The trial of James Wiseman, a Warriors rookie facing charges related to his NBA fitness, is two days away from entering its fifth month. Dozens of witnesses have taken the stand, some for the prosecution and some for the defense, with dozens more yet to come.
The outcome is, however, preordained. Wiseman is both guilty and innocent, and will be for at least a few years.
There will be times, as witnesses level allegations accompanied by video and statistics, when Wiseman’s face and the language on his 7-foot-1 frame are replete with guilt.
And there will be times when the defense will rise and offer proof of his innocence, beginning with the fact that any 19-year-old making an NBA paycheck is, by nature, an innocent.
“I was searching for frat parties at Davidson,” Stephen Curry recalled of his 19-year-old lifestyle.
Curry is a daily observer of the trial and was a participant in Wiseman’s 33rd NBA game Monday night, when the rook scored 12 points, grabbed five rebounds and blocked four shots in a 116-102 win over the Chicago Bulls.
He’s innocent, and the trial is a farce. Free the man.
While absorbing a few harsh lessons from Bulls veteran center Nikola Vucevic, Wiseman also committed four fouls, including the one most common to athletic young big men: jumping on the pump fake. What follows is slumped shoulders and a suddenly drooping chin.
He’s guilty, and the trial must continue.
“I thought he was quicker to his rotations and really battled," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Nikola Vucevic is an All-Star center and a tough matchup and I think James did a really good job fighting and competing out there.”
So, Curry goes back to the stand for more testimony that benefits the defense.
“He had 12 and five, with four fouls and four blocks, but I feel like that was one of his better games of the year in terms of what he was trying to do on the floor,” he said of Wiseman. “His aggressiveness and energy and instincts were coming out. That rebound was just him being physical and trying to go after the ball and claim it. That’s a good sign of how he’s going to help us now. We need some more of that.”
That rebound, the one Curry referred to, came midway through the third quarter. After a jumper by Chicago’s Zach LaVine caromed off the rim and backboard, Wiseman outfought physical Bulls big man Daniel Theis and secured the ball well enough to zip a pass to Curry.
Wiseman on that play displayed a level of zeal and production that, should it become the norm, will send him toward All-Star status.
Consistency is the goal for a rookie, and the search for it is why Wiseman is on trial. He is, by turns, guilty of committing silly mistakes while also providing glimpses of astonishingly amazing performance that could bolster his case for acquittal.
“I was able to experience the college experience probably like a half semester,” Wiseman said, chuckling at the thought. “. . . I’m still learning. I’m 19 years old, so I’m getting better. I’m just having fun. And, really, I’m just laughing and having fun and going out there to play, doing what I love to do.”
Except the enjoyable moments have been offset by setbacks. Wiseman missed training camp due to illness.
Two months into this trial season, as he seemed to be finding a rhythm, he sustained a sprained wrist and missed three weeks. Upon recovering, Wiseman returned and played six games of varying effectiveness before he was benched for three quarters after missing an NBA-mandated COVID-19 test during the All-Star break.
Wiseman got over that, only to miss three games a week later due to the league’s health and safety protocols.
“He’s never really gotten good momentum,” Curry said. “And then earlier in the season, he wasn’t playing as much. And his confidence has suffered because of that. A big part of what we’re trying to do, and what he’s trying to do, is to fall in love with the process of how he’s going to get better and how he’s going to impact games now, and in the future, and not so much worry about the end results.
“That’s hard to do, because we’re all sometimes results-driven. So, you can ride that emotional roller-coaster. But for him, that’s why I want to compliment him tonight.”
The “roller-coaster” is the definition of the Wiseman trial. There will be more games to savor and more games to forget, more moments of joy and more moments of futility – with no end in sight.