This was the Looney’s first legitimate deal in the league, and one that consolidates him as a college product that managed to stick around and carve his place into a rotation, a star-studded one as well.
While many were surprised to see the Warriors get their way and sign the big man to a bargain of a contract, considering the interest from other teams, it wasn’t that the rest of the league fell asleep, drunk at the wheel of a race for big-time names and loaded with a boatload of cash to spend — but rather how Golden State went about it that made Looney’s pact come together so smoothly.
Let’s consider the factors — Looney was the first byproduct of the start of the Warriors’ dynasty — the 30th overall pick of the 2015 NBA Draft after the team clinched the NBA’s best record and a consequent championship on the way.
He played only five games his rookie season after undergoing an arthroscopic right hip surgery to repair a torn labrum right after a showcase in the Summer League. He was assigned to the Santa Cruz Warriors, the NBA’s team’s affiliate, after he was cleared to practice following the rehabilitation from his initial surgery.
Looney then suffered a setback, as there was inflammation in his injured left hip, forced to undergo yet another arthroscopy that would put him out four to six months.
His official return to the court would see him average a mere 2.5 points and 2.3 rebounds in 53 games, at which point most around the Warriors organization were just about ready to label him a bust.
Having missed roughly 15 months due to injury, Looney came into training camp for the 2016-17 season overweight, yet he was able to correct it after Andre Iguodala immediately took him under his wing, helping him with a dietary plan and the support system he needed to get right and follow a modified Paleo diet, which helped him lose over 30 pounds.
Those changes would reflect and prove to save his career, as Kevon Looney was able to play a career-high 66 games that season and started to become a constant presence in Steve Kerr’s lineup, ultimately paying major dividends as a major cog off the bench in the postseason.
The Warriors had not tendered a qualifying offer during the 2017-18 season after concerns of a disappointing 2015-16 campaign, and they consequently hoped to keep him, offering him a minimum $1.57 million salary to remain with the team.
That served as a gesture of faith in his potential, and while he could have fished for more money in the open market after showing his impact in limited minutes, Looney opted to return after considering the strides he had made since initially sliding down the board on draft night.
Warriors president Bob Myers, also an UCLA alum, had empathized with Looney in the past, as they both endured hip issues during their playing days.
Slowly but surely, the Warriors had nurtured Looney with patience, dedication, and an environment that helped him thrive. That carried on during this recent 2018-19 season, in which coach Steve Kerr made every effort to praise Looney’s value to the team and his commitment to trotting him out there at times of need, never shying away from throwing a compliment his way.
Kerr notably called Looney a “foundational” piece of this roster, a commendation of the highest order, given the star-studded nature of the roster.
More impressively, Kerr’s gestures went above and beyond from what a head coach is expected to have for a rotation player. Soon after losing Game 6 of the NBA Finals, Kerr got up from his seat at the podium, excused himself and asked Looney about his recovery timeline, after soldering his way to the court following a collarbone injury that could have easily ended his postseason. Kerr thanked him and wished him well, telling him “see you soon,” wearing his usual quirky smile, despite defeat.
The devil is always in the details, and it is that series of never-ending details that have made Kevon Looney so fond of the organization that drafted him and so willing to come back.
If that wasn’t enough, even owner Joe Lacob showed up to his free agent meeting, along with other top-of-the-line executives like Larry Harris and Kirk Lacob — all clamoring for his commitment.
A painless three-year, $15 million pact was hammered soon after.
While other suitors were willing to surpass that figure for the trusty big man, the devil was always in the details, and it’s unlikely that a few millions could have persuaded Loon from leaving his basketball nirvana.