Warriors' patience in Kevon Looney being rewarded: 'He's always had that game'


Warriors' patience in Kevon Looney being rewarded: 'He's always had that game'

OAKLAND -- Gone are the days of doubting Kevon Looney, questioning if his scalpel-scarred hips would ever allow him play a meaningful role with the Warriors or, for that matter, any team in the NBA.

Long, long, long gone are the days of wondering whether he was a dreadful waste of a first-round draft pick.

The Warriors saw enough talent to take the risk of drafting him out of UCLA in 2015. They’ve been patient, as necessary, waiting for Looney’s body to respond to the trauma. Their patience is being rewarded.

Looney matters.

“He’s had a great year,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said late Tuesday night, after a 92-81 loss to the Indiana Pacers.

Greatness is graded on a curve in the NBA, and Looney surely meets that definition relative to his first two seasons insofar as he now matters -- and not just because the Warriors are more shorthanded than they've been at any time since Kerr took over as coach before the 2014-15 season.

Looney matters because he’s comfortable and effective in the team’s switching defense. He matters he feels the game with his mind. And because he gotten comfortable with his shot, casually sinking midrange jumpers and, on Tuesday, draining his only 3-pointer, launching from the right wing.

“He’s always had that game,” Andre Iguodala, who spends nearly every practice working out on the same court as Looney, told NBC Sports Bay Area. “But the NBA is all about that confidence and opportunity. He’s feeling better, too.

“But even when he was hurting with his hips, I could always see his game.”

Looney underwent surgery on his right hip in August 2015, then his left hip in April 2016. He played a total of 468 minutes in his first two seasons. He has played 746 minutes so far this season, shooting 57.1 percent from the field.

And most of those minutes have been effective, particularly in the paint. He blocks a shot every 17 minutes and he may be the best in-traffic rebounder on the team.

“He brings rebounding, good defense both on the interior and perimeter with his ability to switch and he’s smart,” Kerr said. “He’s a very smart basketball player.”

Looney is 6-foot-9 on his best day, with the leaping ability of a wheelbarrow, but his wingspan stretches from baseline-to-baseline. OK, it’s actually about 7-4.

Every inch of that length has been visible at times, including Tuesday night. Looney scored 8 points but pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds, adding two blocks, two assists and a steal over 28 minutes. He was an even-0 on the plus/minus scale, which is far better than anyone else who logged more than 20 minutes.

“There are still a lot of things he can do that he hasn’t shown yet,” Iguodala said. “Tonight was the first time he pulled up from 3. And we’ve been begging for that for like a year and a half now.

“Now the next step for him, and for us to help him, is to get him to realize that no matter what the time of possession or the score or the situation, to have the same confidence.”

Kevon Looney matters now, as the Warriors play out the regular season with no real incentive.

He’ll matter later, too, when the All-Stars begin filing back into the lineup and the Warriors reset for the playoffs in pursuit of a second consecutive championship.

Bob Myers explains what attracted Warriors to D'Angelo Russell trade

Bob Myers explains what attracted Warriors to D'Angelo Russell trade

The Warriors were about to lose Kevin Durant for nothing in free agency this summer. Then general manager Bob Myers pivoted and pulled out a sign-and-trade to acquire All-Star point guard D'Angelo Russell from the Brooklyn Nets for Durant.

The move caught many by surprise and led to speculation that the Warriors only acquired Russell with the intention of flipping him for other assets.

Myers recently rejected the idea that the Warriors took Russell just to trade him, and this week, he talked to The Athletic's Tim Kawakami about going into his free agency meeting with Durant, and his mindset once KD told him he was leaving Golden State.

"From that point on, the motivation going in and leaving, obviously leaving, I left with a certainty that [Durant] wasn't coming back," Myers said on The TK Show. "Going in, my job, our job as a front office, is to prepare for what if Kevin does come back and what if Kevin doesn't come back. It wasn't necessarily an immediate pivot to D'Angelo.

"It was, 'These are our options if Kevin doesn't come back. What can we do?' And for the people listening, it was simple. Either we do something like we did, which was more aggressive, whether it would have been that or something else, or another formulation of a sign-and-trade or using a huge trade exception, or we stand pat and signing a taxpayer mid-level. Those were the two pivot points. We obviously went the way we did."

Russell isn't the game-changing, Hall of Fame talent that Durant is, but he’s coming off his first NBA All-Star Game appearance, and set career highs in points per game, assists per game, field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage last season.

For Myers and the Warriors, there are things to like about what Russell brings to the team.

"The attraction for us was, what's very hard in our business and in any sport is, how do you get a talented, young player?" Myers said. "It's very difficult. How do you do it in my job or the front office? Usually it's through the draft or a trade. And most times you try to trade for a guy that's young and good, you have to give up something that's easier, either a guaranteed high pick or a lottery guaranteed pick, or a good player or a combination of players. It's hard to do.

"We saw an opportunity to do it. That's why we did it. And that's the direction we went in. The other direction would have been not to do that and stay the course and see where that went. But we chose the path, and we're pretty happy with it."

Despite losing Durant, the Warriors were able to replace him with an All-Star-caliber player who’s just 23 years old.

[RELATED: Russell working with Steve Nash]

Russell, Steph Curry and Draymond Green will have to hold down the fort in the Bay until Klay Thompson recovers from his torn ACL. Once the five-time All-Star returns, the Warriors will possess one of the most dynamic backcourts in the NBA.

That's something Myers and Co. definitely have to feel good about.

How Warriors' Bob Myers found positive in final Kevin Durant meeting

How Warriors' Bob Myers found positive in final Kevin Durant meeting

When Kevin Durant elected to leave the Warriors for the Brooklyn Nets when free agency opened June 30, many criticized the way in which the two-time NBA Finals MVP handled his move from coast to coast. 

Prior to his announcement to join the Nets, Durant had Warriors general manager Bob Myers fly out to New York so he could inform him of his decision in person, He did not, however, wait for Steph Curry's plane to land before word of his move to Brooklyn had leaked out. 

While some have been critical of Durant having a face-to-face with Myers just to tell him he would not be choosing to stay with the Warriors, Myers is glad the meeting/goodbye took place.

"Here's what I wanted," Myers told The Athletic's Tim Kawakami on "The TK Show" podcast. "Some people I had seen write that he made me fly all the way out there. I enjoy sitting and looking at you. We had a relationship. I like hearing news. I don't think we do enough of this in life. Look at me and tell me what you're thinking. Good, bad, whatever. Let's do it that way.

"I think our relationship had earned that. So for me, even hearing that he wasn't coming back in person, I'd rather have that all day long. And I appreciated that. Some people will say 'Well, you flew to New York to hear he wasn't coming back?' Absolutely. I'd fly to China to talk to him about what he wants to do. He earned that. He deserves that. I wanted that. It also gave me some closure, as far as to hear somebody, to see their body language and hear their conviction and hear all of it, was better for me than what, a text message or an Instagram announcement or a phone call. I don't want that. So I didn't know it until then."

Myers was grateful Durant wanted to talk with him face-to-face and was fully open about his decision to end his chapter with the Warriors.

"He told me to my face, which I appreciated," Myers continued. "I didn't know before then. I had a sense that it might go the other way. But part of me wanted to allow him ... this was a time, as it is with all the players, they don't owe us anything. This is their moment to be a free agent. He doesn't have to tell me. He didn't even have to say anything then. He could have said 'Tune in, I'll let you know' or he could have done whatever he wanted to do. He's earned that.

"So for me, I was hopeful that I'd get an answer and I did. And that's when he chose to give it, which was his prerogative. So when I got there, we talked about a ton of different things, but obviously, it got to that point and he said he wasn't coming back and I asked him for his thoughts and he told me what they were."

Durant's exit from the Bay closed one of the most historic runs in sports.

Since the 2014 NBA MVP arrived in Oakland, the Warriors nearly were unbeatable, winning two NBA championships before losing a third after Durant ruptured his Achilles and Klay Thompson tore his ACL. At full strength with Durant, Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green, the Warriors were the greatest collection of talent in NBA history. A runaway freight train that couldn't be stopped once it went into high gear. A unit that had no problem toying with opponents for long stretches due to sheer boredom before turning it on and blowing the other team away.

[RELATED: Check out Chase Center's progress ahead of Warriors' opener]

Durant will spend the next year rehabbing his Achilles, hoping to make his return to the court in the 2020-21 season, while the Warriors enter the next season unsure of what the future holds. Can Curry, Green and new-addition D'Angelo Russell keep the Warriors alive until Thompson returns from his ACL rehab near the end of the season?

It's a new day in the NBA, but the Warriors and Durant always will have those three historic years.