The anticipated return of Kevon Looney on Monday barely registers around the NBA, and certainly not as much as it should to the flailing Warriors of this season.
But it can’t be overstated how much it matters to Looney.
Sure, the Warriors will benefit from adding another player to a threadbare roster. Looney will give them an additional big man, joining Willie Cauley-Stein, Marquese Chriss and Omari Spellman. The center/power forward rotation is by far the deepest component of the team.
Looney, however, is dealing with a neuropathic condition likely to always have some effect on playing time, and perhaps his career. Getting back onto the court is only the first step. Every subsequent step is a hazy gray mystery.
Neuropathy has kept Looney on sideline for all but 10 minutes on opening night more than five weeks ago, and it typically cannot be corrected by surgery or cured by medication or treatment. It can only be managed, which explains the uncertainty.
In Looney’s case, the symptoms were felt in his hamstrings, which felt strained, even though no actual strains were diagnosed. He conceded last week that he has been coping with the condition for “two or three years,” and several people afflicted with neuropathy say it never completely goes away.
The two- or three-year period referred to by Looney indicates it is related to surgeries on each hip. He underwent a procedure to repair a torn labrum in his right hip in August 2015, two months after the Warriors drafted him out of UCLA. Eight months later, in April 2016, he an arthroscopic procedure to repair a torn labrum in his left hip.
It was during that time that the Warriors worried that Looney might not have an NBA career. He clearly overcame that challenge and made valuable contributions to a championship team.
Looney and the team’s training staff believe this can be managed. The front office, which in July signed Looney to a three-year contract (with a player option in Year 3) worth $14.5 million, has similar confidence.
“We just wanted to change the game plan, manage it better and make sure I was doing everything the right way,” Looney said last week. “We’ve got it under control now. Our training staff feels good about the plan, and I feel good about my body.”
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Optimism aside, it would be most encouraging if Looney he can provide effective minutes Monday night against the Hawks. His presence should improve the team’s defense and even help its offensive flow.
The Warriors will become a better team if Looney is able to produce. They would be delighted to see him come through without ill effect.
And if that is the case, Looney would be the happiest man in Georgia.