-Williams

Milwaukee wasn’t in any need of major adjustments to their lineup at the trade deadline last season. Jabari Parker was out for the season with a torn ACL and the Bucks didn’t have a rim protecting beast down low, but they were firmly entrenched in the playoff hunt late in the season.

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Flipping one point guard, in Brandon Knight, for Carter-Williams might have been a 50-50 play that could have made Milwaukee a slightly more formidable competitor in the East, but Knight evidently got stale manning the point for the Bucks. General manager John Hammond wanted a fresh addition to run Jason Kidd‘s offense for the next decade in MCW.

Almost a year later, Milwaukee is rapidly descending into oblivion, with a core expected to compete for years in a watered-down Eastern Conference. A loss Friday night to Utah dropped the Bucks to 20-32 on the season.

The playoffs look more strenuous to reach in 2016, as the expected weak conference has undoubtably defied expectations. You’re probably going to have to finish over .500 this season to play late in April. Even if the Bucks somehow managed to miraculously sneak in, they’d be making sure that for the second straight year they’re concluding their season in a series against an Eastern Conference heavyweight.

There seems to be no middle ground for Milwaukee anymore; Hammond isn’t settling for mediocrity. That was evident last season with a relatively meaningless shake up and now Milwaukee’s two major additions in the past year are reportedly being shopped for either immediate help or future compensation. Averaging career-lows in points (11.1 PPG), rebounds (5.5 RPG) and assists (5.5 APG), it looks like MCW could be playing on his third team just four seasons into the league.

Brandon Knight

Knight also has fallen off since joining the Phoenix Suns, sporting a 15.2 PER in an injury-riddled 2015-16 season. Phoenix’s year has been a complete washout, with injuries and drama heating up the Valley of the Sun. The former Buck hasn’t been as dynamic as hoped, hauling in just 3.7 RPG and accumulating fewer assists than in Milwaukee.

However, he’s shooting a career-high 42.4 percent from the field and averaging a career-high 19.7 PPG. For $14 million annually over the next five seasons, Knight looks to be one of the league’s most affordable guards who’ve had relative success in the league. He isn’t in the same breath as a Damian Lillard or Eric Bledsoe yet, but Knight will provide Phoenix with a combo guard to feature when Bledsoe returns.

Devin Booker‘s flash of recent brilliance, due to injuries, gives Phoenix options when pairing their guards. Next year, Knight might not be as heavily relied upon in the offensive game plan for whoever is coaching the Suns. He has proven to be the more useful talent in the deal, giving Phoenix a scorer either off the bench or playmaking in the starting unit.

He’ll need to exert more energy on the defensive end and become an adept facilitator for the Suns, but as evidenced by his higher PER (Player Efficiency Rating) and upside over Carter-Williams, Phoenix received the more efficient — albeit less versatile — point guard in the deal.


As the season progresses, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the Sixers converted a low-key heist at the cost of receiving initial backlash. With a top-3 protected Lakers pick in hand, Sam Hinkie has plenty of options. He could hold onto the pick and hope it conveys either this season or next season in what’s projected to be a deep 2017 draft. Also, it could be useful for another rebuilding organization who’s looking to deal a star or pseudo-star.

Realizing that Carter-Williams plateaued and limited Philadelphia’s ceiling moving forward, Hinkie has opened up many routes the Sixers can take in order to find their next ideal point guard. Whether it’s via the draft or pillaging through the free agent market, the Sixers’ ceiling won’t be leveled by having a middling point guard control the offense.

This isn’t a knock on Carter-Williams’ game. He’s one of the league’s most versatile options at the point and has a great frame to showcase his athleticism and vision. However, Carter-Williams hasn’t developed into a star point guard in a league filled with them.

With Ish Smith completely overhauling the Sixers’ offensive game plan, Brett Brown at least has the confidence that he’ll have a point guard who can be a solid contributor in the league. Smith doesn’t have the ceiling or intangibles of MCW, but averaging 15.8 PPG and dishing out 7.9 APG warrants extensive playing time on a team devoid of legitimate backcourt talent.

If the Lakers pick doesn’t convey or the Sixers get terrible draft luck, the team won’t be in a position to draft the best player available and might draft by need with someone like Kris Dunn — the 2016 draft class’ unanimous top point guard. With Smith’s rise to manning the team’s lead point guard role, and thriving in the position, the point guard spot has become less of an issue for the Sixers.

Even though the Sixers are 13-66 since Carter-Williams headed north, Smith has been the necessity at point guard who has given both Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor a boost in efficiency.

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They now can use the Lakers pick, whenever it conveys, and take the top player on their board and not reach for a point guard. The Sixers might target either Notre Dame’s Demetrius Jackson or Maryland’s Melo Trimble with their later first-round picks, but Smith’s roster spot looks to be a lock heading into next season.

Trading Carter-Williams was a questionable call at the time, but it’s provided Philadelphia with options — a facet of making deals and decisions that Hinkie covets.