2013 In Review: Top 5 Transactions in Philadelphia Sports

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1. 76ers Draft Michael Carter-Williams

Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

In today’s world of sports, where the biggest transactions are often earmarked by creative wheeling and dealing along with huge price tags, the top entry on my list was as easy as writing down a name. It is the simplicity of what looks as if it could be a potentially franchise-defining move that makes the 76ers 11th selection in what was widely considered one of the poorest drafts in the 21st century so intriguing.

Heading into the draft, with the team constructed as it was, conventional wisdom was for the 76ers to draft the best player available and hope he could make an impact. Sitting with the 11th pick in what was generally seen as a watered-down draft, the expectation that this would happen was bleak at best. Mostly due to the fact that he had local ties and brought an element (shooting) that the Sixers were very much without, my desired selection would have been Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum. With Jrue Holiday looking as if he would be holding down the role of franchise player for the next decade, point guard was the one position I was certain the 76ers would not target. Then Sam Hinkie went all Gordon Gekko on us and threw the NBA for a loop.

By trading Holiday, Philadelphia’s lone position of strength became its biggest weakness. They had acquired an injured Nerlens Noel who, despite being a big name, would be unable to help the team for quite some time. With the crop of players who looked as if they might be available for the Sixers at the 11th slot, it was tough to imagine them winning ten games in 2013-14 given the state of their roster. Little did we know that the team had kept tabs on possibly the most special player in the draft, and just had to wait things out and hope everything fell into place.

Much like several Syracuse products, sophomore point guard Michael Carter-Williams was a victim of his team’s own success. Jim Boeheim’s insistence on the use of a zone defense often brings into question his players’ ability to defend at the next level, where almost everything is man-to-man. At 6’6″ and a wiry 185 pounds, Carter-Williams was the ideal college point guard to spearhead the Orange’s zone scheme. His long arms and deceptive quickness allowed him to rack up a Big East-leading 2.7 steals per game and, with the nature of zone defense, rarely had to have his physicality brought into question. His sophomore season came with highs (a 24-point outburst in the sweet 16 against top-seeded Indiana) and lows (a combined 13 turnovers in three games against Louisville). Perhaps no game affected the opinion of Carter-Williams more than his final as a college student-athlete. In Syracuse’s showdown with Michigan in the Final Four, many felt the game would be decided by which team’s point guard played better. Trey Burke had put the Wolverines on his back on their improbable run and the eventual Player of the Year was as good a measuring stick as Carter-Williams could ask for. What was pegged as a dual of elite guards turned into a cringe-worthy dud by the Syracuse floor general as Michigan prevailed 61-56.

In what was easily his worst game on the biggest of stages, Carter-Williams would finish with just two points (1-6 FG; 0-2 3-pt FG), two assists, and five turnovers. He would foul out of the game and watch the ending of his final contest at Syracuse from the bench as Burke and the Wolverines celebrated their berth in the National Title game. Despite the disappointment, Carter-Williams would declare for the draft following two years under Boeheim.

Even as one of the most intriguing players and one of few with the type of upside that clubs normally salivated over, the lasting image of Carter-Williams falling in his showdown with Burke seemed to define him as a prospect. The two were often matched up alongside one another and, more often than not, it was the experience and big-game performances by Burke at the collegiate level that prevailed over the potential of Carter-Williams. Ironically enough, the 76ers might have to thank Burke for not only handing the young point guard a dose of reality, but skewing the critics enough in his direction to affect Carter-Williams stock.

Burke would be taken by Utah with the 9th overall pick by the Utah Jazz. Although Indiana’s Victor Oladipo played sparingly as a point guard, Burke was the first true floor general taken and the 2013 AP NCAA Men’s Player of the Year soaked in the glory. Two selections later, despite a souring opinion around basketball circles, the 76ers decided to pull the trigger and make Michael Carter-Williams their new franchise point guard.

Carter-Williams could not have been more of a departure from Jrue Holiday. The tenacious Holiday, whose athleticism and strength allowed him to defend multiple positions on the ball, looked the part of the ideal NBA point guard. Contrarily Carter-Williams inexperience in man-to-man schemes, a penchant for turning the ball over, and a shaky-at-best shooting stroke defined him much more than his success. Were it not for necessity, the selection probably would have been panned by critics much more.

From the first time he spoke while donning 76ers colors, his draft-night interview immediate following his selection, one could tell that this was not your average 11th overall pick, far from it. The baby-faced guard spoke with a confidence and self-assuredness that convinced people he would stop at nothing to change the opinion that allowed him to slip so far in the draft. Still, talk was only talk and, after a solid but not overwhelming showing in the NBA Summer League, it was time for Carter-Williams to walk the walk. Instead, the now affectionately known ‘MCW’ broke into a full sprint.

From his first game as a pro, a 114-110 win over the defending champion Miami Heat that saw Carter-Williams score 22 points including the final two from the free throw line, the Philadelphia point guard has taken the city by storm. Held back only by some peculiar injuries that conveniently happen around when the team is actually winning games, Carter-Williams has taken over the team in a way that very few rookies are capable of. He has scored in double figures in all but one of his 17 games and has notched ten or more assists in eight of those. In a thrilling 2OT win over the Orlando Magic and 2nd overall pick Victor Oladipo, MCW recorded his first triple-double  (27 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) in a historic evening that saw two rookies have triple-doubles in the same game for the first time in NBA history. He scored a game-high 29 points in an eight-point 76ers loss to the then one-loss Indiana Pacers in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

While his individual exploits are astonishing, what makes Carter-Williams unlike any 76ers player in years is the value he brings to the rest of the team. Everyone plays better when MCW is on the floor and he seems to spur the 76ers limited roster to close games and wins that they would otherwise have been blown out in. There are even those that have mentioned the 20-year old in the same breath as Lakers legend Magic Johnson due to his immediate impact and ability to hold the game on a string at such a young age while improving the players around him. While these comparisons are ridiculous and typical of the instant-analysis sports world we live in, that did not stop Magic from fueling the fire.

"I just got done watching the guy I think will be the Rookie of The Year, Michael Carter-Williams of the 76ers."

As fun as it is to picture that, the beautiful thing about this 76ers team and Carter-Williams specifically is that this year is all about finding out what we have. MCW doesn’t have to be Magic Johnson or whomever one wants to compare him to. He is a smart, confident enough young man to want to forge his own legacy rather than ride the coattails of others. As long as he remains healthy, the 76ers might have hit the lottery a year before everyone expected them to. Given his prior relationship with Nerlens Noel, the 76ers have gone from the most irrelevant team in the city to a beacon of bringing basketball back to Philadelphia in a big way. I can remember falling in love with the 2000-2001 76ers and, to this day, consider that to be the point in my life where I transitioned into a legitimate fan of all things Philadelphia sports. This city is more fun when basketball is at the forefront and not a humiliating reminder that two teams play in the Wells Fargo Center. The transaction that appears as if it took the least amount of actual work looks as if it could pay the greatest dividends in the end and, for that, the selection of Michael Carter-Williams with the 11th overall pick in the draft is the top transaction of 2013 in Philadelphia sports.