Shortly after walking into Little Caesars Arena in Detroit on Monday afternoon, the Warriors will see a familiar face. Very familiar. It belongs to James Wiseman, who not long ago was identified as the future of the franchise.
Not long ago, in this instance, is roughly 19 months.
Now? Wiseman, 22, is a fixture on the bench, a third-string center for the Pistons, a young squad desperate to make the leap from four years of abject wretchedness to a level approaching respectable.
Stay in the game with the latest updates on your beloved Bay Area and California sports teams! Sign up here for our All Access Daily newsletter.
Inasmuch as Detroit’s starting center is 19-year-old Jalen Duren, there is nothing to suggest Wiseman is integral to any such progress.
Every healthy member of the Pistons except Wiseman received playing time Sunday night in a loss to the Phoenix Suns. He received another DNP-CD (Did not play-Coach’s decision). His sixth in seven games.
Wiseman’s only appearance came last Wednesday in a loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. He played six minutes, producing four points, two rebounds, one assist, one turnover. He was whistled for four fouls. That was the 85th game of his NBA career.
The way this season is going under first-year Pistons coach Monty Williams, the 7-foot-1 center probably won’t play at all against his former team.
Golden State Warriors
Wiseman’s place in the NBA is gloomy enough for Dub Nation to shed a collective tear. That would be OK to show empathy for the sorrowful outlook of the young man who the Warriors selected with the No. 2 overall pick of the 2020 NBA Draft.
It’s a steep fall for Wiseman, who since coming to the league hasn’t had many reasonable opportunities to rise.
“I know James has greatness ahead of him,” Klay Thompson told reporters Sunday in Cleveland, after a 115-104 loss to the Cavaliers. “It can be hard at times when you’re a young player and you’re trying to establish yourself.
“But James is such a smart young man that he will be in this league for a long time.”
Thompson is among Wiseman’s former teammates expressing optimism that he can find his way to his best self – while hoping it has not been seen.
Their desire for it to happen with the Warriors never materialized during 60 games over nearly three seasons, most of which were wiped out by a knee injury that required surgery in April 2021 and another that December.
“You wish that things happened quicker or sooner or better,” Stephen Curry said. “But his story is still developing. Nobody is putting a pin in that right now. He’s a young dude, super talented. He works hard.
“I’m confident he’ll be able to figure it out. It’s just a matter of when.”
Wiseman’s timetable with the Warriors hit double zeroes last Feb. 9. He was traded to the Pistons in a four-team transaction that brought Gary Payton II back to Golden State from the Trail Blazers. The decision to move Wiseman was less a matter of front-office unanimity than of front-office majority.
Indeed, trading Wiseman was the franchise’s first big move to shift away from developing youth to adding more polished players.
No member of the team’s veteran core was closer to Wiseman than Thompson. He feels his absence, feels for the misfortune of his former teammate and longs to see him on Monday.
“Me and James spent many, many days and weeks together rehabbing,” Thompson said. “I’m just excited to see him, just as a friend. I think about him often. I hope he’s doing well. I know it will be great just to check up with him.”
Understanding what came of Wiseman goes back to April 2022. When the Warriors entered the 2022 NBA playoffs as underdogs and Wiseman was rehabbing after his second surgery, both parties projected a healthy 2022-23 season as the chance to begin fulfilling his considerable promise.
The first indication that Wiseman’s future-face-of-the-franchise status was in serious jeopardy came only two months later. In June. When the Warriors won the NBA Finals without him.
Seven months later, while stumbling through the defense of that championship, the Warriors sent Wiseman to Detroit.
“I look forward to crossing paths with him, talking to him, showing him love,” Curry said. “I know he’s not playing much. But that’s the challenge he’s facing in terms of understanding how he can continue to get better and force them to play him. That’s the challenge.”
That challenge practically was a mirage with the Warriors. It’s as if Wiseman went from future cornerstone to empty locker cubicle in a blink.
There will be warm moments among old acquaintances on Monday. Maybe the day will come when all parties can be proud of Wiseman’s ability to persist, to stay determined and eventually thrive.
Meanwhile, Wiseman is a young man on the lonely end of a bench, enduring the coldest aspect of the NBA.