Injury issues plaguing Warriors' Kevon Looney have no end in sight

Injury issues plaguing Warriors' Kevon Looney have no end in sight

SAN FRANCISCO – Kevon Looney is all the things you’d want in a son or brother or friend. And definitely in a teammate. Earnest. Smart. Likable. With a practically perfect symmetry between self-assurance and humility.

He also possesses superior basketball skills that are being betrayed by his body.

“He should be in the prime of his life,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told NBC Sports Bay Area on Saturday night.

That’s the cruelty of Loon’s plight. He turned 24 last month. He and the Warriors have spent the last six months hoping and waiting and probably praying for his health to stabilize long enough to more consistently exploit his gifts. And all they’ve gotten in return is disappointment.

The latest setback came Saturday, when the Warriors, through sports medicine director Dr. Rick Celebrini, announced that Looney, who has missed the last four games with soreness in his left hip, will be sidelined for at least eight more over the next three weeks.

“It’s disappointing,” Kerr said in his pregame news conference. “Most disappointed for Loon because he’s found some momentum and played well and finally been able to put some games together. It’s a setback for him, but Rick feels this is the best course of action going forward.”

We emphasize “at least” because it has been that kind of season for Looney. Best-case keeps dissolving into uncertainty. Despite the best efforts of Celebrini and his staff, every sign of optimism to form around Loon has been destroyed by the agonizing truth.

Looney was diagnosed last October with neuropathy, a chronic condition without a remedy. It can only be managed, mostly through therapeutic treatment. It’s logical to believe it is related to Looney undergoing surgery on his right hip in August 2015 – two months after he was drafted in the first round – and on his left hip in April 2016.

When a young player is sidelined so often with a recurring issue without an actual cure, a specter of doubt begins to form. That’s where this has gone. Though it’s too soon to conclude Looney never again will be the player he was the two previous seasons, it would be heedless to dismiss the possibility of a tragic trajectory similar to a Brandon Roy or a Bobby Hurley.

After playing only five games as a rookie, Looney appeared in 53 in 2016-17, 66 in 2017-18 and 80 in 2018-19. Thinking he was out of danger, the Warriors were thrilled and last July rewarded him with a two-year contract, plus player-option in Year 3, worth $14.5 million.

Looney missed training camp and preseason with what the Warriors described as a “hamstring tweak.” After recovering to play only 10 minutes on opening night, Looney’s neuropathic condition was diagnosed, sending him to the sideline for five weeks. He missed six of 15 games in December and all 14 games in January before returning to play in 10 of 11 games in February.

And now, having played 20 of 64 games this season, Looney likely will miss all of March.

“We’re going to, with Rick, see if we can get him right in the next three weeks,” Kerr, with a heavy sigh, told NBC Sports Bay Area, “so he can play the last two weeks of the season and get some momentum going into the offseason.

“But the reality is they haven’t been able to figure out what it is.”

The Warriors miss the tangibles Looney typically provides when he’s fully healthy, when sound fundamentals, 6-foot-9 height and cartoonish 7-4 wingspan allow him to reliably defend all five positions. Opponents that targeted Looney often found their lunch taken.

Looney’s teammates took to floor in crucial matchups, postseason games, trusting him to be in the right place, at the right time, because he almost always was.

[RELATED: Steph diagnosed with seasonal flu]

Looney’s character and will are too strong to presume he is finished. He has turned to various methods, most notably a dramatic change in diet, to maintain his NBA career. After all of that, he still is in a place not remotely close to certainty.

This was to be the season in which Looney would have more opportunity than any of the previous four. He planned to flex his scoring potential. To start some games but be the team’s most dependable big man coming off a remade bench.

Has not happened. Might never happen. So continues the hoping and waiting and probably praying.

Warriors' Steph Curry jokes about waking up in NBA's Orlando bubble

Warriors' Steph Curry jokes about waking up in NBA's Orlando bubble

Steph Curry is jonesin' to play basketball.

The Warriors superstar misses the game so much that when he woke up on a recent morning, he thought he was in the NBA's Orlando bubble.

OK, maybe not. Clearly, Steph needs to work on his acting skills. But the sentiment isn't too far off.

After five straight trips to the NBA Finals that saw Curry play roughly an extra 20 games a season, the two-time NBA MVP broke his hand in the fourth game of the 2019-20 season. He returned to play in one game in March, but a combination of Curry catching the flu and the coronavirus shutdown ended his season early.

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

So between the end of the 2019 NBA Finals on June 13, 2019 and the potential start of the 2020-21 NBA season in December, Curry will have played five regular-season games in a year and a half.

So you can understand why Curry is dreaming of being in Orlando.

Alas, the Warriors finished the 2019-20 season with the worst record (15-50) in the NBA. They were one of eight NBA teams not invited to the NBA season restart at the Disney World complex in Orlando. The combination of Curry's injury, Klay Thompson's ACL injury and Kevin Durant's departure crushed the Warriors' hopes of a sixth straight NBA Finals appearance.

The bright side (of the bed) for Curry is that his body has been given an extended break, the longest of his professional career. After five long seasons, a long 18-month break could do Curry a lot of good.

[RELATED: Simmons wonders if Lillard is better than Steph]

The Warriors are expecting Curry and Thompson to come back healthy and rested when the 2020-21 season starts, ready for a return to NBA title contention.

Based on the video Curry posted, he's getting plenty of rest.

Bill Simmons wonders whether Damian Lillard is better than Steph Curry

Bill Simmons wonders whether Damian Lillard is better than Steph Curry

Steph Curry is a better basketball player than Damian Lillard.

We don't make that declaration in an attempt to slight Dame, because the Portland Trail Blazers star is awesome. We certainly aren't rooting against the Oakland native or saying he is overrated.

But we feel compelled to defend Steph when necessary. And we are doing that now because of the following back-and-forth that took place Monday on "The Bill Simmons Podcast."

Simmons: "Dame -- I don't know where he is on the top-10 players in the league list and what the qualifications are -- but is Curry better than him at this point?"

Ryen Russillo: "Oh come on. Let's take it easy. Don't do this when Curry's missed a year."

Simmons: "I'm not talking about career. I'm not talking playoff chops (or) stuff like that. I'm just talking game-to-game, the stuff Dame is doing now consistently, reminds me of Curry. I feel like he's money. He's in the top eight or nine for me now. And I don't know what the list is. But I just think he's great."

Lillard is great. No doubt about it. And the 30-year-old was fantastic in Portland's first two games in the Orlando bubble.

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

But we need to remind everybody -- again -- what happened during the Warriors' sweep of the Blazers in the 2019 Western Conference finals:

Curry: 36.5 points, 7.3 assists, 46.9 percent overall, 42.6 percent 3s
Lillard: 22.3 points, 8.5 assists, 37.1 percent overall, 36.8 percent 3s

Yes, Lillard is putting up big statistics this season with 28.9 points and 8.0 assists per game. But his shooting numbers -- 45.6 percent overall and 39.1 percent from 3-point range -- don't match up to what Steph did last season: 47.2 percent overall and 43.7 percent from beyond the arc.

[RELATED: The disrespect Steph gets absolutely blows Redick's mind]

The day possibly will come when Dame is considered the superior player by the majority of the basketball world. We aren't that naive.

But it definitely has not arrived yet.

So the answer to Simmons's question is ...

... "yes."

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