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Looney preparing for great unknown of Warriors, NBA future

Looney preparing for great unknown of Warriors, NBA future originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

The clock is ticking. Questions keep coming and coming. Klay Thompson in under three weeks is set to become an unrestricted free agent, putting his Warriors' future in considerable uncertainty.

Thompson has played his entire 13-year career for the Warriors, including the two seasons he missed due to separate leg injuries, becoming a franchise legend with four championship rings along the way. He would be the first of the Warriors’ Big Three – Thompson, Steph Curry and Draymond Green – to change teams.

But Klay isn’t the only member of the Warriors’ core from multiple titles whose days as part of the team soon could be done.

Kevon Looney hit a roadblock in his ninth NBA season, a year after the best of his career. He’s doing everything in his power to make sure it was an obstacle and not a dead end. Looney also knows what’s next isn’t entirely up to himself.

The Warriors’ center joined his longtime teammate Draymond Green after Game 2 of the 2024 NBA Finals on the “Draymond Green Show” to talk about the Boston Celtics’ win against the Dallas Mavericks and different stories over their near-decade together in Golden State. The last question Green asked Looney wasn’t about looking at the past, but what’s next for him and the Warriors.

"The ball isn't in my court,” Looney said. “I don't have full control over my destiny, so I kind of have to play the waiting game, control what I can control. I've been here my whole career. I don't know nothing else. You always want to finish what you started and be somewhere for your whole career, but I've been in this business long enough to know that's not realistic. I'm preparing myself for whatever. My family's out here, the Bay's been great to me. They treat me like family, I grew up here.

"I haven't really thought about it too far. I'm trying to see what they're going to do first before I push the envelope and see what I want to do.”

Looney, 28, signed a three-year, $22.5 million contract as a free agent in 2022 to remain a Warrior after winning his third ring and playing all 82 games for the first time in his career. The upcoming third and final year of Looney’s deal came with a very important detail: Only $3 million of the $8 million on his 2024-25 contract is guaranteed.

Warriors owner Joe Lacob badly wants to shed money from an incredibly costly roster that failed to make the playoffs. Waiving Looney is an easy way to do so.

The first year of Looney’s contract looked like one of the steals of the offseason. Looney again played all 82 games, starting 70, and finished eighth in Most Improved Player voting after averaging 7.0 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 23.9 minutes per game. “MVP” chants during the Warriors’ 2022 championship run then felt like memories from a distant world last season as Looney struggled.

His consecutive games played streak ended at 290. Looney lost his starting job to rookie second-round draft pick Trayce Jackson-Davis and received a DNP (Did Not Play) in eight of the Warriors’ final 21 games. This also isn’t the first time Looney has squared up with adversity in his NBA career – far from it.

"Right now I'm just focusing on my game,” Looney said to Green. “End of the season didn't end the best for me, but I take pride in adapting and figuring stuff out.”

Therein lies the respect Looney has earned for years within the Warriors’ locker room. No jealousy. No animosity. Continuing to lead by example.

Looney, like everyone else, is watching the lob threat Mavs centers Daniel Gafford and Derek Lively III represent. He’s seeing how the Celtics play five-out basketball with big men like Al Horford and Kristaps Porzingis. Looney isn’t about to grow to 7-feet, he isn’t going to start throwing down poster dunks and the 3-point line isn’t about to become his second home.

Though he’s willing to evolve, for the team and himself.

When the Warriors took Looney as a 19-year-old at the end of the first round in 2015 they didn’t know if he’d become a 3 or 4. Multiple hip surgeries later, Looney fended off his incoming competition and became one of the most unique, reliable and efficient centers in the league. He also has taken a total of three 3-point attempts in the past three seasons – one each year – and has missed all three.

At his exit interview press conference, Looney said he wants to be more offensive-minded, which can involve being an option from deep. A goal of 35 or 36 percent beyond the arc is one he stated nearly two months ago. Since, Looney clearly has taken his words to heart.

“I got a new goal, that's my new plan,” Looney said. “I got to be able to adapt, so I'm looking forward to that – adding to my game, adapting to this new NBA and figuring it out. I've been working hard and I feel like I'm going to be a different player next year. That's always the goal.

“I feel like I conquered my old role, so now I got to figure out my new role and take that next step. That's what I've been focusing on. I'm trying to focus on my game, and usually when you focus on your game and you put in the work things always work out for me.”

Thompson isn’t alone, and neither is Looney. Changes will be coming to the Warriors this offseason. They have to. Looney himself already is making changes to his own game and mindset, knowing that whether he’s a Warrior or salary cap casualty, the three-time champion is setting himself up for success entering the great unknown.

"The ball ain't in my court,” he reiterated. “I've been a Warrior for life. Even whatever happens, I'm always going to be a Warrior for life. Really just waiting to see what our organization is going to do."

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