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Warriors encouraged by Looney's energetic camp performance

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Klay Thompson’s surgically repaired left knee aside, the most significant conclusion the Warriors hope to reach during their voluntary minicamp regards Kevon Looney.

They need to know if the 6-foot-9 forward-center still has an NBA future.

If he does, the Warriors might consider it a luxury to add a veteran big man. If he doesn’t, the need for a veteran big man becomes acute.

Nine days after the first camp workout, coach Steve Kerr is encouraged by what he has seen.

“What stands out to me probably, No. 1, is that Kevon Looney is healthy and moving really well and feeling great,” Kerr said Thursday, after the team’s final scrimmage. “That's probably the best news of all coming out of camp.”

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Various injuries and aches forced Looney to miss 45 of the team’s 65 games last season, limiting him to 262 minutes. He was diagnosed with a neuropathic condition that, frankly, threatened his career. There is no cure, but the hope was that therapy would enable him to continue playing.

Though it seems Looney has been around with the Warriors for nearly a decade, he’s only 24. But with multiple surgeries – one on each hip and another, in May, to repair a core muscle – over the past five years, his body sometimes feels as if it’s 44.

This minicamp is an attempt, successful thus far, to turn back that clock.

“The last time I felt this good is probably the start of my third season, so about two years ago,” Looney said the other day. “All of last year and the end of my fourth year, I was kind of dealing with some injuries. Now, I feel like I can put all those injuries behind me.

 

“I’m feeling good. I can run freely. I don’t have to worry about watching my steps, like with the groin injury. I can just go out there and have fun and really just enjoy basketball.”

Looney’s status is meaningful insofar as he’s one of only four Warriors with championship experience. That’s of immense value for a team trying to recover from a disastrous season to rejoin the ranks of NBA contenders.

“Because Loon has been such a big part of who we are over the years,” Kerr explained. “We need him. If he's healthy the whole year, then we've got a guy we know we can count on at that center position for 20-25 minutes a night. That’s a big step.”

A huge step. Looney resumed workouts in June and spent much of September as a near-daily presence at the team’s facility. He was a regular on the practice floor in the weeks before the team gathered on Sept. 21 for minicamp.

There has been no residual soreness, which often was the case after previous surgeries.

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If the Warriors are confident in Looney’s availability for 20 minutes per game, they might consider filling the other 28 minutes at center with 6-9 Marquese Chriss and a few sprinkles of 6-7 Draymond Green.

In a league where so many teams play small, that’s not out of the question.

There is, however, the matter of the Lakers and Nuggets and Clippers, all of whom have 7-foot centers on the roster. Then, too, the emerging Suns have 7-foot Deandre Ayton, the Jazz have 7-2 Rudy Gobert, the Thunder have 7-foot Steven Adams, the Grizzlies have 7-foot Jonas Valanciunas and the Mavericks have two supersized big men, 7-3 Kristaps Porzingis and 7-4 Boban Marjanovic.

Going without a 7-footer, even in today’s NBA, is a risk, even though the Rockets finished third in the West with a 6-5 P.J. Tucker at center.

Would the Warriors be willing to gamble on topping out at 6-9, when projected Western Conference teams have so much size?

It’s not ideal. But if they conclude they can rely on Looney, whose wingspan is 7-4, then there is no urgency to add a big man. If the right one is available at the right salary, dive in. If not, they’d at least consider going with what they have.