One of the most exciting developments of the Warriors' lengthy offseason has been Kevon Looney's improved health and fitness. After missing all but 20 games last season and being diagnosed with a neuropathic condition, Looney showed up to the Warriors' practice bubble looking sharp and in great shape.
The Warriors believe Looney has the potential to be a major factor in their frontcourt this season, but NBA analyst Nate Duncan believes otherwise.
"I would expect that if they are going to take someone on with that trade exception, then Looney will be involved in that deal to mitigate the financial consequences," Duncan said this week on the "Runnin' Plays" podcast. "If you move on from Looney, he makes about $5 million and he's got a player option for $5 million that you have to imagine he will exercise for next year. You may have to give up something to move his salary, which is probably a negative contract."
The financial ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic and the Warriors' luxury tax situation makes Looney expendable in Duncan's eyes. Looney's the Warriors' fifth-highest paid player, behind Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green. If the Warriors select and sign the No. 2 overall pick in next week's draft, they would leapfrog Looney's contract.
But it's not just about the money to Duncan. He also has doubts about Looney's injury history and fit on this team.
"What would you say the odds are that he makes it through the season healthy?" Duncan rhetorically asked. "I'd say 50 percent or less probably. Kevon Looney's a good player, his ability to switch is helpful, but it is also important to recall they don't have Kevin Durant anymore. You can get away with a Looney-Draymond 4-5 combination offensively when you've got basically the three greatest shooters of all time playing next to them.
"... [The $5.7 million taxpayer mid-level exception] and what Looney's making ($4.8 million) are pretty much the exact same amount. You can get a better player for the taxpayer mid-level in this market than Kevon Looney, and that's a reason I think they might try to move on from him."
If the Warriors moved on from Looney, their already think frontcourt would be even more depleted. Golden State doesn't want to rely on Green to play center often, and Marquese Chriss and Alen Smailagic would be the only other bigs left.
Chriss' potential excites Warriors fans after he blossomed late last season, but Duncan is far from sold on the 23-year-old big man.
"I think a lot of people are overrating what he is going to be able to do at this point," Duncan said of the 2016 first-round pick. "I think maybe he can play some backup center, the passing is nice, excellent lob finisher. As an offensive center he is totally adequate, but he is one of the worst defensive centers in the NBA. I don't think he is capable of switching, he doesn't protect the rim, he fouls a lot, he still makes mental errors and I don't expect him to be an effective player for them in the playoffs for that reason.
"He just doesn't have great physical tools at center, and hasn't really shown that type of defensive aptitude, so when you look at the fact that he's very undersized against [ the Denver Nuggets] or the [Los Angeles] Lakers, for example, I think that's also a problem as well. He's worth his minimum contract. Keep him around, play him during the regular season, but if you're counting on him in the playoffs, I think you're making a mistake."
The Warriors traded up to draft Smailagic in the second round last year, but Duncan is even less optimistic about the 20-year-old.
"I've never seen it with him, because he's just not defensively a modern player," Duncan explained. "He's got to become a really really good shooter to add some value. He's guaranteed for this year. That's something to consider. But he makes a small enough amount of money [that] they could pay another team cash to take him.
"I don't expect him to contribute this year, unfortunately."