Toronto — Just hours after Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, James Wiseman was officially a member of the Detroit Pistons.
That new reality was almost in jeopardy one day later, when the Golden State Warriors, his former team, held the power to nix the four-team trade between the Pistons, the Atlanta Hawks and Portland Trail Blazers due to a failed physical by Gary Payton II.
With his basketball future in the balance, Wiseman couldn’t practice or sit on the bench with his new team until the trade was either accepted by the Warriors or the Sunday night deadline expired.
Wiseman participated in his first practice with the Pistons on Tuesday afternoon ahead of what will likely be his debut on Wednesday against the Boston Celtics, and staying in the moment was the only way he could process the trade situation.
“The last few days have been crazy for me, just getting off a plane, doing my physical,” Wiseman said. “Man, it was a lot, and then the trade situation. I really just stayed present. I’m trying to take it one day at a time and I’m just embracing everything.”
Despite the uncertainty of the trade, Wiseman remained optimistic that he would remain with the Pistons.
“I was super confident,” Wiseman said. “I’m just embracing all the opportunities here. It’s a new start for me, so I’m just embracing everything.”
A fresh start after three seasons with limited opportunities playing with the defending-champion Warriors could be exactly what Wiseman needs. As the No. 2 overall pick of the 2020 NBA Draft — after the Warriors produced an uncharacteristic 15-50 season in 2019-20 — Wiseman was expected to contribute immediately to a veteran team with grand expectations. Those three years with the Warriors were much-maligned due to Wiseman’s struggles with injuries.
Wiseman played only 39 games of his rookie season in 2020-21. He missed the entire 2021-22 season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. Despite his unavailability, the Warriors went on to win the 2022 NBA championship after beating the Boston Celtics in six games. This season, he played sparingly, as Kevon Looney and Jamychal Green shared the boatload of minutes at the center position.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr ultimately described Wiseman’s fit with the team down to circumstances, which changed once they were healthy enough to contend for titles again.
“It’s hard on a personal level because of our affection for James, and the talent level. I was all-in on (drafting) James when we did. I was part of the group. I loved the ability and loved everything that we saw. You can’t always foresee circumstances,” Kerr said this week. “Remember, at the time, we had the worst record in the league. Klay (Thompson) had just torn his Achilles. We didn’t really know where we were as a team. Frankly, we didn’t know we’d win a championship a year and a half later.
“I think the important thing, and I was a GM once — not a very good one, but I’ve been in Bob’s shoes. The important thing is in this league, and all sports, is you have to move forward. You can’t look back. You have to look forward and make whatever moves are necessary to allow you to succeed in the present state of the team and going forward so that was the determination that the organization made.”
Warriors guard Stephen Curry said Wiseman is someone he “rooted for,” but echoed Kerr’s comments about his fit with the team.
“It’s a guy I want to see figure it out and have an opportunity,” Curry said. “I know it’s been said, but it wasn’t going to be here … It was tough to find minutes for him.”
Wiseman didn’t talk specifically about his time in Golden State or his expectations with his new team, but he said he’s “super excited” to begin a new chapter with the Pistons. He said he has connections with Cade Cunningham, Isaiah Stewart and Jalen Duren, who attended Memphis two seasons after Wiseman, which has made the transition easier.
“At the end of the day, basketball is basketball, wherever I go,” Wiseman said. “I’m just staying humble, putting in work, staying true to myself and really just trusting the process with everything.”
Wiseman joins a loaded frontcourt group of Duren, Stewart and Marvin Bagley III, who’s still recovering from a right-hand fracture. His presence will be needed early on, as Bagley recovers. Wiseman brings another versatile big to the Pistons roster that can run the floor, serve as a lob threat, and perhaps even space the floor if he gets an opportunity to play the power-forward position.
Much different from his situation at Golden State, Wiseman joins a team full of young talent who are all looking to find themselves in the league.
“Everybody’s hungry on this team. Everyone wants to learn,” Wiseman said. “I’m still learning my game and I’m still learning the NBA as well. So really, just everybody getting adjusted and playing the game they love.
“It’s all about development. Just getting better, as a human being and also as a basketball player as well. I just gotta keep at it, keep working and all the guys can keep working as well so we can just grow together.”