March 15 marks a meaningful date in the life of Michael
Next Monday will be the two-year anniversary of his 10-day
contract signing with the Orlando Magic, a moment that kickstarted
an injury-riddled, tumbling career that almost ended abruptly
before it began.
“There was a lot going on, on and off the court in my life at
that time,” Carter-Williams told BasketballNews.com in an exclusive
phone interview, recalling when he was out of the NBA for two
months in 2019. “That was definitely the most adversity that I've
faced in my career.”
When the Houston Rockets traded Carter-Williams to the Chicago
Bulls that season, he was immediately waived in order to avoid
guaranteeing his contract. For the first time in his career, he did
not have an NBA home.
“I didn't know where my future was gonna go. I kept thinking,
'Am I gonna go the G League route? Am I gonna go overseas? Do I
even want to play at all anymore?' There was a lot of things that
went through my head at the time,” Carter-Williams said. “But after
all those thoughts went in my head, I just told myself that I
believed I was gonna get another chance, and I just started working
my ass off. It was like, if I do get another chance, I just want to
be fully ready. I don't want to regret thinking that I won't get
another chance and not be prepared for it. That would be worse to
me than getting released itself.”
Luckily for him, an old friend was in dire need of a point guard
not too long afterward. One phone call from Steve Clifford later,
and Carter-Williams was a member of the Magic. The reunion made a
lot of sense for both former Charlotte Hornets, especially with the
head coach knowing firsthand what the 6-foot-5 guard could bring to
It didn’t take long for Carter-Williams to make his presence
felt, and despite Orlando coming up short in the 2019 playoffs, he
played a pivotal role in the team’s series against the Toronto
Raptors -- a stretch he considered “huge” for his career. Ever
since the Magic presented him with a chance that he’d been hoping
for, Carter-Williams’ relationship with the organization has just
“I have full confidence that the coaches and the staff members
trust me on this team,” Carter-Williams said. “I've kinda crawled
my way up and just earned their trust by making the right plays,
being a good person on and off the court -- even when I'm not
playing, having a good attitude -- just doing all the little
things. Trying to get the guys going in practice or whatever the
case may be. Every time I step on the floor, I try to give my all
and I just try to compete.”
It always helps when you have tight-knit bonds with the guys in
your locker room, too. Carter-Williams has individual-level
friendships there, many from his past. He and Dwayne Bacon go back
to their Hornets’ days, while James Ennis and Gary Clark played
with Carter-Williams in Houston. He’s known Khem Birch since he was
in ninth grade. And even the connections he’s forged with Terrence
Ross, Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic and Al-Farouq Aminu have been
natural because of whom they’ve all played with in the past. This
all goes without mentioning Carter-Williams’ infatuation with
combat sports, an interest that is shared by quite a few of his
teammates (he brought up the golfers and fishers they have
In his eighth season as a pro at 29 years old, Carter-Williams
has blossomed into a leader. He feels that during his time in
Orlando, he’s built a good rapport with everybody from top to
bottom, younger and older.
“I've got an interesting role on this team,” Carter-Williams
said. “It's kind of fluctuated from coming off the bench to
starting, and I was the new guy at one point. Once I settled down,
I kinda was the voice of the team and the voice of reason. I'm
always communicating. It comes natural to me. I've always
communicated with my teammates, whether I didn't have a huge part
on the team or even if I wasn't a leader."
Carter-Williams remembers when he was with Chris Paul and James
Harden on the Rockets, never shying away from even telling
All-Stars what he saw on the floor. Looking back, he finds it a
little funny that he didn’t have too many vets that guided him
along. When he began his career with the Philadelphia 76ers, the
team had Spencer Hawes, Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner as their
“veterans,” yet they were only in their mid-to-late 20s.
Carter-Williams does credit Jason Richardson for the talks they had
about the then-rookie’s future and that season.
Speaking of the Sixers, it’s been easy for Carter-Williams to
make friends with Markelle Fultz (who is now his teammate in
Orlando). They’ve had similar experiences to share, both being
drafted by Philadelphia and having poor injury luck. Before the
former No. 1 overall pick went down with a devastating ACL injury
early this season, Carter-Williams loved what he was seeing from
Fultz on the floor -- his aggressiveness and confidence, getting
into the lane and performing on the defensive end.
“It's been tough [without Fultz],” Carter-Williams said.
“Injuries are hard, man. He does a great job of staying positive.
He's diligent with his rehab. He knows he has a long career [ahead
of him] in this league, so hopefully all his injuries are behind
him and he can just keep healthy for the rest of his career."
If anybody knows what that kind of agony feels like, it’s
Carter-Williams. He had right shoulder surgery after his rookie
campaign with the Sixers. In 2016 with the Milwaukee Bucks, he tore
the labrum in his left hip, which required surgery and forced him
out for the rest of that season. When he was traded to the Bulls
(for the first time), he dealt with knee issues and a sprained
wrist. In March 2018, after 52 games with the Hornets, he suffered
a posterior labral tear in his left shoulder.
“There was times where I thought that I couldn't deal with the
pain that I was going through,” Carter-Williams said. “I felt like
my mind was telling my body to do certain things that it just
But timing is everything, and help was on its way. Around that
time, Carter-Williams met Tito Ramirez, a physical therapist who
worked at ProActive Sports Performance, a highly-regarded
professional facility in Westlake Village, California that turned
things around for the banged up guard.
“He helped me out a lot with my hips and my shoulders and my
knees. Being at ProActive itself, working out with a trainer there
named Evan and just everyone who runs that whole weight room, they
really helped me get back into shape and they limited a lot of my
pain,” Carter-Williams said. “Ryan [Capretta], he's the head of it
and he runs an unbelievable gym with so many talented people in
there that really changed the course of my career."
On top of that, there was the social-media element where people
would poke fun at his expense. If you’ve posted a negative tweet
about Carter-Williams, past or present, he’s seen it. There is a
difference in how he handles naysayers these days, though.
“I used to play to prove people wrong and try to live up to
expectations of others, and now, I see it and I kinda laugh at it
or I use it when I'm by myself in the gym or those days that I
don't feel like getting up,” Carter-Williams said. “But I always
play for myself now. I've done so much in this league and I've
accomplished so much and I know I have such a bright future ahead
of me. I just believe in myself. It's almost like I'm playing with
house money right now just because I've come such a long way.”
Being from the small town of Hamilton, Massachusetts,
Carter-Williams admitted that he couldn’t dream of earning a
Division I scholarship or winning NBA Rookie of the Year -- yet he
was able to do both at Syracuse and with the Sixers. When asked to
reflect on the ups and downs of his time in the league, he’s
extremely grateful for all of his experiences; it's all been
"beneficial" to him as his career marches on.
“Not too many people in the league can say that they've been
through every possible situation in the league,” Carter-Williams
said. “I've been Rookie of the Year, I've been a guy that's come
off the bench as a sixth man, I've been a guy who's had DNPs in the
season, I've been a defensive guy, I've been a backup point guard,
now I'm back to being a starter.
“So I've been in so many different positions that I'm able to
share that with other people, I'm able to relate to other people,
I'm able to put things in perspective easily. I really take it as a
blessing. I went through so many injuries, I went through so many
difficult situations that there's really nothing that I believe
that I can't handle to succeed."
Carter-Williams falls back on his wild ride when it comes to
giving tips and pointers. He specifically looks at the length of
the season and how it affects the players who aren’t the stars of
“So many guys are in so many different positions that somebody's
leash may not be as long as somebody else's,” Carter-Williams said.
“There's very few guys that are the main guys on their teams, so
there's a pool of a bunch of guys that the game can be pretty
stressful for. I think the big part of this game is just turning
the page. If you have a bad game one game, the great thing about
the NBA is that you could have a game a day later or two days later
and get back to the drawing board and refocus and stay
For him personally, it’s about playing loose and having fun, a
simple but important factor that Carter-Williams feels that many
professional players forget about. It’s translated into the best
production he’s had since the 2015-16 season in Milwaukee.
Returning from a left foot sprain sustained in early January, he’s
since averaged 11.7 points, 5.8 assists and 4.6 rebounds in 29
minutes per contest.
"I think I've been finding some openings,” Carter-Williams said.
“I've been getting more comfortable being back at the 1. I'm just
being aggressive, staying with my work -- after practice, before
practice, listening to coaches, not trying to force too much.”
In addition to those averages, over that 10-game span,
Carter-Williams has knocked down 36.8% of his triples. Although
he’s usually not taking too many perimeter shots, he understands
they’re important. With the evolving pace-and-space direction of
the NBA, he concedes that he did have to rethink his approach at a
point in time.
“I contemplated that in my head,” Carter-Williams said. “Like,
'Okay, a lot of guys are shooting threes. Do I just work on all
shooting threes?' And I think I found the right balance of shooting
the ball and still playing my game -- still getting to the rim,
maybe mixing up a post-up here and there, using pull-ups, but also
when open, to shoot the outside three. So for a while I
contemplated that, but I definitely think I've found a good balance
to play my game and to play the new-age game."
Over the All-Star break, Carter-Williams watched Vucevic do his
thing in Atlanta. He's a teammate Carter-Williams commends for not
only individually producing, but also for drawing a bunch of
attention and opening up driving lanes in the process for the
Meanwhile, back in Orlando, Carter-Williams got plenty of gym
work in with the time off. He also spent time with his family in
their brand-new house, tidying up as any homeowner would. The
second half of the Magic’s season resumes on Thursday in South
Beach, as the team tries to snap a five-game skid against the Miami
Heat. Carter-Williams remains upbeat about what’s to come for this
“We've been in games. We've been right there,” Carter-Williams
said. “We've lost a couple tough ones that we should've won. We've
just gotta get back to our principles defensively, mostly -- our
offense has been pretty good -- so if we get back to those, I think
we'll be able to run off some wins.”
There’s that, and then there’s the slew of missing bodies
they’ll gradually get back in Gordon, Anthony, Ennis and Fournier.
Carter-Williams is not on that list this time. He feels good and
healthy. The only goal he has right now is to keep playing and
continue taking advantage of the opportunity he’s had.
Ask him what his rookie self would say to his present self, and
Carter-Williams quips, “‘I wish you did a better job of taking care
of your body.'”
But what isn’t a joke is how he feels about where he’s at
mentally and physically now as a player.
“I honestly think I'm a lot better than I was my rookie year
right now,” Carter-Williams said. “If I went up against myself my
rookie year, I think I'm stronger, I think I'm faster, I think I'm
more skilled and I think I'm just as confident."