The Golden State Warriors have agreed to terms with a player head coach Steve Kerr has called one of the team’s “foundational pieces.”
Early Monday evening, center Kevon Looney agreed to terms with the Warriors on a three-year, $15 million offer. The news was first reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic.
Earlier in the day, Golden State had moved the contracts of both Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham — acquired in a sign-and-trade with the Brooklyn Nets that also involved Kevin Durant and D’Angelo Russell — in an apparent effort to gain more payroll flexibility to sign Looney. Golden State had placed a high priority on retaining the versatile 23-year old, who had the best season of his young career and could very well be their next starting center.
Over the first day and a half of free agency, the Warriors had made several moves that would clear room for them to be able to bring Looney back. Limited to a $4.3 million taxpayer midlevel exception because of how far over the salary cap they are (and have been for the previous two seasons, and three of the last four), the Warriors traded longtime franchise pillar Andre Iguodala — who had one year and $17.2 million left on his contract — and offloaded both Napier ($1.9m) and Graham ($1.7m).
Though the Warriors’ maneuvering is far from done. Their salary cap situation means they almost certainly won’t be able t0 bring back center DeMarcus Cousins (who used the MLE last year), guard Quinn Cook, forward Jonas Jerebko and center Andrew Bogut. Of that group, only Bogut — who had an oral agreement to return to the Sydney Kings of the National Basketball League in his home country of Australia — was certainly gone. Another bench piece — center Jordan Bell — reportedly agreed to terms with the Minnesota Timberwolves earlier on Monday.
With Damian Jones the only center remaining under contract and limited options due to the Warriors’ payroll situation, Looney — who had a career year this past season — was an important piece to secure.
Two months after the Golden State selected Looney out of UCLA with the No. 30 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, he underwent surgery on his right hip. In April of 2016, he had surgery on his left hip. In October of 2017, the team declined his $2.23 million option for the 2018-19 season, believing he may have gotten too expensive to retain after having a solid regular season, and an even better postseason.
He didn’t get much attention on the free agent market, and returned on a minimum deal. During the regular season, after Jones went down with a torn pectoral, 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.
Looney set career-highs for shooting (62.5% from the field, 61.9% on free throws), offensive rebounds (2.4 orpgm, up from 1.3), defensive rebounds (2.8, up from 2.0 last season), assists (1.5, up from 0.6) and scoring (6.3 ppg). On the season, 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).
Where Looney truly shined, though, was in the playoffs. With Cousins going down in the second game of the first round with a torn quad, Looney averaged a plus-minus of 4.6 per game, and a total plus-minus of plus-97 — 10th among all playoff participants, and third on Golden State behind Draymond Green (plus-127) and Stephen Curry (plus-120).
Looney’s athleticism, size and ability to guard multiple positions made him invaluable for Golden State. Unless general manager Bob Myers pulls another stunner with the mid-level exception, it’s almost certain Looney would be the starting center as the team opens the brand-new Chase Center.
“Looney has become one of our foundational pieces,” Kerr said after Looney pulled down 14 rebounds and scored 12 points in the Warriors’ Game 4 win over the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals. “He does this every single night. I think one thing that we’ve seen in almost every series, is as the game goes on and players get tired, Loon gets more and more rebounds. He just has a knack for the ball. Really long arms. Great feel for the game.”