— Ryan Gorcey (@RyanGorcey) November 24, 2019
CHASE CENTER — During one of the first scrimmages of training camp this October, Warriors forward Kevon Looney tried a spin move that locked up his right hamstring. It cramped, and felt like a pull.
Looney sat out the preseason, and tried to rush himself back in time to play on opening night at Chase Center, the team’s new $1.4 billion home. He played a half, before the pain came back.
After sitting for a month, Looney and the Warriors now have a plan for how to deal with the mysterious neuropathic condition at the root of the pain. With a return to the court nearing, Looney hopes to move beyond uncertainty and frustration and become what head coach Steve Kerr has called one of the franchise’s foundational pieces.
“I might have rushed it the first time, so I could play opening night, but this time, we’re taking our time and making sure that I take the right steps,” Looney said, speaking for the first time since the injury on Sunday, following his first full-contact practice since being cleared.
The neuropathic condition that kept Looney out had never presented as anything serious — just aches and soreness over the last two years — and had never kept him out of any games. Looney, 23, had been able to manage the pain with additional treatment in the training room.
After Looney’s hamstring locked up on him during the scrimmage, the team medical staff treated the injury for what it appeared to be: hamstring tightness. Though he missed the entire preseason, Looney was cleared to play up to 20 minutes in the opener on Oct. 24.
In just one half against the Lakers, Looney showed why the Warriors were so intent on bringing him back this offseason. He was active on the boards and aggressive on box outs, pulling down nine rebounds — including five on offense — in 11 minutes, but he didn’t return after halftime, having re-tweaked his hamstring. After his foreshortened season debut, the pain lingered and recurred.
“There was just a lot of confusion and a lot of uncertainty,” Looney said. “It was frustrating not knowing what’s the problem.”
Less than a week later, the team announced Looney was dealing with neuropathy, a condition which causes pain and numbness in the extremities that has a wide range of causes, including trauma.
Two summers ago, Looney remade his body by incorporating mixed martial arts into his offseason regimen. He trained hard again this past offseason, as he was expected to play an expanded role on a young Golden State team transitioning to a new era after the breakup of its championship core.
“I think I overtrained a little bit,” Looney said. That overtraining caused an injury, and that injury, Looney figured, was exacerbated by the neuropathy.
Once Looney and the team medical staff figured that out, Looney saw specialists, and the team developed a new plan to manage the condition. There would be no rushing, this time.
“Once we figured out the problem, figured out the source, it made me feel better,” Looney said. “I can sleep at night, knowing I’m doing the right things.”
Looney could return as soon as Friday, when the Warriors travel to Miami for their first stop on a five-city road trip. His addition would greatly help a team that’s down to eight healthy players, and has the worst record in the NBA at 3-14 and ranks last in defensive efficiency.
Last season, Looney emerged as the go-to center, playing in 80 games with 24 starts — both career highs — and played in a career-best 18.5 minutes per game. He posted the 27th-best real plus-minus in the NBA at 3.48, and was No. 38 in defensive real plus-minus (2.18).
Though he missed his first training camp with a roster stocked with nine newcomers, Looney has closely watched games and studied film, trying to envision himself on the floor in what’s become a new offense that incorporates the pick-and-roll into Kerr’s motion concepts.
“I’m really watching a lot, so when I go out there, I know I can jump in,” Looney said.
Last week, Looney spent two practices with G League affiliate Santa Cruz — which runs Kerr’s offense — going through scrimmages to prepare. He didn’t scrimmage on Sunday, but Kerr was pleased.
“Same solid player, added to his game this summer, but he hasn’t been able to show it since he’s been hurt,” said wing Alec Burks. “I know what he’s got. I’ve seen it.”
Looney has been told that his condition will not keep him out of games, and he won’t experience a repeat of what happened in the opener.
Said Looney: “Now, I feel like we’ve got the right answers.”