Why re-signing Kevon Looney has to be atop Warriors' offseason to-do list

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Why re-signing Looney has to be atop Dubs' offseason to-do list originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

The praise, the love, the fanfare for Kevon Looney only grew as the Warriors' season went on. Yes, the MVP chants during Game 2 of the Western Conference finals when Looney scored a career-high 21 points to go with 12 rebounds really happened.

On and off the court for the Warriors, Looney's value was immeasurable. That value is about to be tested on the open market with Looney becoming a free agent, and it couldn't be more clear that re-signing the 26-year-old center has to be atop the Warriors' offseason to-do list.

Steve Kerr couldn't have laid out why more perfectly in his post-season press conference one day before the NBA draft.

"Loon, what more do we need to say about Loon?" Kerr said on June 22. "He's a championship center, modern-day defender, switch defender, which is what it takes in the playoffs. As the 30th pick in the draft seven years ago, the way he's developed, the way he's worked, the way he has become such a big part of our internal leadership and our fabric, he's a huge component to our success.

"We all want him back. We also are rooting for him personally to get a really good contract, so hopefully it's from us."

Looney signed a three-year, $14.5 million contract with the Warriors in July of 2019. He then was held to only 20 games played that season. The former first-round pick missed the entire preseason to a strained right hamstring and then faced issues with neuropathy, left abdominal soreness and left hip soreness.

The Warriors after the 2019-20 season selected center James Wiseman with the No. 2 overall pick. At 19 years old, Wiseman started for Kerr in the season opener, and it seemed Looney's time with Golden State was quickly ticking away. Now, that looks like the farthest thing from the truth.

At least, that's what the Warriors hope.

Todd Ramasar, Looney's agent, said Monday morning on 95.7 The Game's "Willard & Dibs" that it's always his goal to get as many options on the table for his clients. While factoring in business decisions and state taxes, he also made it clear the final decision always will come down to what the player wants most.

"I talk about how he's been to five Finals and he's only 26 years old," Ramasar said when asked how he sells Looney to teams outside of the Warriors. "He's won three rings, he's got a great pedigree. And the fact that he played 104 games this season.

"Kevon is all about winning. He's a winner and he's willing to do whatever it takes to help win games."

This past season, Looney averaged 6.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. Those numbers don't jump off the page. Like others in the Warriors' system past and present, Looney's impact goes beyond the stats. At the same time, he set a new career-high in rebounds by 2.0 boards per game. In the playoffs, he averaged 7.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game while shooting 65.9 percent from the field. He led all players -- not just Warriors -- in offensive rebounds throughout the postseason.

From Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals, when he was inserted back into the starting lineup and grabbed 22 rebounds, to the Warriors becoming champions by beating the Boston Celtics in six games, Looney averaged 7.3 points, 10.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. He even made 70 percent of his free throws over those 12 games (nine starts), and was a plus-57 in that span.

More importantly, Looney became the Warriors' Mr. Reliable in more ways than one.

Between the previous two seasons, Looney appeared in 81 regular-season games, or one fewer than a complete season. Before the 2021-22 season, he made a goal to play in all 82 games. Looney didn't just hit his goal, he was the only Warrior to play in every regular-season game. Only four others around the NBA hit that mark. In total, he played 104 games in winning his third ring and started 93.

Wiseman in the last two seasons has played in 39 games. Klay Thompson, after missing the previous two and a half seasons to two different grueling leg injuries, played 54 games this season at 32 years old -- 32 in the regular season and all 22 in the playoffs. Wiseman played only three games in college. He hasn't had a training camp yet and hasn't played in summer league.

Going into Year 3, Wiseman appears to finally be healthy after complications to his surgically-repaired right meniscus. He's on track to find game action in summer league, and this is a big offseason for him as well. Expecting him to jump in for a championship team and do all the little things required of a center for the Warriors would be unfair. That's where Looney excels.

He knows the nuances to the game. He knows when and where to set a screen. He can switch on defense, knows when to roll to the basket, is a strong passer out of the post and fights for every rebound. Those are all areas that will take time for the 21-year-old Wiseman.

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It's clear the Warriors' main objective this offseason is bringing back their own free agents. Most notably, Looney, Gary Payton II and Otto Porter Jr. Looney has to be priority No. 1.

Golden State currently doesn't have another true big man on the roster outside of Wiseman. The Warriors didn't draft another center, and no free agent at the position is going to give them everything he already does. The Warriors push their culture more than maybe any other team in the league. Losing Looney would be a major blow to it, inside and outside the building.

All season long, Kerr used words like "irreplaceable" and "foundational piece" when describing Looney. As he heads into free agency, Looney lived up to those titles, and now it's up to the Warriors to make sure he doesn't find a new home.

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