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Zaza not un-retiring to solve Warriors' failed center gamble

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Warriors' James Wiseman

When Warriors coach Steve Kerr announced Monday that rookie center James Wiseman would miss at least a week and likely more, he also indicated the team was prepared to play a few games with Kevon Looney as the only healthy center on the roster.

Insofar as Looney’s five-year career is notable mostly for a frequent succession of injuries, the Warriors were taking a risk the proportions of which go beyond gargantuan.

Their good luck didn't even last 22 minutes.

Looney rolled his left ankle with 2:34 remaining in the first half of a 111-107 loss to the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night. He limped into the locker room, did not return. An MRI test later revealed a sprain.

Were the Warriors diagnosed with a severe shortage of foresight? Or is this a matter of a proud team with postseason aspirations lowering its sights a bit? All signs point to willingly relying on small-ball lineups in hopes of staying afloat in the parity-rich Western Conference.

“I'm comfortable with it,” Kerr said Tuesday in a postgame video conference. “It's not ideal, but this is kind of the way this season is going for everybody. Our isn't COVID-related, but so many teams have been decimated by league protocols and injuries. This is our turn now. So, we've got to just find a way.”

 

Well, yes, they do. They gave themselves no choice.

General manager Bob Myers probably didn’t sleep well Monday night and it’s a safe assumption he won’t Tuesday night. Not after watching Boston post a 30-15 rebounding advantage in the decisive second half.

Already the smallest team in the NBA, the Warriors now have no available player taller than Andrew Wiggins, the 6-foot-7 small forward. And no hard plans to chase another.

After giving his team 38 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in defeat, Steph Curry said the last time he played on a team with no one taller than 6-foot-7 was “maybe JV” because there was a 6-9 guy on his varsity high school team.

Assistant coach Jarron Collins is 6-foot-10, but he’s 42 years old and almost 10 years into retirement. Maybe Zaza Pachulia. He’s 6-foot-10, knows the system, is only two years out of the NBA and won’t be 37 until next week.

“I saw him in the tunnel at halftime and I told him his jersey was back there we need like two minutes from him,” Curry said, not fully joking. “And he said those two minutes would equal two pulled hamstrings, so he respectfully passed on that offer.”

When I asked Kerr during his pregame news conference if the six-day required quarantine period might be a factor in signing a new player, he expressed uncertainty. If there had been discussions about adding another big man, the wait time likely would have been part of the decision-making process.

If the Warriors sign someone Wednesday and begin testing immediately, the soonest he could be available is next Tuesday. Wiseman is scheduled to be reevaluated early next week and conceivably could return shortly after. 

Kerr after the game said he’s still willing to stick with his short-handed roster, leaning on a combination of Draymond Green, Eric Paschall and Juan Toscano-Anderson -- each of whom is 6-foot-6 -- to fill 48 minutes at center.

The time to take a first peek at available big men was in late December, when Marquese Chriss underwent surgery that could end his season. The Warriors stood pat. They stayed with Wiseman and Looney, with Green and Paschall playing spot minutes at center.

The Warriors stood pat again when Wiseman went down over the weekend. Stood pat knowing that they were down to Looney, and surely realizing what that meant.

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Looney is a fabulous human being and a solid basketball player. He also is a walking medical experiment. He has endured surgery on each hip, abdominal soreness, hamstring soreness, core-muscle surgery, a cartilage fracture in his chest and a neuropathic condition. All this before his 25th birthday, which is Saturday.

“This was a fluke,” Kerr said. “He just caught his foot on the floor and rolled the ankle.”

Fluke? Yes. This time.

This is the history on which the Warriors gambled. Wiseman might return next week. Might. Same with Looney, or maybe a couple weeks. Chriss? Another three months. Maybe.

 

The Warriors were forced to play the final 27 minutes with no one taller than Wiggins. It showed. They were punished.

Buckle up, because there’s a good chance there will be more of that.

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