SAN FRANCISCO -- The likely return, and possible loss, of Kevon Looney, goes hand in hand with the start of James Wiseman's Warriors career and the development of the young center. Looney signed a three-year, $14.5 million contract to stay with the Warriors in July of 2019. One year later, Golden State selected Wiseman, a 7-footer from Memphis with the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.
Now, re-signing Looney has to be the Warriors' top priority this offseason. All signs point to that happening on a multi-year contract.
That would be a win-win-win situation, too. A win for the Warriors, a win for Looney and yes, a win for Wiseman as well.
Wiseman has played only 45 games of basketball since Nov. 5, 2019 -- his college debut. He played only three games in college due to NCAA violations, his rookie season was cut short to 39 games after sustaining a torn meniscus and the only game action he saw this past season was three games in the G League before being shut down to swelling in that same right knee. Since the Warriors drafted him, Wiseman hasn't been part of a training camp and hasn't played any summer league games.
This past season, he was stuck to the sidelines in street clothes as the Warriors won yet another championship. But he also had his eyes stuck to Example A of perseverance and understanding the ins and outs of the Warriors' system.
"James spent a good part of this year watching Loon, watching tape of him, asking questions of him," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said when I asked him about Looney's influence on Wiseman when speaking with reporters after the season on June 22. "They're very different players, as you said, but playing the same position.
"What makes Loon so good is the nuance in his game. He understands how to set the right screen at the right time for [Steph Curry] and [Klay Thompson], and he knows when to roll and he knows when to dive to the rim, when to get to the pocket if Steph is getting blitzed. He knows how to make the weak-side pass out of the double-team.
"This stuff doesn't just happen. He's worked at it. Loon's first two years he never played. He was injured, too, just like James has been. There couldn't be a better mentor for James than Loon."
Looney played only five games as a rookie due to a torn labrum in his right hip. The season before the Warriors drafted Wiseman, Looney was held to 20 games for a handful of reasons: Neuropathy issues, left abdominal soreness and left hip soreness. The former first-round pick himself has never been questioned for his work ethic. Revamping his training and diet has done wonders for him, though.
In Wiseman's rookie season, Looney played 61 games. He set a goal to play in all 82 regular-season games before this past season and became the only Warrior to do so. Looney was one of five players around the NBA to hit that mark, and he ended up playing 104 games, including the playoffs, with 93 starts.
The nuances to the game, knowing when and where to set the perfect screen and being able to pass out of the post to one of the Warriors' sharpshooters is where Looney stands on a different planet than the raw-skilled and gifted Wiseman right now. When the Warriors drafted the Looney, the 6-foot-9 UCLA product wasn't seen as a center by most. Many saw him as a future power forward, and some even projected him to play more of a small forward role at the next level.
After seven seasons as a pro and three titles to his name, Looney now is a versatile center in a non-traditional sense. One that can complement Wiseman perfectly.
During his rookie year, Wiseman looked like a lost giraffe at times -- trying to find his way in an unfamiliar setting with his long limbs going every which way. He has the natural size and athleticism to be a rim-runner and lob threat. The lefty has a smooth enough shooting stroke to be an outside threat from deep down the road. And then in the three G League games he appeared in, Wiseman relied more on setting up in the post as someone bigger and stronger than his competition.
His moves and touch down there have to improve. As do his hands, his rebounding and staying out of foul trouble. As a rookie, Wiseman reached double-digit rebounds only three times and fouled out four times.
Throughout last season, and especially in the playoffs, Looney became an elite rebounder. The veteran's ability to keep plays alive on the offensive end was massive. Wiseman appears to be healthy and on track to appear in summer league games at some point. Kerr knows he'll be able to score points. Aside from staying healthy, he wants to see Wiseman's defensive mindset displayed on the floor.
That's the side of the ball that Kerr still believes Wiseman can be an absolute difference-maker in as he continues to develop his overall game.
"I think defensive recognition, of patterns and rebounding, that's what we can use from him the most," Kerr said. "Going forward, with his talent, with his size and athleticism, there's no reason why he can't be a dominant defensive player in the league. But it takes a lot of reps. It takes a lot of recognition. It takes a lot of being on the court with nine other people, not just being in a one-on-one workout or in the weight room.
"Hopefully -- knock on wood -- hopefully he gets healthy and gets to start putting those reps together and develops into a fine defensive center. That would be the idea. You see how gifted he is offensively. He's a lob threat. He's a good shooter. It's all there for him."
From all the ups and downs, Looney has earned his next paycheck -- one that will be his biggest in the NBA yet. The long-term future of the center position for the Warriors still belongs to the 21-year-old Wiseman, if all goes right. That's still a big if. In the present and coming years, there's no reason their skill sets can't form another two-timelines win for the Warriors. With Looney in the fold, the pressure eases off Wiseman while focusing on his development still gets the needed attention.
Bringing back Looney isn't just atop the Warriors' to-do list. It's a win for him, the team and the man who watched his every move from the bench before celebrating a championship with him.