There will be no James Wiseman this season, as the Warriors on Friday announced after gazing into their long-term future, decided that it's best to abandon their immediate wish for the 7-foot-1 center’s return before the playoffs.
Right move, but it tastes terrible.
The Warriors are asking their fan base to trust the process regarding Wiseman, which is reasonable, and to trust a roster without anyone taller than 6-foot-10 as being capable of winning a championship. That stretches credibility.
Though the Warriors will explore possible additions, if only for the dimension superior height/length would afford, their solution is not sitting by the phone. The list of unemployed big men is short and profoundly underwhelming, from Willie Cauley-Stein to Enes Freedom to Meyers Leonard to the popular choice of Marc Gasol, who hasn’t played NBA-level basketball in almost two years and has shown no appetite for another run.
Golden State’s rotation of big men begins with 6-foot-9 Kevon Looney, 6-foot-6 Draymond Green, 6-foot-10 Nemanja Bjelica, 6-foot-8 Otto Porter Jr. and 6-foot-7 Jonathan Kuminga. Good players, physically unimposing.
“I still feel really good about our roster and the situation at center with Draymond and Loon and Beli. JK can play small-ball 5. Otto as well,” coach Steve Kerr said Friday, before tipoff against the Hawks in Atlanta. “I feel fine about our depth there.”
Feeling “good” and “fine” are, in this instance, euphemisms for “OK” and “the next Hakeem Olajuwon is not joining our team this week.”
Truth is, not having Wiseman available, if only for 10-15 minutes a game, forces the Warriors to limit their schemes to various versions of small ball. It has long been their best weapon, but it always was designed for short-term use for the same reason baseball managers like to limit their closers to one or two innings.
It’s very, very risky insofar as the primary center, Looney, has an extensive injury/surgery history and has spent this season squeezing his luck so hard it’s starting to squeal.
The options, as discussed, are not answers.
Closing the door on Wiseman this season spares him whatever agony it might have required to try to come back. It informs everyone that there will no more false starts for the 20-year-old. He will focus on getting healthy for the 2022-23 season.
“We’re just protecting James’ future,” Kerr said. “It makes the most sense to go this route. I feel terrible for James. He’s been through so much already, in just two seasons, but his long-term health looks good. The knee looks sound. It’s just a decision that we feel makes the most sense for his own best interest and our best interest as well.”
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It’s fair, if futile, to blame Wiseman’s right knee for not responding well after undergoing surgery last April 15.
It’s also fair, and futile, to blame the Warriors for presuming Wiseman – who initially had a six-month recovery and rehab projection – would return sometime in December or January or February or March. Also fair, and futile.
To blame the franchise for not having acquired another legitimate big man is, however, exceedingly fair. It’s bullseye accurate.
But know that any big man who was available wasn’t attractive enough for any of the other 29 teams, most of which could use the help more than the Warriors.