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Trey Lance’s Draft Position Never Meant Anything

Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up during pregame warm ups prior to playing the Denver Broncos at Levi's Stadium on August 19, 2023 in Santa Clara, California.
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

James Wiseman and Trey Lance were drafted by the Golden State Warriors and San Francisco 49ers 162 days apart, three years ago. They had microscopic resumes but athletic skills, they were paid around $37 million by their respective teams, and they were lavished with big hopes and bad luck in equal measure. And now James Wiseman is a Detroit Piston and Trey Lance is essentially a frat-house couch on the front lawn with a sign that says "FREE."

And the lesson here is this. Making a bad draft pick is only bad when a team tries too hard to justify keeping the player it picked. And the fact that the two people who made those picks talk a great deal about their respective businesses in quiet moments suggests that they are now on the cutting edge of a movement—one that puts the draft in its proper place in the sporting ecosystem.

Kyle Shanahan, the Otto Von Bismarck of the 49ers who picked Lance third despite his flimsy experiential background, wanted to change the nature of his ground-bound, risk-averse offense with a mobile, big-armed Mahomesian knockoff. Bob Myers, then the general manager of the Warriors and now the avuncular chief executive of his backyard pool furniture, wanted to change the nature of his team from a center-less roster built around Stephen Curry when the league was beginning a tilt back toward a more Jokic-esque profile.

Both of the people they selected played almost not at all in the free training grounds of high school, college, and AAU, and their upside was all based on being better than the people around them. And neither translated to anything beyond that, at least in the contexts of the teams they were on. Lance didn't play much, didn't play particularly well when he did, and lost Shanahan's confidence within two years. Wiseman played spottily on a bad Warriors team, then got hurt, then tried to re-enter a new and weirdly dysfunctional team and then got hurt again, and finally Myers cut bait as well

Wiseman lasted 814 days on the team that had a decade's worth of plans for him. Today is Lance's 849th on a team that he was going to redefine offensively for the next 10 years, and now will have to find a place on whatever team is the NFL's version of the Pistons, the poor bastards.

For the freaks, weirdos and dissolute loners who obsess over the draft and the need to spot a hot sophomore, these are both massive failures by the teams, and the damage done by their miscalculations will surely ruin those teams for years to come. That is an assessment that explains why they are freaks, weirdos, and dissolute loners. What really happened here is something different. It is a new orthodoxy based on this simple philosophy, I took a swing, I missed, I moved on. There's no time like tomorrow morning.

In Shanahan's case, he could move blithely on from Lance (or begin the administrative process thereof, as he is still on the roster) because he is the ninth-safest coach in North America behind Andy Reid, Gregg Popovich, Erik Spoelstra, Jon Cooper, Becky Hammon, Nick Saban, Mark Few, and Dawn Staley. He wouldn't be fired if he was caught naked under Jed York's Christmas tree stealing the presents and the plate of cookies. In Myers's case, he didn't get the raise from Joe Lacob he expected or deserved (he claimed burnout but nobody's buying that), and in any event even if he was let go it would have had a lot more to do with Lacob's succession plan for his own kids than over the miss that is Wiseman. Hell, the Jordan Poole debacle would have been more of a cause than Wiseman.

But we digress. The message is clear, and it is this: there's another draft next year. There's always another draft, and there are a nearly unlimited supply of players in those drafts.

And the 49ers and Warriors aren't the only ones to see it. The New York Jets loved Zach Wilson two years ago all the way until they saw him, and they were so impressed that they turned the entire franchise over to Aaron Rodgers.

This may all mean that the draft is being put in its proper place by some forward-thinking athletic employers who realize that as long as there are more candidates than jobs, they can be cavalier about their longterm commitments. This may also mean that whiffing on a high pick can be tolerated if you're loaded everywhere else, and since most teams with high picks aren't loaded anywhere else (else, why would they have high picks to begin with?) that these are mostly unicorn moments.

But the real reward here is that decisions like this make the draft maniacs crazy, and their apoplectic fits when events like Wiseman and Lance happen are the real payoff for the rest of us. They remind us why draft experts aren't really experts at all, and why they should be avoided in social situations even if the only alternative is a dingo with anger issues. This kind of thing surely stinks for Wiseman and Lance, and we have no particular animus toward either of them. They do represent cautionary tales about lack of pre-professional experience and under normal circumstances they might have been taken as early, but that's not their fault. They just found out a hard lesson—your draft position stops mattering the day after you're selected, no matter what the draft sociophobes may claim.

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