SAN FRANCISCO – Through no fault of his own, James Wiseman’s career is being subjected as to the kind of speculation with which no young athlete wants to be associated.
Is he another Greg Oden? Another Sam Bowie? Another Kwame Brown?
Will the 7-foot-1 center the Warriors drafted as a teenager, visualizing as a future linchpin, ever get healthy enough to make an impact in the NBA? It’s fair to wonder if he might join the list of promising big men whose careers were shortened by injuries.
Wiseman, who turns 21 on March 31, made it through three G League games before experiencing swelling in his right knee this week that forced the Warriors to shut him down for the second time in four months. It’s conceivable that he will miss the entire season.
“Our training staff has put its head together with the doctors who have been working with James and the decision was let’s take a pause because of the swelling in the knee,” coach Steve Kerr said Saturday. “I feel terrible for James.”
Wiseman last played on Tuesday, when the Santa Cruz Warriors faced the Agua Caliente Clippers in Southern California. That was his third game in a six-day span, each with roughly 20 minutes of playing time. He was scheduled to play Sunday in Santa Cruz before the swelling forced a change of plans – for the third time.
The Warriors initially anticipated Wiseman would be sidelined for six months after surgery last April 15. That left open the possibility of at least a limited training camp in October. Didn’t happen. They next hoped he’d be available sometime in November. There was some post-surgery swelling, which led to an arthroscopic “clean-up” procedure in December.
And now the Warriors have no idea when Wiseman will be cleared for an NBA game.
“Every decision should be made around James’ career, James’ future,” Kerr said. “Our training staff will make decisions in terms of what James does, how much he does when he can be on the floor. Those questions will all be based on his long-term health.”
There are no long-term projections at this time.
That’s where things are with Wiseman. He played 39 games as a rookie last season before tearing the meniscus in his right knee in a fall during an April 10 game against the Rockets. He has not played this season.
As far as the Warriors, they now must proceed as if Wiseman will not be joining them anytime soon. Even if he were to return this season, in the heat of a run toward the playoffs, he was not going to play heavy minutes.
“I will just keep going back to the fact that he’s 20 years old and he’s got his whole future ahead,” Kerr said. “We just have to be really, really cautious. We’ve got to do what’s best for him long-term.”
There is a checkered history regarding big men with injury issues early in their careers.
MVP candidate Joel Embiid, who missed two full seasons after being drafted in 2014, is a success story. Yao Ming was an eight-time All-Star before his career effectively ended at 28. Ralph Sampson was a part-time player after age 27 and retired at 30.
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The scariest scenario for the Warriors is that which parallels the travails of Oden, whose career lasted 105 games.
Sampson made it to 456, Yao to 486 games, Bowie to 511 and Brown to 607.
No matter how hopeful the Warriors are, pessimism is justified.