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Can Trey Lance and James Wiseman, Bay Area sports' dubious duo, escape career limbo?

Neither fellow knows where he stands now, or where he's going. The San Francisco 49ers and the Golden State Warriors are also clue-free, with no idea of what to do with these two.

Trey Lance - NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Chicago Bears
Sep 11, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (5) rushes the ball against the Chicago Bears during the second half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports
Mike Dinovo/USA TODAY Sports

SAN FRANCISCO — If you like sports mysteries, you have to love Trey Lance and James Wiseman.

Neither fellow knows where he stands now, or where he's going. The San Francisco 49ers and the Golden State Warriors are also clue-free, with no idea of what to do with these two.

Wiseman's and Lance's predicaments and potentials are eerily similar. In fact …

"They're the same guy," said Steve Baker, a friend and Bay Area sports agent, and that explains it. If they're not the same guy, they are identical twins from different families.

And both are crucial figures in the immediate futures of their respective teams. They are holding their teams hostage, and vice versa.

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Both had limited college careers. Wiseman ran into trouble at Memphis because of money given his mother by his coach, so his college career consisted of three games. Lance's last college season at North Dakota State was wiped out (save one game) by COVID, so his college career lasted all of 19 games. Both guys hit the Bay Area raw and rusty, a year removed from their limited college experience. The Warriors and 49ers were both shooting craps in the dark with unmarked dice.

Both got hurt. Wiseman missed all of his second season with a knee injury, came back and missed the past month with an ankle injury. He was back in action Feb. 2, playing 16 minutes in Denver, going plus-7 in 16 minutes (nine points, two rebounds). Lance opened this season as the 49ers' starter but suffered a broken ankle in the second game.

Do either of them fit their respective teams? It's a mystery. The 49ers traded up to draft Lance No. 3 overall because they saw the league being taken over by mobile quarterbacks, but that has never been Kyle Shanahan's ideal quarterback. It remains to be seen whether the coach's offensive genius translates to designing an offense around a running QB. When Lance got hurt, he was being used more like a fullback.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Denver Nuggets
Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) attempts a shot against Golden State Warriors center James Wiseman (33) in the second quarter of a Feb. 2, 2023 game at Ball Arena in Denver, Colo.
Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports

Fit is also the big question mark with Wiseman. Many experts believe he will develop into an excellent NBA player, but not necessarily with the Warriors. He is easily athletic enough to sprint with the run-run Warriors, but so far hasn't shown the passing, screen-setting and defense that a true Warrior must have.

Shanahan and Warriors head coach Steve Kerr are both creative offensive masterminds, but can they fit these two young stars into their respective systems?

Wiseman and Lance each play a position with a long learning curve at the pro level. Joel Embiid and Deandre Ayton are two fine NBA centers who struggled early, but have matured into fine players. Kevon Looney, same deal. In the NFL, Patrick Mahomes sat as a rookie and Josh Allen didn't bloom until his third season.

High draft picks usually go to crummy teams and get thrown into the fire. Wiseman and Lance came to excellent teams which didn't have the luxury of letting their top picks stumble through rookie mistakes. That can be a benefit, because if you're on a good team, even if you don't play a lot, you pick up good habits and learn from the best. But it's not yet clear how much of their teams' greatness has rubbed off on Lance or Wiseman.

The respective stocks of Wiseman and Lance have gone down since they were drafted. If either were available to be drafted this year, they might be second-rounders.

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Part of the mystery would be solved if we could inject their coaches with truth serum. What do Kerr and Shanahan really think about the potential of their babies? The vibe I get, purely through observation, is that both coaches are less enthusiastic now than when these players were drafted. Disappointed? I would guess yes.

Disappointment works both ways. Neither Wiseman nor Lance have ever known exactly where they stood with their team and coach. Wiseman was handed the starting job, then demoted. Shanahan promised to use Lance situationally as a rookie, then changed his mind, without explanation. Both players probably feel their team would trade them in a heartbeat if they could bring value.

So much of their futures will be determined, along with luck and opportunity, by an innate, unmeasurable feel for the game they play. Each team has an example. The whole Brock Purdy saga pointed out the absurdity of trying to predict who will succeed as a quarterback in the NFL. With the Warriors, Draymond Green is proof that there's so much more to basketball than athletic skill.

As Baker said, "If you could put Draymond's soul in Wiseman, he'd be the greatest basketball player in the world."

With both fellows, we'll find out soon. By next season at the latest.

Assuming Wiseman survives the trading deadline, he must become a rotation player for the Warriors by next season. The experiment can't last forever.

Lance may have been the subject of trade speculation before Purdy got hurt, but now the 49ers need him and he'll likely be their Game 1 starter, again.

Either way, it will be poetic justice if the fates of Wiseman and Lance are intertwined, if they either blossom together as Bay Area stars, or they share a bus leaving town.

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(c)2023 the San Francisco Chronicle is distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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