The value of a number: Michael Carter-Williams' decision to wear No. 7

The value of a number: Michael Carter-Williams' decision to wear No. 7

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.

Trust the Rookie: Wendell Carter Jr. draws Opening Night start against Joel Embiid, Sixers

Trust the Rookie: Wendell Carter Jr. draws Opening Night start against Joel Embiid, Sixers

In a five-game span Wendell Carter Jr. saw preseason action against Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic and Myles Turner. The 19-year-old rookie had his share of expected ups and downs but performed well enough that Fred Hoiberg officially announced him a starter for the team’s season opener tomorrow night.

His reward for all that hard work? A matchup against All-Pro center Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers.

It’ll be an eye-opening experience for the Duke product, who just a year ago was readying himself for his first season of college basketball and a season-opening matchup against Elon. It’s safe to assume Embiid will pose a few more problems than did Phoenix center Tyler Seibring.

“Joel Embiid was one of my role models growing up,” Embiid said before practice Wednesday. “He was someone I always wanted to pattern my game after. Just to go up against him is a remarkable feeling. He’s a very physical player. He’s a very talented player. I’m going to be able to stack up and see what all I need to work on to last in this league.”

While it’s no easy task against a talent like Embiid, who was named All-NBA Second Team last season, Carter’s most important job will be staying out of foul trouble. Carter piggy-backed an impressive Summer League with a preseason that included averages of 7.0 points and 5.6 rebounds in 21.1 minutes. But those numbers also included 7.7 fouls per 48 minutes. He racked up 17 fouls in five games, and had at least three in each.

Embiid only went to the line five times in Tuesday’s season-opening loss to the Celtics, but that was primarily against Defensive Player of the Year candidate Al Horford. Embiid won’t face as much resistance against Carter, putting the pressure on the rookie to stay on the floor.

“He’s going to have to navigate that without using his hands,” Fred Hoiberg said. “We have to be all five aware. It’s just not a one-man problem with Embiid. We have to have great awareness of him and try and mix up coverages and hopefully make him take tough shots, knowing that he’s going to hit some of those. You just can’t get deflated when he does.’’

The decision was a mere formality – Bobby Portis will start at power forward – after the frontcourt combination played considerably better in the Bulls’ final two preseason games. Though Jabari Parker was initially slotted in at power forward following Lauri Markkanen’s elbow sprain, Portis’ impressive preseason forced Hoiberg’s hand. Portis averaged 17.0 points and 5.8 rebounds and shot 55 percent from the field in just 22.4 minutes.

“It’s all about combinations out there and we felt like Bobby gave us a great start with the way he was playing,” Hoiberg said. “And then we kind of changed things up with that second unit and put the ball in Jabari’s hands, so it was more that in trying to get guys out there with the right combinations.”

Lopez may have an expanded role if Carter gets into foul trouble early, while Parker will be the facilitator on a second unit that doesn’t have much in the way of a point guard. It’s anyone’s guess as to how the frontcourt will play out once Markkanen returns in roughly a month; if Portis and Carter continue playing well, Hoiberg could opt to keep them together on the second unit and put Lopez back in the starting lineup.

But for at least Opening Night – the Bulls also get Andre Drummond and the Pistons on Saturday – it’ll be the seventh overall pick getting his NBA feet wet with a matchup against arguably the best center in basketball. But’s it a role he’s earned, and on a Bulls defense looking for any sort of improvement, Carter is the player who can anchor it.

“His defense is always going to be important for us. He’s the guy that’s the anchor in that starting unit at the rim,” Hoiberg said, “and he’s done a really solid job of making perimeter guys taking contested shots when he gets switched off, or staying vertical at the rim and trying to make a big finish over the top of him, so yeah, again it’s a great challenge, great opportunity for Wendell.”

Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night


Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski sits down with Kendall Gill and Will Perdue to discuss all the need-to-know topics to get you ready for the season opener. The guys analyze how Lauri’s injury will make its mark on the early season rotation, whether Jabari will return to the starting unit or embrace the 6th-man role and why Portis betting on himself is the right move. Plus, Kendall has the key to unlock a “6th Man of the Year” award for Portis this season.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below: