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For the Golden State Warriors, it’s not just about reclaiming their spot at the top of the NBA by winning their fourth championship in eight years. It’s also about being able to win additional titles moving forward.
But in order to run it back, they need to hold on to as many of their players as possible.
But therein lies the problem. Almost no championship team has ever been able to keep all of its players after winning a ring.
So while the Warriors aren’t alone in their predicament, they’re still in a tough spot financially.
As they look towards the 2022-23 season, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are all locked into their contracts, but they have to focus on retaining four key rotational players on their roster if they want to go for the repeat: Kevon Looney, Gary Payton II, Otto Porter Jr. and Nemanja Bjelica.
Payton II really became a huge part of Golden State’s run this past season, so he’s an important player to re-sign, but Looney is the top priority and unsung hero of that quartet.
Luckily, according to NBA Insider Marc Stein, it looks like Looney is staying in the Bay.
As reported by Stein, teams interested in cherry-picking the big man from the Warriors are “increasingly pessimistic” that they’ll be able to do so.
Additionally, he’s expected to re-sign with Golden State to a multiyear deal when he officially becomes a free agent.
Head coach Steve Kerr already let it be known how he feels about retaining the now three-time champ.
“We all want him back,” Kerr said during a press conference last week. “We’re all rooting for him personally to get a really good contract. Hopefully it’s from us.”
So why is Looney so coveted?
Simple: He’s durable, reliable and truly embodies the Warriors’ “Strength in Numbers” mantra.
After only playing 20 games in 2019 and 61 games in 2020, the 26-year-old center put on his proverbial hard hat and played in all 104 games this year (including the post-season).
During the regular season, Looney averaged 6.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game in 21.1 minutes of play.
And while he played excellent overall during the playoffs, Golden State really needed him to get past Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals.
In five games against the Mavs, he averaged 10.6 points, 10.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists.
That was huge for the Warriors because James Wiseman was out because of injury, and his return has been derailed multiple times.
And while Wiseman is expected to play this coming season, Looney is still a valuable part of the team not only because of his play, but because of his leadership.
“What more can you say about Loon,” Kerr added. “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, he’s a huge component to our success.”
Curry and Green know that to be true, too.
Both of them approached the coaching staff after their blowout loss in Game 5 to the Memphis Grizzlies and suggested he be put back into the starting lineup.
Looney responded with 22 rebounds and was crucial in closing out Memphis to move on to the Western Conference Final.
Armed with all of those facts, Looney’s got some great leverage going into contract negotiations, but at the end of the day, he does want to stay with the team that drafted him.
“Always want to be back here,” Looney told The Athletic’s Anthony Slater. “I’ve been here my whole career. But it’s a business. Never know what’s going to happen. Wait to see what my agent says about what’s going on around the league, what’s going on with me. But I’d love to come back and defend what we’ve just won. But you never know in this league.”
Looney was underpaid this past season at $5.1 million, so it will take a lot more to keep him happy moving forward, something in the $8-$10 million range.
It remains to be seen if Golden State will be able to lock in Looney early or match any offer sheet he gets, but General Manager Bob Myers is hoping that their latest championship will help in the team’s leverage.
“Thankfully I hope that our players will give us a chance to respond to an offer,” Myers told Slater. “They don’t have to. They don’t owe it to us. But that’s what you get if you win and you create a good environment. You might get a chance to match something.”