James Wiseman could have franchise-altering impact on Warriors

James Wiseman, Warriors (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
James Wiseman, Warriors (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) /

James Wiseman’s contract and performance could dictate the Golden State Warriors’ future

James Wiseman’s NBA career has not gotten off to the start he or the Golden State Warriors might have hoped, but the Warriors’ lottery positioning in 2020 due to injuries to star players allowed them to practice some patience with him as he developed behind the scenes and the team continued to win.

Anthony Slater of The Athletic opened up an interesting dialogue on the young center in a roundtable that looked at players and coaches with the most to prove (subscription required) in 2022-23. Slater points to the substantial size of Wiseman’s contract juxtaposed with the uncertainty of his development and the boom-or-bust potential he possesses at this point in his career.

Wiseman, a second overall pick, has played just 39 games, missing all of last season. It’s unfair to call him a bust at this point, but one can’t confidently say he’s ready to be a starting center on a competitive team.

In preparation for this season, Wiseman ran with the Summer League crew, averaging over 10 points and 5 rebounds in 20 minutes per game. Drawing substantial conclusions from Summer League play is to be cautioned against, but Wiseman looked confident and fluid in the pick-and-roll game and capable on the interior on both ends of the floor, nabbing rebounds and blocking shots.

These highlights will make Warriors fans salivate over the thought of him playing alongside a guard like Curry who is even stickier for defenses worried about leaving him open at the perimeter. But as good as things look, Wiseman’s performance this season is worth keeping an eye on.

James Wiseman’s upside and contract make for a crucial turning point

One way or another, James Wiseman will impact the Warriors’ future in a big way. Slater pointed out that he is owed a substantial paycheck in the following two seasons, which is important for any team but especially so for the Warriors, who already have a massive luxury tax bill to pay.

The Warriors have had no issue spending money to win titles, and it’s paid off with four titles in the last decade. Steph Curry, who makes a large portion of that payroll, is probably worth even more than he’s paid.

But Wiseman is an off-kilter part of the timeline. Most teams with developing players of Wiseman’s characteristics are developing teams with low payrolls, often flirting with the salary floor, not well beyond the salary cap.

One could view Wiseman as a luxury for the Warriors. Developing young talent underneath the layer of existing superstar, championship winning talent could allow Golden State to seamlessly transition from Dynasty 1.0 to Dynasty 2.0 with no rebuild in-between, a rarity in pro sports.

Another perspective could view Wiseman as a sizable ball-and-chain. The Warriors, restricted financially by their already-producing championship core, could view the Wiseman price as a non-sensible one given the fact that they’re already competing. Title-winning teams seldom have patience for situations like Wiseman’s, yet trading him away is unlikely to bring in the return they hope for since he has yet to prove much for himself in the NBA.

A third, and possibly worst-case scenario is that Wiseman gets Golden State stuck in the middle between all-in on competing and all-in on development, launching their dynasty from a nearly unbeatable state to a middle-of-the-pack team, the worst place to be stuck in the NBA.

Whatever the outcome of Wiseman’s career, it’s clear that he’ll have a major impact on the way in which the team moves forward, whether directly or indirectly.

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