Apr 15, 2021
Nick FriedellESPN Staff Writer
- Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.
Golden State Warriors center James Wiseman had surgery to fix the meniscus injury in his right knee and will miss the rest of the season, the team announced Thursday.
The Warriors called the surgery successful, but as coach Steve Kerr noted after Thursday’s 119-101 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena, the Warriors were “very disappointed” to learn that Wiseman needed a more intricate meniscus repair that will keep him out for months, not weeks.
“This is a really tough blow for James,” Kerr said. “I talked to him today, and he’s in good spirits; he’s always got a bright and sunny approach and attitude, but it’s a tough blow to lose the last month of the season and then the summer as well. So we’re going to do everything we can to help him in his rehab. The thing is, he’s got a very positive repair, the surgeon felt great about it, our training staff feels great about it and long term we think he’s going to be fine. But it’s obviously a tough, tough blow for James.”
Dr. Neal ElAttrache performed the surgery Thursday in Los Angeles. As Kerr explained, the organization was hopeful that Wiseman would need a much simpler repair — but once ElAttrache saw the damage in the knee, it was clear Wiseman wouldn’t be playing for a while. The Warriors said they expect Wiseman, 20, to return for the 2021-22 season and that they will have another update about his recovery in September. Kerr said there is no specific return date at this time.
“At this point, it’s just indefinite,” Kerr said of Wiseman’s absence. “And we’ll see how he responds.”
The injury occurred during the second quarter of an April 10 win over the Houston Rockets when Wiseman went up for a dunk and landed awkwardly after being blocked by Rockets forward Kenyon Martin Jr. Wiseman tried to stay in the game, but after walking around the bench and being checked out by the Warriors’ training staff, he walked slowly back to the locker room for more examination — which ultimately led to Thursday’s procedure.
The surgery brings an end to an up-and-down rookie season for the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 draft. Wiseman, who averaged 11.5 points and 5.8 rebounds, showed flashes of promise during his first professional year but struggled with his confidence throughout the season while trying to learn the NBA game.
“Honestly, it’s tough,” Warriors star guard Stephen Curry said of the Wiseman news. “He was headed in the right direction, showing signs of progress. Every time he got a good rhythm, either it was COVID protocols or his wrist, and now the knee. I hit him earlier today to let him know he has to think big picture in terms of — he’s 20 years old, he’s got a lot of basketball ahead of him, and he has an opportunity now to flip a terrible situation on its head and really work on his body, work on his mind in terms of what it’s like at this level and take in as much as he can watching us play.
“And then come back stronger and healthy whenever that time is. So that’s the perspective you got to have when you want to play and injuries take you out. Hopefully he understands that and he’s going to be patient with it.”
Teammates and coaches raved about Wiseman’s length and ability after watching him work out before the season began, but he struggled to translate what he was showing on the practice floor to games, as evidenced by repeated mistakes, particularly on the defensive end.
Wiseman missed most of training camp after dealing with COVID-19 protocols but still managed to crack the starting lineup when the season opened on Dec. 22. After an inconsistent first month, Kerr decided to replace Wiseman in the starting lineup with veteran center Kevon Looney on Jan. 25. Wiseman played a few solid games off the bench, but after a wrist injury on Jan. 30 knocked him out for almost a month, he was never able to find the same form.
“Obviously, this has been a very tough season for everybody,” Kerr said. “In terms of not having summer league and, in James’ case, training camp, there’s been the COVID protocols, so every team has kind of gone through similar trials and tribulations. So within that context, I think James had a really productive rookie season. For a guy who never played in college to come out and show the promise that he did, I think he’s got a great future, but it’s clear that he’s very raw. That’s obvious. And how could he not be, given his inexperience?
“So it’s great that he got all this experience. It would have been better obviously if he could have gotten more and then a summer and all that, but he’s got to play the hand that’s dealt to him. He’s been a really rock-solid student and patient. He’s really had to deal with a lot, an awful lot for his first year, and he’s handled it well.”
Kerr inserted Wiseman back into the starting lineup on March 4 against the Phoenix Suns, a night after playing the rookie just 11 minutes in a loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. The veteran coach said he would like to keep Wiseman in the starting lineup moving forward, but then the young center missed two straight days of COVID-19 testing during the All-Star break, which frustrated Kerr and got Wiseman benched for the first three quarters of a March 11 loss to the LA Clippers.
Kerr said he spoke to Warriors assistant coach Theo Robertson about the best way to keep Wiseman engaged as he starts a lengthy rehab process. Warriors staffers have repeatedly praised Wiseman throughout the season for his dedication to watching film.
“We’ve got to do our best to get him on the floor and watch film,” Kerr said. “We can’t put him through drills obviously. Once he’s mobile and can move around — we can still get him on the floor and continue to show him what’s in front of him defensively and walk through coverages and that sort of thing. So we’ll try to be as creative as possible this summer.”
The Warriors remain hopeful that Wiseman will be able to bounce back and find the form they saw in him before the season, but the knee injury throws a wrench into what was supposed to be a very important summer for the big man’s growth and development. While the Warriors finish up their own up-and-down season, they do so having to start planning on how they’ll try to get Wiseman more comfortable within the system while also reintegrating injured star Klay Thompson after he missed two straight years because of separate ACL and Achilles injuries. Curry isn’t sure exactly how difficult that process will be whenever the time comes.
“Honestly, I don’t know,” Curry said. “We’ll find out then. There’s a lot to happen before we get our mind in that space. I don’t think it’s fair to answer that question in terms of where we are right now.”