One constant for the Warriors this season has come in the form of James Wiseman’s name, providing a line on the injury report for all 34 games: “Wiseman, James; out; injury/illness – right knee; injury recovery.” This week, however, there was a new diagnosis next to his name: “+ Health and Safety Protocols.”
Despite preseason hopes that the second-year center would be ready for training camp, recovery from a torn meniscus has extended near the season’s midpoint and left him and the Warriors still waiting for full contact clearance in practice. That was set to come this week, according to coach Steve Kerr, only for the COVID protocols to present one more hurdle.
“Poor James, he’s been working so hard for so long. I just feel for him,” Kerr said Thursday after the team’s impromptu practice in Denver. Wiseman didn’t travel with the team out of caution for the fast-spreading virus, then entered protocols himself on Wednesday, further clouding the timeline for his return. “Fortunately it’s a minor setback, but it’s yet another one for him, so we all feel badly for him.”
The Warriors medical staff was on the verge, “literally just in the last few days,” Kerr said, of clearing Wiseman to resume full-contact practice, meaning ramping up from scrimmages of 3-on-3 to 5-on-5 before he is ready to return to game action. Once Wiseman is cleared for contact, the path to the court won’t differ much from what Klay Thompson is currently undergoing — rebuilding endurance — but with a much shorter absence, the Warriors are hopeful Wiseman also won’t need as much time to build up strength.
Getting the knee healthy enough to get that clearance has proven a fickle process.
Wiseman, 20, struggled to shift out of first gear during his rookie season that was embroiled by injuries and eventually ended prematurely after 39 games, undergoing surgery on his right meniscus on April 15. However, even in limited and inconsistent action as a rookie, Wiseman showed flashes of the rim-running big man the Warriors don’t currently possess.
Before he entered protocols Wednesday, the plan was for Wiseman to continue his individual work at the team facility with the hope that he could begin scrimmaging with the team when they returned home from their current road trip.
At various points, though, the Warriors have provided what were, in retrospect, overly optimistic timelines for Wiseman to return to the court. The team says that the shifting timeline is a product of the injury — a torn meniscus — which to heal requires more “give-and-take” and day-to-day maintenance.
“Bottom line, injuries, in general, are not linear,” Kerr said in a recent mea culpa. “A guy makes progress, gets some momentum, you think he’s coming back. All of a sudden that slows down a little bit, they reassess … I realize James hasn’t come back as quickly as we had said and I personally had said several times.”
Despite the circuitous process, which could be maddening for anyone, let alone a 20-year-old with so much raw talent, Wiseman hasn’t let it overcome him. Kerr praised the poise he’s shown throughout his absence, nearing nine months since he last played a game.
“He’s shown a great face,” Kerr said. “He’s put on a strong face. I’m sure underneath it there’s a lot of pain and a lot of frustration, but he’s really handled himself well. … Ultimately this will just be a bump in the road, but I know he’s anxious to get started.”
For now, the earliest Wiseman will be eligible to exit protocols is Tuesday. He wasn’t feeling any symptoms, according to Kerr, who spoke to him Wednesday night.
“He’s such a great young guy. He wants it so bad. He’s put in the work; he’s earned the respect of the veterans on this team,” Kerr said. “I feel very confident, as does James, as does (Dr.) Rick (Celebrini), that he’ll be able to get through protocol pretty quickly. … And once he gets through protocol, he’ll be able to get on the court and start working and hopefully at that point get to the contact work we’ve been hoping for for a while.”