Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr benched rookie center James Wiseman for the first half of Thursday’s 130-104 loss to the LA Clippers after Wiseman missed the first two COVID-19 tests he was scheduled for during the All-Star break.
The missed tests caused Wiseman, 19, to miss Wednesday’s practice in Los Angeles.
“I’m not going to go into detail, but this is all part of development as a young player,” Kerr said during a videoconference with reporters after the game. “You got to take care of your business. Everything matters. This was just a reaction to him missing the test and not being able to practice last night. That hurt us. And so that was the reason he did not play in the first half. I’m not going to go into any more detail than that because that’s private team business, but that was the reason.”
Kerr on Wednesday acknowledged being disappointed that Wiseman had missed the early tests, but he said Wiseman was cleared to play before Thursday’s game following some uncertainty about his status.
For his part, Wiseman took responsibility for the missed tests and said he had spoken to veterans Stephen Curry and Draymond Green about the episode.
“I make mistakes,” Wiseman said. “I’m human and I completely forgot about the first two days of COVID testing. I tested the last two days. … I made a huge mistake, but I most definitely will not do that again because I just got to make sure that I just be disciplined in terms of that. … I made sure that I apologized to Coach and told him that I’m not going to do that again and make sure that I pay attention to little stuff like that, just get that done.”
Wiseman, the No. 2 overall pick in last year’s draft, has repeatedly been praised by Kerr and his Warriors teammates for how he has gone about his business and consistently tried to get better, but Wiseman’s season has been full of ups and downs. He missed most of training camp because of COVID-19 protocols and missed close to a month after injuring his wrist. His play has been sporadic as he has tried to get a feel for the NBA game.
Kerr said he is hopeful that Wiseman will learn from his latest setback.
“You have to prove it in this league,” Kerr said. “If you want to be Steph or Draymond, then you got to do what those guys did. And guess what? Both those guys were benched their rookie year. Both those guys had to fight. So even the superstar players have to earn their way in this league. So that’s part of the deal for everybody. So that’s pretty simple.”
Kerr pushed back on the notion that Wiseman, who admitted after last Thursday’s first-half finale in Phoenix that the up-and-down nature of his rookie campaign has been “hard” on him, might fall deeper into self-doubt after getting benched Thursday.
“I don’t agree with that,” Kerr said. “He’s a 19-year-old, unbelievably gifted player in his rookie year. He’s really playing well. Played three college games. If you want to go back and look at the history of this league and guys like Kobe [Bryant] or Anthony Davis, or I don’t know, pick any one of a number of rookies who became great players, it’s a struggle. There’s very few rookies who in the history of this league who just came out ready to play, especially in the modern era where guys don’t go to school and don’t spend a few years preparing for the NBA.
“So James is doing great, are you kidding me? All he’s enduring is the normal ups and downs of what a 19-year-old, young player goes through in the NBA. He’s playing against men now, but you look at some of the things he’s done, you look at the way he responded tonight in the fourth quarter and the things he’s capable of, and the kind of person he is, I have no doubt James is going to be a great, great player.”
Kerr said he was pleased that when Wiseman eventually got into Thursday’s game in the fourth quarter, he responded well by scoring 14 points and grabbing seven rebounds in 12 minutes.
“He was great,” Kerr said. “He responded exactly as I hoped he would. He looked like he was a little angry out there and he really competed and he played with good energy and that bodes well. So he’ll be back out there next game.”
The Warriors believe Wiseman’s best days remain ahead of him. Despite being disappointed about the rookie’s forgetfulness around the tests, Curry believes that Wiseman will be better after his mistake.
“I’m sure he wasn’t happy about it,” Curry said. “Eventually, hopefully this will not be something that lingers in terms of a storyline or a narrative around him. It’s just he is a rookie, a No. 2 pick, so anything that [comes from] a disciplinarian point of view or whatever the case is, is going to be a talking point. But he came in in the fourth quarter and played well, played aggressive. I’m sure his minutes will be different on Sunday, and hopefully he plays well.”
With Thursday’s loss, the Warriors have dropped four straight games for the first time this season. Turner Sports cameras caught Curry appearing to yell at and motivate his teammates during the third quarter, an uncharacteristic move for Curry, given how calm he usually seems to be on the floor.
It also underscored the team’s frustrations during the losing streak.
“It’s always about what’s happening in the moment,” Curry said. “That’s just basketball. Trying to bring competitive spirit and leadership, all different type of ways, but we had an opportunity to set the tone for the second half of the season tonight and obviously didn’t do it. And we got to do something about that going into the next game.”