Given the political climate of the day, it’s fitting Michael Carter-Williams’ first lesson as a member of the Chicago Bulls was the art of diplomacy.
In a span of a few short hours, Carter-Williams went from preparing for a game against the Chicago Bulls Saturday night to finding out he was traded to the Bulls and had to deal with everything that came with being traded during the NBA season: Moving on short notice, saying goodbyes while saying hello to new people and experiences.
And in a few short hours Monday night, he went from picking out his old jersey, No. 1, to letting it go and selecting No. 7, after being told by the team he could reclaim the number he had throughout his life and his rookie year.
Whether it was the Twitterverse or the Bulls changing their minds about giving away Derrick Rose’s old jersey number, diplomacy prevailed by 10 p.m.
“I know the discussion is probably gonna be D-Rose’s old number,” Carter-Williams said in the hallway of the United Center while meeting the media for the first time before Monday’s game. “That has nothing to do with D-Rose. He was great for the city, he’s an excellent player. I’m not trying to step on anybody’s toes or boundaries. It’s just a number I like.”
His introduction to the Bulls won’t come with the mixed reaction of being compared to the hometown kid, and one would wonder why, given the bad luck Rose endured after his MVP campaign, Carter-Williams would even want to claim the number as his own again.
“I was (No.) 1 in college, (No.) 1 in Philly,” Carter-Williams said. “I feel like I had success in Philly, Rookie of the Year. I was (No.) 5 in Milwaukee. It’s a new place. I’m trying to get the chip on my shoulder back.”
He couldn’t wear No. 1 in Milwaukee due to Oscar Robertson’s jersey being retired there, and if he asked for it then, he was likely given a history lesson he’ll never forget.
The discussion about jersey numbers temporarily obscured the actual discussion about the Bulls’ acquiring a former Rookie of the Year to bolster their bench as a backup point guard and in addition, changed the narrative for why such a talented and productive player has been traded twice before hitting restricted free agency.
Before then, most discussion revolved around why the Bulls picked up yet another perimeter player whose 3-point shooting was closer to the Mendoza line than the league average.
“I don’t really know. Some places work for some people,” Carter-Williams said. “Some places don’t. I was able to have success my rookie year and I got moved. That’s the business of the game. Crazy things happen in this league. Those are things you can’t focus on.”
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In context, though, the Philadelphia 76ers were trading away and all assets during the short time Carter-Williams was there, as they went through their “tanking for the sake of tanking” phase.
And in Milwaukee, despite playing for a coach whose playing style was similar to his in Jason Kidd, the Bucks found a more dynamic wing man to initiate offense from the point guard spot than Carter-Williams in Giannis Antetokounmpo, making Carter-Williams expendable and thus, available for the Bulls to acquire him in exchange for Tony Snell.
“It really comes down to who fits best around him,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “You know, for us, again, it gives us a guy who can facilitate offense. The thing I'm excited about with our group is that we have multiple ballhandlers, multiple playmakers, and Michael certainly fits into that category. He's a guy that can get into the paint and make plays. For us, I think it's a good fit, and I'm excited to see what he brings to our team.”
Perhaps Carter-Williams will become a bit of a defensive irritant off the bench, given his history against the Bulls. In the deciding game of the Bulls-Bucks playoff series in 2015, Carter-Williams took a shot to the jaw from then-Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy on a drive. Subsequently, Dunleavy was speared, wrestling-style, from Antetokounmpo on a 3-point make.
“I think it was a great series, a great learning experience for me and the team then. I got to experience the playoffs. It was a fun series, things get physical. That’s how the playoffs are, guys get physical. That’s the game, the beauty of the game.
Whatever he did it worked. They won by a lot. It’s part of the game, I’m sure (Dunleavy) is a pretty good dude.”
The details of why an incident began were sketchy, but the series was chippy from the start, and Carter-Williams did a good job defending Rose for stretches. He knows that’s a big reason why the Bulls targeted him, in addition to seemingly being injury or disaster insurance for Rajon Rondo.
“I think I’m a defensive guy, pretty good at pressuring the ball, forcing turnovers,” Carter-Williams said. “Offensively, getting in the lane, getting rebounds and pushing it up the floor and finding my teammates.”
“I think I’m a basketball player and basketball players can adapt to any situation. I have been fortunate to start a lot in my career. I’m looking to learn a lot from Rondo.”
Learning the Bulls’ system and his teammates is priority number one, as Carter-Williams said, “We’re definitely a playoff team, so I’m looking to help the team in any way I can. That’s my main focus.”
Battling the ghost of the old number one wasn’t a battle worth fighting, showing if nothing else, he’s a quick learner.