Lots of things have gone swimmingly for the Golden State Warriors of late –that messy business of blowing a 3-1 series lead in the NBA Finals aside. But even that bit of historic calamity proved fortuitous in the macro sense because it helped them land Kevin Durant, one of the handful of humans on the planet who can posit a legit argument for being a superior player than Stephen Curry. It’d be mighty difficult — or plain ungrateful — for Dubs fans to complain about much, counting down the days on the calendar toward the most anticipated season of their franchise.
However, not everything goes according to plan, even for the franchise who prides itself on being “light years ahead” of the competition, in the words of their owner. This, of course, is in reference to the plight of poor Kevon Looney, the 30th pick of the 2015 draft and the fellow who was at one time expected to push Harrison Barnes as the organization’s long-term answer at small-forward/small-ball stretch-four.
Before Looney’s professional career even had a chance to get off the ground, he had to undergo surgery for a torn labrum on his right hip after feeling pain during the 2015 Las Vegas Summer League — he nevertheless performed generally well, averaging 9.3 points and 7.2 rebounds in 19.7 minutes. He didn’t shoot well from the floor or the free-throw line, but did nail half of his three-point attempts. It’s worth noting he was only 19 years old.
Looney spent much of the regular season rehabbing, but made his NBA debut on Jan. 27. By then no one was expecting much from him, not when he’d missed training camp and was so far behind everyone else in conditioning, rhythm and experience — and on a squad steaming toward 73 wins. It was understood that most of his development would have to come playing for Santa Cruz, and his D-League stats in 12 appearances for them were similar to what he averaged during Summer League. He got a few cameo appearances for the big club in February, but by then the pain returned, this time in his left hip.
After five games and 21 minutes total in the NBA, Looney’s rookie season was over, with a surgery to repair another torn labrum on April 22.
The prognosis is reportedly good, with Looney declaring in a radio interview on KNBR 680 that he is hopeful of meeting the short end of the 4-6 month recovery timetable so that he can participate in full for training camp.
“I changed my body a lot,” Looney said. “Last year, when I played Summer League, I was probably about 215 (pounds). Right now, I’m walking around 240-235 easily. I’ve been dedicated to the weight room … just trying to get stronger, and started eating right and get healthy, and having my body in shape for next year.”
What compelled the Warriors brass into taking a flyer on Looney, who declared for the draft last season after playing just one year at UCLA, was not just the potential for his frame to fill out and get stronger but more importantly his length. He’s 6-foot-9 but his wingspan is listed as 7-foot-3.
In the interview he spoke of his fluidity, coming up as a guard who stood a mere 6-foot-4 and weighed 150 pounds entering high school, and that he now looks to Draymond Green as a mentor for someone who can play all over the court and excel in multiple areas.
“I think I’m the prototypical Warriors player,” Looney declared. “Real versatile. I can play the 4, the 3, sometimes when we going small I can play the 5 … I feel comfortable playing a lot of positions. I know one thing that I’m really great at is rebounding. That’s something I always focused on. I think that can get me on the court as quick as possible.”
The thing is he’s not the prototypical Warriors player. For one, he’d have to show the ability to stay healthy to be that. For another, they just signed that guy in Durant, who’s everybody’s prototypical player. What he is is an unformed lump of clay with two surgically-repaired hips, and you wonder if adding 25 pounds for those hips to support was the best idea.
The squad is not exactly lacking in fellows who can shuffle between different front-court positions, with Durant, Green, Andre Iguodala, David West and James Michael McAdoo all ahead of him in the pecking order. Plus, those fabled minutes at the five will be hard to come by with Zaza Pachulia, Green, West, McAdoo and possibly even rookie Damian Jones, if he can recover from pectoral surgery.
For now Looney remains in the organization’s plans, but it’s fair to wonder if he should. There is no longer any room for him to be as starter one day, because neither he nor Green can play center except for few minutes here and there.
He was drafted to be a fallback option in case either Green or Barnes faltered. The former has blossomed, while the Dubs have found a much better replacement for the latter.
It’s understandable that they want to hold onto him for the time being as his stock cannot be any lower, but if Looney indeed makes it back from these injuries and shows anything while playing a handful of minutes here and there, they’d be wise to flip him for future picks or maybe a veteran who makes more sense as a bench piece — possibly a guard if second-round pick Patrick McCaw needs more seasoning. The Warriors are overstuffed at forward but thin in the backcourt beyond “the Splash Brothers.”
Right now it’s difficult to be optimistic about Looney’s NBA future, period. He’s only 20, so maybe his body is young and flexible enough to overcome the burden it’s been put through, but two torn labrums for a big-man is difficult to put a happy face on. He may well turn out to be a tragic warning that the best laid plans can go to ruin, even for a franchise that’s got it all figured out.