After vainly attempting to accomplish two rarely compatible goals, developing young players and reaching the NBA playoffs, the Warriors on Sunday received news that should simplify their immediate purpose.
Rookie center James Wiseman, immediately identified by the franchise as a future cornerstone, was diagnosed with a meniscus injury in his right knee. His season is paused indefinitely, and likely over.
Regardless of the severity, the diagnosis brings considerable clarity to the Warriors, as developing their 20-year-old big man, one of their dual priorities, is not an option.
The Warriors can decide, despite a diminished roster, to pursue wins at all costs.
Or they can commit to further developing chemistry between veterans and young players expected to be around for a few years in hopes of smoothing the road to next season, with the anticipated return of five-time All-Star Klay Thompson and perhaps a second consecutive lottery pick.
It’s not an easy call, given the presence of accomplished veterans Stephen Curry and Draymond Green.
But the rational approach, it seems, would be to peek into next season. This one already has been a grind without realistic expectations of snagging a coveted reward. How can losing Wiseman, whether it’s for a month or the rest of the season, not shift priorities?
Though two league sources told NBC Sports Bay Area on Sunday that the injury is a tear – which would sideline Wiseman for at least a month – the Warriors acknowledged the injury but did not confirm the full diagnosis.
If the injury is serious enough to require surgery, Wiseman would spend the summer rehabilitating with the likelihood of being cleared before the 2021-22 season.
With this revelation following a season-ending injury to young big man Marquese Chriss and the recent diagnosis that second-year small-ball center Eric Paschall likely will be out until late April, Golden State’s already thin depth at center is now threadbare.
It’s Kevon Looney, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Alen Smailagic and Green – none of whom is a natural center.
Draymond is a terrific small-ball center for 10-14 minutes per game. Toscano-Anderson is a 6-foot-6 combo forward, a roster asset but a last-resort center. Though Smailagic is listed at 6-foot-10, his NBA potential remains uncertain. Looney, the expected starter, is a 6-foot-9 center-forward whose remanufactured body is not capable of consistently playing 30 or more minutes each game.
“Loon has always been a max 20-to-25-a-night guy,” coach Steve Kerr conceded late Saturday night, before Wiseman’s injury was diagnosed. “I don’t think that’s changed.
“Hopefully, James won’t be out for too long. But if he is, Loon will probably play in that same range of minutes and Juan will play a little more and Draymond will play some five (center) and we’ll figure it out.”
Wiseman is going to miss considerable time. With 19 games remaining over the final five weeks, it’s unreasonable to expect his return.
Despite analytics indicating the Warriors are a slightly better team without Wiseman – particularly on defense – winning down the stretch is going to be considerably more difficult. The team is woefully small by NBA standards. Depth is thin. Rotations are unstable.
Does this seem like a team ready to go on the kind of run required to climb out of the 10th and final postseason spot to perhaps seven or eight?
The Warriors need to go 11-8 over their final 19 games to reach .500, which might be enough for a 10-seed.
Not once this season have the Warriors won 11 times over a 19-game stretch. Doing so under these circumstances, well, it flies in the face of history.
Should the Warriors focus on development, they’re still going to rack up some wins – as long as Curry and Green are active.
But for a team in their position at this point, considerations would seem to lean toward risk/reward, cost management and accepting reality, no matter how empty it might feel.