MOST LIKELY, 76ers rookie Michael Carter-Williams just about wrapped up the rookie of the year contest before the team played in Oklahoma City in early March. But it was during that game in which he and coach Brett Brown had a heated discussion on the sideline of a lopsided loss, in the midst of a 26-game losing streak.
It was a back-and-forth that occasionally occurs between coach and player during the season. This one, however, came during a game, right along the sideline, for all to see in person and on television. While the two downplayed it after the game, the discussion had huge implications, and not in a negative way. It strengthened an already tight relationship.
Carter-Williams was officially given the rookie of the year trophy yesterday at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, joining Allen Iverson as the only two players to win it for the organization. He received 104 of a possible 124 first-place votes from sports writers and broadcasters around the United States and Canada.
Carter-Williams finished the season averaging 16.7 points, 6.3 assists and 6.2 rebounds, joining Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson as the only players to post at least 16, 6.0 and 6.0 in their rookie season.
Brown and MCW know the long road ahead to get this program anywhere near where it wants to be. So while gathering the hardware yesterday was something that will stay will Carter-Williams forever, it's really a small step going forward.
"During the games, especially during the Oklahoma City game, like he mentioned, we had it out a little bit," Carter-Williams said of his coach. "I think that made our relationship even closer. I think it brought out a lot out of me. In the beginning of the year, I'm thinking that I'm playing good defense. I'm like, 'Coach, I'm leading the league in steals. How can I play any better defense?' But going through the tape and watching film those times where I did get broken down on defense, I need to do a lot of things, and he continued to get on me.
"I took it personally. I tried to do everything in my power to get better on defense. I knew coach was looking at me every single possession. If someone goes by me, I might give a little look at coach, 'Oh, man, I know what's coming.' Someone goes by me and gets a layup - timeout. I know he's coming for me; I know he's going to say something.
"When I first got here, I really didn't know what to expect. I knew just by the beginning of the year and talking to coach and feeling out his personality - him being from the Boston area, we kind of connected quick - he's been unbelievable. I'm not a person that really trusts a lot of people. My circle is pretty close, especially when it comes to basketball, because everyone has their own opinion. I keep my circle close. I have a lot of trust in coach, going through this whole year and him really being on my back about every little thing, on the court and off the court.
"I really look up to him and appreciate what he does every single day. There was a time when we lost a lot of games, but he never gave up. There were days when I came to the gym with my head down, like, 'We've got to go through this practice again?' Or, 'I got to do pre-practice workouts with [assistant coach] Lloyd [Pierce] before and after practice.' They both push me to do those things to get better each and every day."
And next year, Carter-Williams will most likely have some better pieces with which to play, as Nerlens Noel will be ready to go after a year off, and then there are those two high first-round draft picks this June.
"My role with Michael was one of education, as much as anything, and explaining that this is the law of our jungle," Brown said. "This is the NBA; this is what you have to do to get to the Tony Parker or the Chris Paul or [Russell] Westbrook stages.
"This especially is how you're going to navigate 30-some-odd pick-and-rolls a game where you're getting slammed around. This is what you have to do when a team that is regularly down points - how you have to lead us and stay with us in a locker room? What does accountability mean? What is leadership? What is responsibility? How do you talk to a veteran player when you've just been given the ball and you're 22 years old? Mine was more of an education of dealing with the NBA. Everybody had a piece to do with skills, but I think the holistic approach was probably my area that I spent the most time with him."
And there was that time in Oklahoma City, too.
"For me, it did [strengthen their relationship], because everybody seemed to make something out of it, and I didn't think it was that big of a deal and I don't think that he did, either," Brown said. "But because the next day everybody was asking us about it . . . I want to keep our relationship real. I feel a responsibility to help him. That's my guy. You want to bring him to a level that he needs to get to and it starts with, he better get better defensively. He has to learn how to deal with teammates and referees, and we discussed it publicly in that environment and so people made something out of it. We moved on. For me, it was a borderline defining moment of us each saying that this is the way it's going to work, and we move on, because I am with him. At the end of the day, he is my point guard and I am with him and I will do everything I can to help him move forward."
Brown also needs his rookie of the year to do the same for the organization moving forward.