The Definitive Case for Golden State Warriors Trading James WisemanFebruary 1, 2023
As the Golden State Warriors near the 2023 NBA trade deadline with the viability of their title defense in doubt, time is of the essence.
Considering the recent history of the franchise, that shouldn't make them uncomfortable. If nothing else, these Warriors are defined by their excellent timing.
Stephen Curry blossomed just as the three-point revolution began, Steve Kerr replaced Mark Jackson at precisely the correct moment for the team's development, switch-heavy small ball took hold as Draymond Green ascended, and Kevin Durant hit free agency just as a cap spike cleared enough cash for the Warriors to sign him.
Even their branding is time-based: Light years ahead. Two timelines.
But now, in search of upgrades with once-prized prospect James Wiseman as one of their few needle-moving trade chips, things are different. The Warriors have to operate knowing the timing of a Wiseman trade is all wrong.
Wiseman's worth on the market today is probably as low as it's ever going to get, forcing Golden State to transact at the deadline from a position of extreme weakness.
Picked second in the 2020 draft, the hyper-athletic 7-footer has seen little action across two-plus seasons and performed poorly when called upon. Though his cosmetic stats—19.3 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per 36 minutes suggest there's a productive player in there somewhere, cursory study proves those numbers are empty. Wiseman's hands, feel and understanding of how to function within a team concept on either end are lacking—no great surprise given his inexperience. The Warriors' net rating was minus-13.1 with him on the floor as a rookie and is an even more alarming minus-21.7 this season. On a per-play basis, Wiseman has been among the most damaging players in the league for the entirety of his career.
Even when acknowledging Wiseman's undeniable athletic gifts, his draft pedigree, the understanding that it's harder to play in the Warriors' system than most others (ask D'Angelo Russell or Kelly Oubre Jr. about it) and the likelihood that life will be easier following a change of scenery, ideally to a lower-stakes environment, Wiseman simply isn't a high-value asset.
But the Dubs have to deal him anyway, knowing there's a non-zero chance Wiseman will become some other franchise's cornerstone.
The reason? They're running out of time.
Nothing Lasts Forever
This is it for the current iteration of the Warriors. We're talking last shot. One final chance to squeeze through the window and snare a fifth title. If that sounds like hyperbole, understand that while Curry is aging just fine at 34, Green is fading and can become a free agent this summer. The architect of the whole thing, President of Basketball Operations Bob Myers, is not under contract for next season and may already have a foot out the door. If anyone has a sense of this team's expiration date, it's him.
Don't forget the money. Golden State keeps breaking and re-breaking records for salary and luxury tax spending. Team governor Joe Lacob has an upper limit on what he'll spend, and current projections for next season blow well past it.
So this isn't about Golden State making a win-now trade because it "owes it" to Curry or Green or anyone else. It's simpler and less sentimental than that. Some version of the Warriors will persist as long as Curry is anywhere close to his prime, but this particular group's lifespan is probably best measured in months.
The Warriors need to get better in the immediate, before the whole thing implodes this summer. Wiseman is the only realistic way to do that—even if the improvement is uncertain at worst and marginal at best.
Bad Options are Good Enough
The crop of players the Warriors might be able to choose from in a Wiseman-centric deal aren't household names. Jae Crowder, Eric Gordon, Gary Trent Jr., P.J. Washington, Malik Beasley and Josh Richardson would profile as eighth or ninth men in Golden State's current rotation. Then again, some help is better than none, which is what Wiseman is providing.
Otto Porter Jr. essentially occupied that low-end rotation role last year, giving the team 19.5 playoff minutes per game. He provided steady 37.0 percent shooting from deep throughout the season, defended 3s and 4s, moved the ball and rebounded at above-average rates for his position. His 9-of-16 shooting from deep in the Finals was critical, but Porter's overall work last year would probably be best described as competent.
That might be all it takes for Golden State to get right back to last season's levels. The starting lineup is still slaying opponents to the tune of a plus-19.6 net rating, by far the best of any unit with at least 500 possessions together. Jordan Poole is reprising his role as a live-wire scorer, Donte DiVincenzo is providing much of the same defensive disruption Gary Payton II brought a year ago and Jonathan Kuminga is quietly becoming a shutdown defender who understands his role.
The Warriors aren't trading Curry, Green or Thompson. They can't move Andrew Wiggins (not that they would) because he signed an extension this past offseason, and Poole's own rookie extension puts him in the "poison pill" category of player that is almost impossible to deal. So if Golden State is going to add the ninth man it hopes can mimic Porter's role, Wiseman's $9.6 million in matching salary is the only way to do it.
Chew on that for a second. Really absorb it, and the complicated and uncomfortable stakes of this decision clarify. In order to make what might only be a tiny improvement, the Warriors have to part with a player they once believed (and may still believe!) has superstar potential. Not only that, but they also have to do it because the age of the championship core and the financial realities that come with winning big for so long mean tomorrow basically doesn't exist.
Leave the game-of-inches stuff to football. The NBA is a game of moments. Seize a few of the right ones, and you can build a dynasty. Make the best of a bad one, which is what the Warriors must do at the deadline, and maybe you give that dynasty one last chance for a fitting championship sendoff.
Stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference and Cleaning the Glass. Accurate through Jan. 31. Salary info via Spotrac.
Grant Hughes covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@gt_hughes), and subscribe to the Hardwood Knocks podcast, where he appears with Bleacher Report's Dan Favale.