There’s a certain kinship developed on draft night, when 19 and 20-year olds convene for a night of uncertainty and excitement upon their entrance into the NBA, embarking on a whole new world when shaking commissioner Adam Silver’s hand.
Little do they know but the clock starts ticking on their career right then and there, as the first three years for first-round draft picks is a proving ground to prepare for their first big contract through restricted free agency.
As Michael Carter-Williams lay writhing in pain on the floor early in the second quarter with a left knee injury that ruled him out of Monday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets, one has to wonder if the names of his draftmates ran through his brain.
Guys like Gorgui Dieng, Rudy Gobert, Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo.
They were a few of the 2013 first-round guys who beat the Oct. 31 midnight buzzer with contract extensions with their respective teams, preventing a season of nervousness and likely cementing wealth for their families for generations to come.
Carter-Williams watched reports of the deals come down like everyone else, even though he knows he won’t be one of the recipients and will have to play this season out, heading to restricted free agency next summer.
“You can play the what-if game your whole life,” Carter-Williams said to CSNChicago.com. “But it’s not gonna help me get to where I want to be. The ultimate goal is to be the best player I can be. It takes effort.”
Before the left knee sprain he suffered on Monday - he'll get an MRI on Tuesday - he spoke optimistically of the contracts he saw guys agreeing to, hours before his unfortunate circumstance came into focus.
“It’s great to see people signing deals,” Carter-Williams told CSNChicago.com. “I’m happy for all of them. It’s awesome, everybody reaching their dreams. I’m sure they’re helping their families and friends. It’s nothing better than that.”
Carter-Williams isn’t alone, although every situation is different.
The 2013-14 Rookie of the Year joins the likes of Detroit’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Washington’s Otto Porter as lottery picks who didn’t come to agreements, heading into a summer where the salary structure could change drastically due to the expected changes in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. A new CBA could be finalized in the coming weeks, if not sooner.
Carter-Williams doesn’t deny the importance of that type of security, but insists it’s not clouding his mind.
“It’s real important. It’s super important. Your first real big contract,” Carter-Williams said. “Not to say our rookie contracts aren’t big money, but relatively speaking, it’s your first big contract. It’s great.”
If executives would’ve been polled after Carter-Williams’ award-winning rookie campaign, he would’ve been at the top of the list of guys expected to sign a big deal at the first chance.
Given the topsy-turvy nature of his career to date, it’s easy to see if Carter-Williams wonders if people have forgotten the type of production he’s capable of on a nightly basis.
Playing behind Rajon Rondo gives the Bulls insurance and depth at the position, while giving Carter-Williams a chance to slow down and play without the feeling of having to carry a team on his shoulders.
If he’s healthy and able to get back on the floor and produce, his day will come as well.
“I think the biggest thing for me is I’ve done some pretty good things in this league,” Carter-Williams said. “I’ve shown what I can do tin this league. I’ve had some unlucky bumps in the road, traded after winning rookie of the year, going to Milwaukee, which wasn’t the best situation for me.”
Had he been able to truly connect with Bucks coach Jason Kidd, a player many compared Carter-Williams to for their similar abilities as passers and all-around players, he probably would still be in Milwaukee and enjoying some of the fruits of his early labor.
“Yeah for sure. It definitely does sting,” said Carter-Williams of falling out of favor in Milwaukee. “I think when a coach has confidence in you, giving me the ball and letting me play my game, I think I’ve proven that I’m pretty good. I think of different scenarios, if I stayed in Philly would I be signing an extension like a lot of other people are. But that wasn’t the situation for me. God has a plan for me and I gotta stay position. God will provide for me.”