Surrounded by All-Star teammates on the Warriors, Kevon Looney spent six full years toiling in the shadows pleading for an end to his physical misery. Not once was his wish granted.
Finally, seven years into his NBA career, Looney’s body stayed faithful and delivered overdue restitution. The man whose career had been defined by injuries and surgeries and setbacks played in every game, a total of 104, 82 in the regular season and 22 in the postseason.
Looney responded to his good health by stepping out of the shadows and boosting his blue-collar contributions from valuable to essential.
He grabbed a career-high 22 rebounds in decisive Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Grizzlies, and then snagged 18 more in decisive Game 5 of the conference finals against the Mavericks. His exploits raised his profile to such a degree that he was getting standing ovations at Chase Center and becoming a cult figure in the crowded streets of Dub Nation.
Inasmuch as he was approaching unrestricted free agency in July, Looney’s timing was impeccable. This was the season for which he had been searching.
He also raised the bar for his production.
Though Looney was curious about his worth on the open market, his heart was with the franchise that drafted him in 2015 and provided support when it was needed. He happily re-signed, getting a three-year contract worth $22.5 million, with an additional $1 million in potential annual incentives.
So, now it’s time to prove he can do it again.
Looney will return as Golden State’s starting center and anticipates, playing in the range of 20-25 minutes per game. He’ll focus on his usual attributes – being a defensive force, rebounding and setting screens that create space for the likes of longtime teammates Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
With the veil of his significance to the Warriors – his name will appear on opposing team scouting reports – Looney this week told NBC Sports Bay Area that one of his goals is to earn All-Defensive team attention. He is one of the few centers that typically holds his own against big men in the paint and also switches out onto the perimeter.
The anticipated return of James Wiseman, who was sidelined for all of last season, is another factor that should have an effect on Looney – perhaps in a positive way. The two, who will share the bulk of the minutes at center, have vastly different games and, on paper, complement each other.
Looney, 26, says his body feels better than it has at any time since his senior year of high school and that he wants to repeat the feat of playing every game while acknowledging the coaching staff might not want to push that hard.
Of paramount importance is that Looney stays healthy, for the Warriors now fully understand what they would miss if he were out of the lineup. His availability last season was a revelation, and his teammates would be delighted if he is a fixture in the lineup.
Appreciation of Looney has gone mainstream. He earned it and, as long as he’s not betrayed by his body, there is reason to believe he’ll do what it takes to keep it there.