Andrew Wiggins

Wiggs returns to Warriors, but personal matter not totally resolved

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SAN FRANCISCO – Andrew Wiggins returned to the Bay Area on Monday, rejoined the Warriors for practice on Tuesday and will play on Wednesday. If he needs to leave again on Thursday, it will be understood and accepted.

If anyone on the team needs to leave for a serious family matter, it will be understood and accepted.

“I don’t care about the basketball part,” coach Steve Kerr said after Tuesday's practice. “Life is way more important than the game. The main thing is that if any of our players has a life situation where they need to be with their family, then that’s where they’re going to be.

“You just want everybody to be OK and give them the space they need and that’ll always be the case with the way we operate.”

Wiggins’ leave of absence lasted one week. He missed four games, three of which the Warriors won. They managed to have, by any reasonable measure, a successful road trip while he was away for personal family reasons.

It’s important to note that Wiggins, Golden State’s starting small forward, remained engaged while away. He got in a few workouts and followed the Warriors during their swing through Eastern Conference teams in Washington, New York, Toronto and Boston. He liked what he saw.

“We’re on the rise,” Wiggins said. “We found something good. Found that identity that we were searching for. We put pieces together that worked, and it’s been special last few games. Everyone is play well, playing together, and we look like the real Golden State Warriors.”

The “real” Golden State Warriors have a roster filled with players capable of contributing. The “real” Warriors are playing their best basketball at the most important time of the regular season. The “real” Warriors trust they have enough to make more than a token appearance in the playoffs.

The “real” Warriors expect to playing well while also being sensitive to the personal needs of every player and coach on the NBA’s highest payroll.

Yet there is no doubt that Wiggins’ return is a boost. After a sub-mediocre first half, by his standards, Wiggins has scored double figures in 14 of his last 16 games while also providing stellar defense on the perimeter.

He has looked more like the “real” Andrew Wiggins, and the Warriors are substantially better for it.

Which is why he will play -- and likely start -- Wednesday night, when the Milwaukee Bucks invade Chase Center.

“We feel comfortable,” Kerr said. “We’ll see how many minutes. You can’t really simulate an NBA game (while away), so we’ll see how he holds up. But physically, he’s perfectly fine to go ahead and play tomorrow.”

Though neither he nor Kerr offered details behind his absence, whatever it was affected Wiggins enough to pull him away from his job.

“Just taking care of what I had to take care of, and being present for what I have to be present for.” Wiggins said of his time away. “I think this is the appropriate time to come back. That’s what I felt like. So, I’m back here with the team and ready to get to it.”

What remains are pertinent questions related to Wiggins’ frame of mind. Can he focus completely, during every minute in the game, on his basketball responsibilities? Is he capable of executing the mental gymnastics that might be required to perform at a high level?

Some players, no matter the sport, can be adversely affected by events away from the court or field, just as some employees in any job will find it difficult to stay on task while on the clock if their personal life becomes more stressful.

The one thing Wiggins knows and surely feels is that his workplace is a safe space.

“Being around the team, it’s all love and support,” he said. “It’s a family here. When I was away, I missed the guys and basketball. I’m happy to be back.”

Wiggins’ happiness comes with caution and has conditions. He has been through this before, and the experience tells him circumstances can shift quickly. That much was evident when asked Tuesday if the matter he addressed had been put to rest.

“Not exactly,” he said. “But I’ll just take it day by day.”

There could come a time – maybe this week or next week or next month – when Wiggins must decide, once again, whether to stay with his teammates or return to his family. There is comfort in knowing either decision will be accepted.

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