Yes. No. Maybe.
I could have posed the question, Will the Golden State Warriors trade James Wiseman in the headline and ended the article after those three words.
That’s really where we are. Maybe they will. Maybe the won’t. We’ll know tomorrow.
In the meantime, let’s talk about it. Extensively, at that. Because why not?
Until the trade deadline passes, Wiseman is the biggest story on the Warriors ... and perhaps the biggest deadline story the team has had since Monta Ellis was shipped off, Joe Lacob was booed mercilessly, and a dynasty was born.
For much of the season the Wiseman trade chatter lived only on Twitter and in Golden State of Mind comment sections, from speculative fans, or those who were pessimistic about Wiseman’s future with the team. Now the trade chatter exists in the ether because, well ... now it’s real. Now it’s not just fans wanting things or speculating about things. Now the Warriors are, according to reputable reporters, looking at packages involving Wiseman and Moses Moody ahead of Thursday’s NBA trade deadline.
I’m not going to answer the question Should the Warriors trade Wiseman, because it involves too many things we don’t know. How do the Warriors feel about Wiseman behind the scenes? Do they think he’s totally a sunk cost, or a player who might be able to contribute in 2023-24? What’s the market for him? Could they get a first-round pick in exchange for him, or would they need to add a first-round pick to get someone to swallow his contract?
I can’t posit what I think they should do without knowing the context and the options. Instead, let’s talk about what they might do, and why they might do it.
Let’s start with the reasons why they might pull the trigger.
Why the Warriors might trade James Wiseman
Reason 1: They’d save a lot of [redacted] money
We’re not talking about a little bit of money. We’re talking about an amount of money that, in and of itself, would make someone one of the richest people in the country.
If you want to play around with a salary tax calculator, have at it. But The Athletic’s John Hollinger has saved you some time by listing the figures: between this year and next year (the final year of Wiseman’s contract before he becomes a restricted free agent), the Warriors would save an estimated $131 million if they traded Wiseman.
In other words, when tax payments are factored in, the Warriors are committing significantly more than a max contract worth of money, each year, to keep Wiseman. Even for the billionaire owner of a sports franchise valued at more than $7 billion, that’s a lot of cheddar. Or as Warriors fan Dave Chappelle once said, “The difference in lifestyle is minuscule. The only difference between having $10 million and $50 million is an astounding $40 million.”
Reason 2: They’d save a lot of money now
An interesting quirk in the NBA’s salary cap is that tax payments are calculated by who is on the books at the end of the season. In other words, if the Warriors traded Wiseman tomorrow, they would only save 27 games worth of his $9.6 million salary for this year ... but they’d save 100% of his tax hit. The difference between trading Wiseman now and trading him in the offseason is about $51 million.
If the Warriors have already made the decision to move on from Wiseman, you can see why they’d be incentivized to get something done before Thursday’s deadline.
Reason 3: It opens the door for reinforcements, now or later
While $131 million is surely a lot of money to Lacob, no one wants to see a billionaire make a move simply to save money. I would much rather Lacob spend $131 million on hyper-athletic seven-footers than on a third yacht to take to his 25-course meal on the Amalfi coast.
The idea of saving $131 million isn’t to sit on it. It’s to reinvest it elsewhere.
There’s been general panic that the Warriors won’t be able to keep their core six next year when Jordan Poole’s contract extension kicks, leaving the team with massive commitments to Poole, Andrew Wiggins, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, should he opt into the final year of his contract.
Taking money off of next year’s books, and saving more than $50 million this year, might be the difference between Lacob signing off on running it back next year, and trading away more pieces.
It also could make it easier for the Warriors to make a modest investment in next year’s team, such as re-signing Donte DiVincenzo to the type of contract that they balked at giving to Gary Payton II this year. Or it might make it easier to make a long-term move, like extending Jonathan Kuminga down the road.
More likely is that it opens the door for reinforcements this season. There’s been a lot of speculation about converting Anthony Lamb’s two-way contract into a guaranteed deal, which would cost the team somewhere in the $10 million range. Spending $10 million on the ninth or 10th man on the roster is an easier pill to swallow when your salary and tax payments are in the ballpark of $300 million than $350 million.
And of course, there’s always the possibility that the Warriors trade Wiseman for another player who would, presumably, help them this season.
Why the Warriors might not trade James Wiseman
Reason 1: They’d lose a lot of options
As Hollinger notes, only four teams have the requisite cap space to take on Wiseman’s contract: the San Antonio Spurs, Detroit Pistons, Utah Jazz, and Indiana Pacers, which is a list that looks smaller when you consider that the Spurs are the only team there that don’t already have someone they consider to be the center of their future.
That’s not to say the Warriors can only trade to those four teams, but those are the only teams they can trade with without taking back matching salary. In other words, if the Warriors are trying to save money, those are their only options.
That changes in the offseason. Once the season ends and all the expiring contracts come off the books, most teams in the NBA could accommodate Wiseman’s contract. That means more options for the Warriors to make a trade, and more potential for a bidding war if there are teams that still value him highly.
Reason 2: They’d lose the opportunity of playing him
It’s become abundantly clear Steve Kerr does not see Wiseman as a player who can help the Warriors win games right now, which is supported by Wiseman ranking 450th out of 450 qualifying players in defensive EPM (and just 262nd in offensive EPM).
I don’t see that changing in the final two months of the season. But what could change is the Warriors prospects. They could struggle with Steph Curry sidelined enough that Kerr feels the need to drastically shake things up. Curry’s injury, which is a little ominous, may not heal correctly, which would leave the Warriors punting the season. If the next Curry update is that he’s out for the year — unlikely, but far from impossible — don’t you think the team would start playing Wiseman?
At this point it’s a long shot that he plays, and an even longer shot that anything comes of it if he does. But maybe he figures some things out, or the team better figures out how to utilize him, or he shows enough to increase his trade value heading into the offseason.
Reason 3: What if he’s good?
Many years ago, the Warriors had Chris Boucher on a two-way contract in his rookie year. He was on the team all year long, but played just 79 seconds of NBA action.
That offseason, the Warriors let Boucher go. As they did, Kerr and Bob Myers both uttered a sentiment: We think he’ll be good eventually, but we can’t afford to give him the minutes he needs to develop.
Fast forward to now, and Boucher has become a quality NBA player. He plays more than 20 minutes a night, blocks shots like it’s going out of style, and can shoot threes.
So, do the Warriors regret letting him go?
They were right. Boucher struggled for two more years, before becoming a decent NBA player in his fourth season. In those two years, the Warriors used two-way contracts on Damion Lee and Juan Toscano-Anderson, key players in their run to a championship last season (and, in Lee’s case, a run to the NBA Finals in 2019).
Had Boucher emerged into a star player, the Warriors would surely have regrets. But a quality bench piece who took a few years to develop? No one’s losing sleep over that, because they probably expected it to happen.
It’s unclear what the Warriors think Wiseman can develop into. They clearly don’t think he can help them win now, but that doesn’t mean they don’t think he can be good down the line. It just means, in their equation, that the short-term negatives of playing him are more powerful than the potential long-term benefits.
If the Dubs trade Wiseman, we’ll hear the same platitudes they said about Boucher. They’ll praise his talent and work ethic, and make it clear that they think he’ll be good, they’re just not the right situation for it to happen.
If they think he’s the next Boucher, there’s not much risk. But if they think he’s the future franchise building block that Lacob has publicly envisioned, that’s a much harder call to make.