James Wiseman is still learning the ropes as an NBA rookie, and on Thursday his coach, Steve Kerr, taught him a lesson in professionalism. The No. 2 overall pick missed a COVID test during the All-Star break, and as a result had to sit out a practice ahead of Golden State’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers. Kerr, in response, benched Wiseman for the first three quarters of the game before putting him on the floor for the final 12 minutes.
It was a delicate decision, and one that Kerr did not make lightly. He spoke with team leaders Draymond Green and Stephen Curry beforehand, and Green even acknowledged that he disagreed with Kerr’s decision.
“I’m not sure if I was the coach, I would have suspended him over a COVID test, or not played him over a COVID test,” Green said on a Friday Zoom call with reporters. “Not that I’m questioning what Coach Kerr did. I’m just not sure I would have done that because there’s so much testing. Like, tomorrow, we test three times. We test from 8 to 9 a.m., 5 to 6 p.m. and 10 to 11 p.m. We’ve got to test three times tomorrow and we got Daylight Savings and then we got a 1 p.m. game [on Sunday]. I’m just not going to be mad about that man missing a COVID test over All-Star break. Now, where it gets tough is, he missed practice. And I get that as a coach, ‘Yeah, you missed practice.’ And Wise definitely needs to practice because he’s still learning. So I do understand from the missed practice standpoint.”
However, just because Green disagreed with Kerr doesn’t mean he fought him on it. One of the benefits of Golden State’s organizational continuity is understanding. Green has spent most of his career playing for Kerr, and acknowledged that while the two may not have agreed, he appreciated Kerr’s point and did not want to stand in his way.
“I think I had a chance to say something then. I didn’t say absolutely nothing,” Green said. “You’ve got to know when it’s your time to say something and know when it’s your time to shut the hell up. I feel like that was a situation where it was time for me to shut the hell up. So I didn’t say much. I just said ‘OK, cool. Respect’ I left that one alone. That’s coach’s decision. That’s not for me to give my input. Like I said, I wouldn’t have sat him down over a COVID test, which, when Steve told us he was meeting with us, I had already heard he was getting sat down for a COVID test. But then, when Steve met with us, he said ‘You know, he missed a COVID test, but he missed practice and him missing practice, that’s an issue. It’s an important practice coming back from All-Star break, he needs the practice time.’ I 100 percent understand that. So I don’t think Steve was wrong.”
Wiseman ultimately played well in his brief stint, scoring 14 points and pulling in seven rebounds in the fourth quarter. He started for most of the season, but had moved to the bench prior to a prolonged injury-induced absence in the first half of the season. The message from Kerr and the Warriors organization has been clear all season: Wiseman will have to earn his place on the team. He will not be gifted a starting role based on his draft position, and his actions, as we saw on Thursday, have consequences. Hopefully, that will help Wiseman adjust to NBA life quickly enough to contribute to a contender next season when Klay Thompson is expected to return.