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Opinion: Warriors at pivotal point with Stephen Curry’s frustrations and James Wiseman’s benching

Stephen Curry captures the Warriors’ glorious past after he helped them win three NBA championships in five Finals appearances with his stunning shooting accuracy and his empowering leadership style. [AP Photo/Jeff Chiu]
Stephen Curry captures the Warriors’ glorious past after he helped them win three NBA championships in five Finals appearances with his stunning shooting accuracy and his empowering leadership style. [AP Photo/Jeff Chiu]

“It’s always about what’s happening in the moment. That’s just basketball,” Curry said. “Try to bring a competitive spirit and leadership in all different type of ways. But we had an opportunity to set the tone for the second half of the season tonight, and obviously didn’t do it.”

The Warriors rookie also unleashed his frustration. After spending his rookie career showing mixed development with his play, confidence and decision making, James Wiseman owned up to another mistake. Warriors coach Steve Kerr benched Wiseman for the first three quarters against the Clippers because he missed practice and failed to take the first two league-mandated COVID-19 tests during the All-Star break.

“I completely forgot, but I’m human,” Wiseman said. “I made a huge mistake. Most definitely, I will not do that again. I have to make sure I’ll be disciplined.”

Curry and Wiseman represent different parts of the Warriors’ identity.

Curry captures the Warriors’ glorious past after he helped them win three NBA championships in five Finals appearances with his stunning shooting accuracy and his empowering leadership style. Wiseman, the No. 2 pick in last year's NBA Draft, symbolizes the Warriors’ hopeful future and has shown flashes of star potential. But as the Warriors try to bridge their successful past to their future, Curry and Wiseman have entered a crossroads.

While spending most of the season playing at his best and garnering regular-season MVP consideration, Curry has encountered otherwise unfamiliar territory aside from teaming up with forward Draymond Green. Curry has played without Klay Thompson after he injured his right Achilles tendon in November. Curry has played with mostly a young and unproven roster that has contributed to the Warriors (19-19) ranking 10th in the Western Conference after experiencing a season-worst four-game losing streak.

In Thursday's game, Curry had 14 points while shooting only 6-of-16 from the field and 1-of-8 from 3-point range merely four days after winning his second 3-point contest.

“I feel like the vibe of the games like tonight and some of those big wins, every game feels like two. It’s like an emotional roller coaster that you really have to stay even keel,” Curry said. “That competitive fire obviously remains. We’ve done a pretty good job of adjusting. We just haven’t found any consistency. That is a frustrating thing, for sure. We have to find that if we want to be a threat in the playoffs.”

While spending some of the season impressing the Warriors with his rim protection and work ethic, Wiseman has also experienced unfamiliar territory. After playing only three games at the University of Memphis, Wiseman have received constant feedback from the Warriors about improving his decision making, his confidence and his aggressiveness. After serving split roles as a starter and reserve, Wiseman faced a different challenge against the Clippers by spending most of the game sitting on the bench.

“This is all part of development as a young player. You got to take care of your business. Everything matters,” Kerr said. “So this was just the reaction to him missing the test and not being able to practice last night. That hurt us. That was the reason he did not play in the first half.”

While Curry pointed out that Wiseman’s benching fell under “a coach’s responsibility,” the Warriors star noted that “we all talked about it beforehand and knew what the situation was.”

In other words, Curry expressed his uneasiness with his teammates well before his in-game outburst.

“He has a lot of voices coming at him from a lot of different perspectives. It’s hard,” Curry said. “Playing at this level is hard. Being great is hard. That path to getting where you want to be as a superstar, as an All-Star, as a guy that is a cornerstone of a franchise, there’s nothing smooth about it.”

Curry has his own struggles during a season he landed his seventh All-Star appearance. On a night that neither Curry nor his teammates played well, cameras caught Curry yelling at Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre Jr. when all three were on the bench during the third quarter.

“That was Steph’s frustration. That was Draymond’s frustration. So that’s my job as a head coach,” Kerr said. “I have to make sure we find a way to get competitive again.”

Wiseman played in the entire fourth quarter during mop-up duty and finished with 14 points while shooting 6-of-7 from the field and 1-of-1 from 3-point range along with seven rebounds and two turnovers.

“It was frustrating. But as a man, I take accountability for my mistakes,” Wiseman said. “But as soon as he called my name, I was out there and ready and just played my role and played my minutes.”

Not every Warriors young player has responded well to Kerr’s high expectations. He normally delivers an empowering touch with role players, both out of empathy for their erratic playing time and hope that it will make them feel empowered. Kerr knows those feelings after being a part of five NBA championship teams with the Chicago Bulls (1996-1998) and San Antonio Spurs (1999, 2003) as a dependable shooter and defender. But Kerr has shown little patience for young players that act entitled.

Though the Warriors may have been more competitive in Thursday’s game against the Clippers had Wiseman played in the first three quarters, he responded well in the rare playing time he had. Kerr vowed that Wiseman will play more, though it remains unclear if that will be as a starter or reserve.

“I have no doubt James is going to be a great , great player. It’s all a part of learning how to be a pro and taking care of your business,” Kerr said. “I love his frustration. His frustration shows how much he cares. To be perfectly frank, I’ve known a lot of seven-footers over the years in the NBA who basically played because they were seven feet. Somebody told them they should play basketball. That’s not James. James loves the game. His frustration is a sign of his passion and it’s a great indicator of what kind of player he’s going to be come.”

So what does this all mean? Just as the Warriors have shown the first half of the season, expect them to show both amazing and head-scratching moments for the second half of the season. Because of that, it remains unpredictable if the Warriors can become a playoff threat or if they will be in the NBA draft lottery. But as ugly as Thursday’s loss to the Clippers looked, how Curry and Wiseman handled their frustrating circumstances suggests they will navigate their problems just fine.