The Warriors said all along that they were willing to wait for Kevon Looney, that it was OK if the rookie forward missed the entire season after undergoing hip surgery last August.
General manager Bob Myers told CSNBayArea.com in November that there were “no expectations” for Looney this season, so it would be a bonus if he were able to play, much less contribute.
Looney made his D-League debut on Jan. 12 and made his NBA debut last week, scoring two points and grabbing two rebounds in a win over Dallas. And while it’s too early to know how much of a factor the UCLA product will be, at least one of the reasons for drafting him is evident.
Looney’s presence could affect how much the Warriors are willing to go to pay Harrison Barnes, who in July becomes a restricted free agent.
And Looney’s presence -- along with that of Barnes -- certainly would affect the maneuvering required for the Warriors to lure Kevin Durant to the Bay Area. The Warriors have been and still are interested in obtaining the 2014 MVP, who in July will become an unrestricted free agent.
The Warriors are a "serious frontrunner" to land Durant if he leaves the Thunder this offseason, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reported on Tuesday.
Looney suddenly is a more valuable asset than it immediately appeared when he was drafted last June.
Conventional wisdom in the 2015 NBA Draft pointed the Warriors to a specific direction, likely targeting wing/guard depth, someone conceivably capable of replacing Andre Iguodala and Leandro Barbosa, the oldest members of the team. They would seek another scorer, such as Barbosa, or someone who might be crafty enough to initiate offense, as Iguodala does.
That the Warriors instead selected Looney with the 30th overall pick illustrates the franchise’s ability to not only think beyond the norm but also provide flexibility for the future. He’s 6-foot-9, with the potential for minutes at either forward position. Like, for example, Barnes and Durant.
Forward didn’t seem to be an immediate area of concern. Starters Draymond Green and Barnes were the youngest Warriors draft picks on roster that won a franchise-record 67 games and a championship. They were, it seems, set.
But only Green, 25, has been identified as a franchise pillar -- as indicated by the five-year, $82 million contract extension signed last July. The Warriors know what he brings; it’s on display at slightly varying levels night after night.
Green is an All-Star, richly deserving, and an irreplaceable member of the Warriors.
Barnes, however, remains an enigma. Chosen 28 picks ahead of Green in the 2012 draft, Barnes manages to be simultaneously the most athletic and least impactful member of the starting lineup. His game-winning jumper last Saturday in Philadelphia notwithstanding, Barnes frazzles at least as often as often as he dazzles.
Barnes is not irreplaceable, yet last summer reportedly turned down an offer with an annual salary roughly equal to that which Green is earning.
A little more than halfway through this season, Barnes has not made a strong case to command a megadeal. When he missed 16 games with an ankle sprain, there formed a couple strikes against him. One was that the team did not stumble with his replacement, Brandon Rush, who was coming out of a three-year professional coma. The other was an undercurrent of disenchantment within the organization about Barnes’ slow recovery.
The bottom-line results have been inconclusive, but most assuredly not in Barnes’ favor. The Warriors are 14-1 when he starts at small forward alongside the four regular starters and 16-1 when Rush starts with the same foursome.
This is not to suggest Warriors are as strong with Rush -- or Looney -- as they are with Barnes at small forward. At 6-foot-8, 230 pounds, Barnes among the three is best suited to defend opposing power forwards, which makes him a key component when coach Steve Kerr unleashes his small lineup.
But that’s not a convincing argument for paying in excess of $18 million, which Barnes’ camp -- changed agents last summer -- reportedly is seeking.
Getting a look at Looney, any look at all, may provide enough information to form projections, if not answer questions. Might he be able to, in a year or two, provide what Barnes does? Is Looney capable of spending time at both forward positions at the NBA level?
The Warriors say they would “like to keep” Barnes, though they wouldn’t blink if they could find a way to replace him with Durant.
It is to the Warriors’ advantage that they can’t make a decision now, nor do they need to. They’re 44-4, winning at a record pace, and have several months to watch Barnes and Looney and Durant and everybody else while pondering their next move.
In that regard, the defending champs could not have planned it any better.