MCW will be the focal point of the Sixers' rebuilding effort

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Michael Carter-Williams is the centerpiece of the Sixers' rebuilding efforts in the coming years.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Michael Carter-Williams is the centerpiece of the Sixers' rebuilding efforts in the coming years.
Posted: December 27, 2013

THOUGH the longest road trip of the season for the 76ers officially started in Milwaukee on Saturday, the heart of it begins tomorrow in Phoenix.

After that Milwaukee game, in which the team incurred its 12th road loss in 13 games, some of the players got together the next day for a light practice before having the next 3 days off for Christmas. The whole group was back together last night for a practice in Phoenix as they prepare for the resumption of this road trip, which includes tomorrow's meeting with the Suns and Sunday's game against the Lakers.

Then, they again will go back-to-back, starting with a New Year's game against the Denver Nuggets and then a contest in Sacramento against the Kings the next night. They will conclude the western swing against the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday, Jan. 4.

While this trip certainly won't define this team - as we already fully know, it is in total reconstruction - it will be interesting to see how the players react to it, specifically rookie guard Michael Carter-Williams.

For the remainder of the season, he is the main focus of this organization. Wins will be scarce. The only real race fans hope this team will win is the one to the basement of the NBA, where a very high pick in a top-heavy draft could await them. As mentioned often, this roster might have only a few leftovers next season, but the engine of that team undoubtedly will be MCW.

While he has posted terrific numbers, the sample size for the Syracuse product is still only 17 games. What needs to be learned - and this road trip will be a pretty good indication - is how well his rail-thin body can hold up to the rigors of the travel and back-to-backs. His missing 11 games this season - with foot and knee injuries - is alarming, but not really telling. Getting through the rest of the season relatively unscathed would make most fans forget about his early-season ailments.

What could be harder for MCW to overcome is all the losing this team is expected to endure over its final 54 games. Almost every NBA coach will tell you how hard it is to come back after a losing season. The mindset is severely damaged as the losses mount, even more so for a rookie.

Carter-Williams has shown he is more mature than his 22 years should allow. He has a confidence about him, a reassuring attitude that makes you think not much rattles him.

He showed that in his NBA debut against the world champion Miami Heat by going for 22 points, 12 assists, nine steals and seven rebounds and leading the Sixers to the improbable, 114-110 win. He has shown he cherishes having the ball in his hands late in a close game. He has returned from both injuries and basically picked up where he left off he was out. His 17.6 points, 7.8 assists and league-leading 3.0 steals a game are only part of the reason many have him as a leading candidate in early Rookie of the Year talk.

All that is why he has to be the main focus for this team going forward, much as Jrue Holiday was in previous seasons. Carter-Williams will be the leader in this rebuilding endeavor.

And while many, many holes need to be filled over the next couple of years, all must be filled with the knowledge of who the team leader is. So the question then becomes: How do you build around him? Will he prosper best if he is surrounded by good outside shooters, with the hope that freakishly athletic Nerlens Noel can hold the fort down in the middle on both ends of the court. Will MCW be better with a big man with whom he can run relentless pick-and-rolls? Should he be allowed to play at a helter-skelter pace, much as he is doing this season?

The rest of this season could go a long way in determining the direction of this team regarding the rebuilding of this roster. Know this, though: Anything done will be done the first thought of how it affects Michael Carter-Williams.

The Sixers confirmed that they are sending guard Lorenzo Brown down to the Delaware 87ers, their NBA Development League affiliate.

Brown saw action in 13 games for the Sixers this season, averaging 3.2 points and 1.8 assists in 10.9 minutes a game. With Michael Carter-Williams now fully healthy, there didn't seem to be much playing time for Brown, a rookie from North Carolina State.

UPCOMING GAMES

Sixers at Phoenix Suns

When: Saturday, 9 p.m.

Where: US Airways Center, Phoenix

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/ESPN (97.5 FM)

Game stuff: The Suns boast a couple of Philly products in twins Marcus and Markieff Morris. Both are playing well, after being reunited in a trade toward the end of last season. Markieff is averaging 19.1 points this season, while Marcus is averaging 17.3.

Sixers at Los Angeles Lakers

When: Sunday, 9:30 p.m.

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/ESPN (97.5 FM)

Game stuff: Who are these Lakers, anymore? Hard for them to have much of an identity, now that Steve Nash (back), Kobe Bryant (leg) and Dwight Howard (free agency), the players who were supposed to bring some more championships together, are gone. Former Sixers Jodie Meeks and Nick Young get serious time now.

Sixers at Denver Nuggets

When: Wednesday, 9 p.m.

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/ESPN (97.5 FM)

Game stuff: Going into tonight, the Nuggets have lost five of their last six games. The offense, such a key part of their early-season success, has struggled of late, as the Nuggets have surpassed 100 points in only two of their last 10 games.

Sixers at Sacramento Kings

When: Thursday, 10 p.m.

Where: Sleep Train Arena, Sacramento

TV/Radio: Comcast Network/ESPN (97.5 FM)

Game stuff: The Kings have lost their previous six games by an average of 14-plus points, which goes a long way to understanding their 8-19 record. Since acquiring Rudy Gay from the Toronto Raptors earlier this month, the offense has improved. The wins, however, have not come with him.

BY THE NUMBERS:

7-for-7: That’s what Thaddeus Young is shooting from three-point range over the past two games. This from a player who had eight total makes in his previous three seasons.

15, 9, 3 and 1.5: Spencer Hawes is the only player in the NBA to be averaging at least that many points, rebounds, assists and blocks.

17.6, 7.8, 5.5 and 3: That’s what Michael Carter-Williams is averaging in points, assists, rebounds and steals — all league highs among rookies.


Email: cooneyb@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @BobCooney76

Blog: ph.ly/Sixerville

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