Why re-signing Looney should be at the top of Dubs’ offseason to-do list? originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area
The praise, the love, the fanfare for Kevon Looney only grew as the Warriors’ season progressed. Yes, the MVP sings during Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals when Looney scored a career-high 21 points to go with 12 rebounds, that actually happened.
On and off the field for the Warriors, Looney’s worth was immeasurable. That value is about to be tested in the open market with Looney becoming a free agent, and it couldn’t be clearer that re-signing the 26-year-old center should be at the top of the Warriors’ off-season to-do list.
Steve Kerr couldn’t have explained why more perfectly in his post-season press conference the day before the NBA draw.
“Loon, what more can we say about Loon?” Kerr said on June 22. “He’s a champions center, modern defender, substitute, that’s what it takes in the play-offs. Being the 30th pick in the draft seven years ago, the way he’s developed, the way he’s worked, the way in which he has become such a large part of our internal leadership and fabric is a huge part of our success.
“We all want him back. We’re also keeping our fingers crossed for him personally to get a really good contract, so hopefully it’s ours.”
Looney signed a three-year $14.5 million contract with the Warriors in July 2019. He was then held on to just 20 games played that season. The former first round pick missed all preseason to a strained right hamstring, then developed issues with neuropathy, left abdominal pain and left hip pain.
The Warriors selected center James Wiseman with the No. 2 overall pick after the 2019-20 season. At 19, Wiseman started for Kerr in the season opener and it looked like Looney’s time at Golden State was quickly ticking away. Well, that seems farthest from the truth.
At least, that’s what the Warriors hope.
Looney’s agent Todd Ramasar told The Game’s “Willard & Dibs” Monday morning at 95.7 that his goal is always to get as many options on the table for his customers as possible. While taking business decisions and state taxes into account, he also made it clear that the final decision always comes down to what the player wants most.
“I’m talking about how he’s been through five finals and he’s only 26 years old,” Ramasar said when asked how he sells Looney to teams outside the Warriors. “He’s won three rings, he’s got a great pedigree. And the fact that he’s played 104 games this season.
“Kevon is all about winning. He’s a winner and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to win games.”
Last season, Looney averaged 6.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game. Those numbers don’t jump off the page. Like others in the past and present of the Warriors system, Looney’s impact goes beyond the stats. At the same time, he set a new career high in rebounds at 2.0 boards per game. In the playoffs, he averaged 7.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game while shooting 65.9 percent from the field.
From Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals, when he was placed back in the grid and grabbed 22 rebounds, to the Warriors championing the Boston Celtics in six games, Looney scored an average of 7.3 points, 10 .0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. In fact, he made 70 percent of his free throws over those 12 games (nine starts), and was a plus-57 during that period.
More importantly, Looney is the Mr. Became Reliable of the Warriors.
Between the previous two seasons, Looney played in 81 regular-season games. Or one less than an entire season. For the 2021-22 season, he scored a goal to play in all 82 games. Looney not only hit his target, he was the only Warrior to play in every game of the regular season. Only four others in the NBA reached that goal. In all, he played 104 games in winning his third ring, and started 93.
Wiseman played in 39 games in the past two seasons. Klay Thompson has played 54 games this season at age 32, 32 in the regular season and all 22 in the playoffs. Wiseman only played three games in college. He has not yet had a training camp and has not yet played in the summer league.
Entering year 3, Wiseman appears to be finally healthy after complications to his surgically repaired right meniscus. He is on track to find game action in the summer league, and this is also a major off-season for him. Expecting him to jump in for a championship team and do all the little things it takes to be a center for the Warriors would be unfair. That’s where Looney excels.
He knows the nuances of the game. He knows when and where to set up a screen. He can engage the defense, knows when to roll to the basket, is a strong passer off the post and fights for every rebound. These are all areas that 21-year-old Wiseman needs time for.
Obviously, the main goal of the Warriors this off-season is to bring back their own free agents. Notably, Looney, Gary Payton II, and Otto Porter Jr. Looney should be priority #1.
Golden State currently has no other real big man on its roster outside of Wiseman. The Warriors have not drafted a new center and no free agent in the position will give them everything he already does. The Warriors push their culture more than any other team in the league. Looney’s loss would be a big blow, both inside and outside the building.
Throughout the season, Kerr used words like “irreplaceable” and “fundamental piece” when describing Looney. When he went to free agency, Looney lived up to those titles, and now it’s up to the Warriors to make sure he doesn’t find a new home.