MCW sounds like a take-charge player

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76ers point guard Michael Carter-Williams. (Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer)

PHYSICALLY, Michael Carter-Williams is bigger. During the offseason, the second-year point guard adhered to the sports nutrition and conditioning regime the Sixers laid out for him and added about 10 pounds of muscle to his frame.

Talking to reporters yesterday at the Sixers' media day, he looked stronger, especially through his shoulders, which is good considering the burden the player affectionately known as MCW is determined to take on.

As the reigning rookie of the year and the only returning Sixer who was in the starting opening- game lineup last season, Carter-Williams is the only player who can take the lead reins of this team.

No one else expected to be on this roster can fill that role, and everything the franchise hopes to achieve in Year 2 of "Let's Build Together" could hinge on how well a 22-year-old with all of 70 games of NBA experience handles it.

"I'm excited for it," Carter-Williams said in a tone more confident and comfortable than he displayed at anytime last season. "I just have to keep growing as a leader. I've got to grow up fast on the court. Each night try to be the man to will our team to win."

Facing that narrow task, Carter-Williams cannot succeed.

Management has again done an outstanding job of sacrificing the present in its plan to rebuild this organization for a brighter tomorrow. The focus of this squad is still aimed at player assessment, all the while positioning itself for the best possible situation for the next NBA lottery.

For the second consecutive season, the Sixers' goal is to not win, so, no matter how strong Carter-Williams' will is, it will not be enough to overcome the deficit in competitive talent in most games.

The challenge facing Carter-Williams is far greater. He must be the court general who displays, through action and attitude, the winning culture coach Brett Brown is trying to establish, even though the team will not actually win too many games.

"Every team goes through ups and downs," said Carter-Williams, who experienced way more of the latter as the Sixers won only 19 games and tied a North American pro sports record by losing 26 consecutive games. "It's about staying positive and staying focused. No matter what, we will stick together."

Carter-Williams spoke as if he knows what he is walking into. With Thaddeus Young traded, he has inherited the role of savvy professional - the spokesman who will be out front for his teammates during good times and, more important, during the bad ones. It is a critical role, especially on a team filled with unsure players trying to establish their NBA credentials.

"Being in the position I am with this team is something I dreamed of since I was a kid," Carter-Williams said. "I am embracing this. I'll take the falls [that will come with being the team leader]. It's fine with me.

"It doesn't matter to me, as long as we are getting better each and every day and playing hard each possession, whether we are down 30 or up 30.

"We have to keep it together. My personal goal for this season is to be the leader of this team and help make everybody better."

The organization understands the pressure it has placed on Carter-Williams.

Then again, MCW's internal makeup was one factor that convinced general manager Sam Hinkie it was OK to make the 2013 draft-day moves to trade All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday for big man Nerlens Noel and draft Carter-Williams as his replacement.

"I do think there is going to be a lot of responsibility on Michael," Hinkie said. "I'll say this: We have already seen a lot of growth.

"We've seen real growth in his approach to our season; his approach to his teammates, even the way he interacts with [Brown].

"A lot of our players, we are asking to take on a lot, and it is challenging."

That is just more reason to be excited about the way Carter-Williams has embraced this new role.

In the long run, Noel, injured rookie center Joel Embiid or even Europe-stashed rookie forward Dario Saric might end up making more All-Star teams, but of the current pieces viewed as foundation blocks, Carter-Williams will stir the pot for the Sixers.

He is the equivalent of the young NFL quarterback, budding NHL franchise center and run-producing MLB cleanup hitter.

In today's NBA, if your rookie of the year point guard continues on an All-Star career path, it is so much easier for the other things to fall into place. Carter-Williams is the player the Sixers most need to buy in to what is going down and then make it turn out right.

It is easy for management to speak of a brighter future without setting a time element to when it might shine.

But players exist in the moment. Carter-Williams understands he must be the first to weather the tempest.

"The future definitely looks bright," he said, "but all I can do is control what I can control.

"I can't control when Embiid is healthy, ready to play. I can't control when Dario comes over here to help us.

"The guys who are going to be on the court is where my main focus has to be. I'm getting to know Joel as a person. Once he's ready, it will be as a basketball player.

"I know the future may seem where the hope is, and a lot of people are focused on that. But we won't get to that future if we don't go through what we have to now."

 


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