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There’s No Good Way For The Warriors To Clean Up This Mess

James Wiseman
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

As day dawned, the Golden State Warriors were still puzzling through the distasteful ramifications of their one trade deadline deal, planning how to navigate and announce the lesser of two lousy options, and how to make the Portland Trail Blazers pay for it in some way more binding than reputational damage.

The Warriors, in a search to extricate themselves out of the multiple gridlocks of a scruffy season, tried to solve two problems with one blow Thursday, obtaining the prodigal Gary Payton The Younger from Portland in a four-way trade that netted the Detroit Pistons their principal draft pick from 2020, James Wiseman. Payton wanted to leave Portland and return to San Francisco. Wiseman, largely unused, wanted to go anywhere that would have him and use him. Golden State wanted Payton's defensive acumen for a team that is 25th in points allowed and equally useless in most of the more arcane defensive statistics. Portland wanted Payton to go somewhere else. Detroit wanted a guy other than Saddiq Bey. Seemed like a marriage made in 19th-century Mormon heaven, if heaven also involves the Atlanta Hawks, Kevin Knox and five step stools known by their technical name, second-round draft choices.

Only the trade deadline is now a few dozen hours past expiration, and nothing has happened because the Warriors have not yet decided to accept the deal because A) their medical people claim Payton is still not healthy from off-season abdominal surgery and B) the suggestion is that the Blazers knew Payton was hurt and played him anyway, and did not disclose Payton's continued core issues to the Warriors. Payton flunked the physical, and the Warriors had 72 hours to either eat or rescind the trade.

The clock is still on.

What the Warriors are trying to decide, if they haven't already done so and are just making Portland sweat, is multi-headed and bizarre. They want Payton, but they can't have him in any meaningful way until well into the playoffs, if they even get there. They don't want Wiseman, the second pick of the 2020 draft who has played 60 of 211 games, missed 124 with injury, with 18 DNPs and eight DNDs (did not dress). And now, one game in administrative stasis.

Conversely, Portland doesn't want Payton but does want the five picks. Atlanta doesn't want Knox but does want Bey. And Detroit doesn't want Bey but wants Wiseman. It's all a preposterous tale centering on whether Portland general manager Joe Cronin tried to pull a fast one. Which, unless you take his word for it, he pretty much did.

Payton missed the first 35 games recovering from the surgery but returned for the next 15, during which he was playing in pain pronounced enough to allegedly take Toradol shots, a claim his agent Aaron Goodwin, denied Saturday. The Warriors were apparently unaware of the injections until their own physical found Payton wanting, a claim Cronin denied. “Player safety is super important to us,” he said Friday. “It’s a super important thing around the league. We were playing him ... he had been cleared and we were confident that he was healthy when he was playing. We would not have brought him back if we thought he wasn’t healthy or if we thought he was at risk. You trust that we did the right thing, and you trust that our process was correct, and these reports, you know, I think if you knew our clearance process was proper, so I will have to rely on that.”

That rhetorical tail chase aside, the Warriors still have to choose between one of two unappealing options—reject the trade and reacquire Wiseman, whom they have no plans for, or accept Payton even though he might not be healthy at all this year. The Warriors wanted to improve as team that has not been three games over .500 all year or three games under it since mid-November, and the only thing they might improve is Joe Lacob's tax bill, if that's your idea of a good time.

Wiseman in particular wants the trade because staying in San Francisco means a third lost season to go with the first two. He was taken as a seven-foot prospect, given that he had only played 69 minutes at Memphis before being ruled ineligible, and could never find his footing (both figuratively and literally) on a team that does not use the center position in a traditional low-post, ball-centric way. Steve Kerr ran out of ways to justify playing him, and whatever potential he had was no closer to realization on Day 813 than he was on Day 1. He is as of this moment, the third least-used No. 2 pick in league history (if you exclude George Kok, Len Bias, and Chet Holmgren, the first of whom never signed or played in the league, the second of whom died after being drafted, and the third of whom is out this season after Lisfranc surgery but is part of Oklahoma City's longterm plans).

By any measure Wiseman is desperate for the Warriors to do right by him just this one time, and the Warriors are desperate to do so by sending him to a team that seems to want to use him. Put another way, they like Wiseman, but just not in that way. As for Payton, his desire to return to the Bay Area is well-chronicled as most of his bridges in Portland are fairly well burned now. He too would like the Warriors to accept the trade and the cup of bile that accompanies it. Put another way, they like Payton, but he's still in the shop and the parts are still overseas.

The Warriors, thus, have their own choice between a non-functioning player who will surely be even less happy than he was when he left, another non-functioning player who at least brings some tax relief (Payton saves them $37 million, while keeping Wiseman and his $12.1 million salary next year comes with a nine-figure tax liability), and letting the Blazers off without any sanction for moving damaged goods. Frankly, that last part looks like a job for one of Adam Silver's adjutants, as the Warriors don't have the power to punish Cronin by demanding, say, Damian Lillard, even just to see the look on Cronin's face.

We haven't even factored in Bey, Knox, or what human pyramid of drafterthoughts are also involved, because the Warriors don't have any of them and they're the ones with the hammer to either yea or nay the deal. And the longer they sit, well, the longer everybody sits.

However they choose to unlock this grid, they will remember it as the first significant misstep in a draft that will be remembered as Tyrese Haliburton, Et. Al. The Warriors rolled the dice on Wiseman and came up snake-eyes, and have been holding onto the dice ever since so that nobody else at the table can play. After all, they clearly figure if they aren't getting anything out of this trade, why should anyone else?

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