Warriors’ Trade Decisions Under Scrutiny: ‘Hard Price to Pay in Playoffs’

James Wiseman, Warriors

Getty James Wiseman, Warriors

We are wrapping up April in the NBA, and the Golden State Warriors are just about where they wanted to be all along. They advanced with a relatively easy series win over the Nuggets to open the postseason, and are awaiting one of two young, inexperienced playoff teams—the Grizzlies or Timberwolves—in the conference semifinals. Steph Curry looks to be getting healthy and the team can be reasonably confident that a trip to the conference finals is in the offing. There, they can expect the winner of Dallas vs. Phoenix, sure to be a rough-and-tumble series.

But the question that will loom over the Warriors as they move forward to the West, especially in a tough conference finals matchup, is whether the team has done all it can to maximize what this roster can do right now, with Curry at 34 years old and both Draymond Green and Klay Thompson at 32. There were some in the organization over the past few months who, sources say, pushed to cash in some of the team’s younger chips for an additional veteran player who could help the Warriors plow through this postseason.

Warriors brass, ultimately, though, never even considered making a deal involving its young trio of recent lottery picks, James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga, and Moses Moody. Kuminga showed the team early on in the year that he had too much physical talent to trade away, and Moody alone never attracted much interest on the market. But Wiseman did. Or might have, at least, if the Warriors had entertained offers for him. They did not.

“It was always, this is our guy, he’s not going anywhere,” one source told Heavy.com. “Not everyone thought that but among the people who matter most, there is a belief in James and it is almost like there’s a chance to will him into being the player he can be. Just hope it does not cost you down the line, that there is no hard price to pay in the playoffs.”

‘Stubbornness’ on James Wiseman vs. LaMelo Ball?

That was the impression the Warriors left with other teams this winter. Some felt it came down to an unwillingness on the part of the team to admit it made an error in drafting Wiseman over Hornets guard LaMelo Ball, who was an All-Star this season with averages of 20.1 points, 7.6 assists and 6.7 rebounds. Wiseman had his struggles as a rookie, but still averaged 11.5 points and 5.8 rebounds in 34 games.

Wiseman had surgery on a torn meniscus in April, but had setbacks in December and March that ultimately left him shut down for the entire season, raising questions about the health of his right knee.

“It comes down to stubbornness,” one Western Conference executive said. “They were not shopping him, they were not taking offers on him, if you called they shut it down. My understanding is the ownership group wanted Wiseman over LaMelo (Ball) and they wanted to get him back on the floor to show they made the right pick. So there was never really any back-and-forth on what his value might be.”

For example, one player whose name was frequently floated in connection with the Warriors was Myles Turner of the Pacers, the versatile shot-blocking center who would seem an ideal fit for Golden State, with Wiseman a potential future building block for Indiana. The Pacers kept Turner, of course, and dealt away Domantas Sabonis to Sacramento, with Indiana and the Warriors having never seriously discussed a Turner trade.

Turner suffered a stress fracture in his left foot in January and did not play again for the rest of the season—the Warriors may have dodged a bullet, then, by never engaging the Pacers on him. And from the Warriors’ perspective, even if they were inclined to send away Wiseman, there was no one on the trade market this past February who would have seriously upgraded the roster.

The Warriors had talked with the Mavs about Kristaps Porzingis the previous year, but his injury history was too daunting, and talks never progressed very far. They had interest in other players who moved at the deadline—Thaddeus Young, Dennis Schroder—but no one was worth giving up a young player to acquire. There were good players who made some sense and were discussed internally, like Jerami Grant, Harrison Barnes, and Terrence Ross, but without Wiseman, there was no way to construct a sensible trade with matching salaries.

Finals or Bust for Warriors?

So, the Warriors stood pat at the deadline and still have their young guys on hand for this postseason run, though none are contributing. Kuminga has had his role drastically reduced (he played 25 minutes in the opening series, total), and Moody has seen the court only in garbage time. Wiseman is out. Whatever the Warriors do in these playoffs, it will come down to the veterans.

If the team comes up short of the NBA Finals, there’s a chance the thinking on the young players could change, that maybe some combination of Kuminga (unlikely), Wiseman and Moody plus draft assets should be moved to add one more player. The Warriors have all of their first-round picks in line except for 2024, which they owe to Memphis. They also have draft-and-stash shooter Justinian Jessup playing in the Australian league, and there has been interest in him from other teams.

“(Jessup) has been up-and-down this year but it has been a tough year there for COVID and so no one has been consistent,” one scout said. “When his confidence is going, he is a really good, NBA-level shooter. He is not an All-Star but he has handled adversity and he is a good team player, you can imagine him having a good, solid career as a shooter off the bench. There are a lot of teams that need that. He could be in the NBA next season, but just maybe not with the Warriors.”

Of course, an NBA championship or even a trip to the Finals changes the Warriors’ calculus, allows them to celebrate the Curry-Thompson-Green trio while also looking forward to a future with Kuminga, Wiseman and Moody. It allows the ownership group, which has been staunch in its support of the young players, to thump its chest, the wisdom of its decision not to trade anyone affirmed. That’s the best-case scenario for the Warriors, and it is a realistic one.

If that doesn’t happen, though? There are young assets on hand and maybe more open-mindedness on doing something with them.





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