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Tuesday’s announcement that Mark Jackson had been relieved of his duties as Head Coach of the Warriors closes the book not only on the 2013-14 season, but also marks the end of an era. The Warriors have now drawn a line in the sand, demarcating their future from their recent past, which sets the table for what should be some very captivating seasons to come. Which direction the team goes and the person under which they’ll be directed are yet to be determined, but this much is clear: expectations are high, and they will remain so.

But before we move on, let’s open that book up one more time. Regardless of how you feel about the situation, the fact remains that the Dubs accomplished a fair amount this past season, and that deserves some recognition. Despite not achieving the ultimate goal of an NBA championship, it’s important to remember that only one team goes home without that feeling of despair. Only one team doesn’t spend the offseason pondering what could have been. The Dubs didn’t get to where they want to be, but there are still things to be celebrated and acknowledged.

51 wins, consecutive playoff appearances…these accomplishments are nothing to scoff at. When measured against the franchise’s recent history of mediocrity in the two decades prior, the 2013-14 season can be viewed as another step in the right direction, continuing down the path of success. 24 of those 51 wins came on the road, which not only tied the franchise record for most road victories in a season, but also served to define the character of the team. Let’s not forget that this year’s Dubs were not the Cinderella story Warriors from a season ago. After making it to the second round in the playoffs, Golden State entered this season with a target on their backs. They would not be sneaking up on teams anymore, which makes their victory total all that more impressive.

The Warriors tied a franchise record with 24 road wins, three of which came in buzzer-beater form.

And how was this impressive feat accomplished? The answer is simple: defense. The Dubs finished the regular season ranked third in the NBA and first in the Western Conference in team defensive efficiency, allowing only 99.9 points per 100 opponent possessions. For a team that relies on jump-shooting as much as the Warriors do, it was crucial that they develop a defensive identity that could travel with them. Sometimes the shots fall and sometimes they don’t, but if you play good defense, you’ll be in most games. That identity was solidified, instilling the internal belief that the Dubs could and should win, regardless of the venue in which they were playing. Obviously that result didn’t always come to fruition, but that’s an essential characteristic of a team striving to win a championship.

In regards to the playoff campaign, it’s not as black and white as it seems on the surface. Yes, the Dubs failed to reach the second round, but that doesn’t necessarily imply a regression from the year before. It had been discussed at length all season, but deserves mentioning here again: this was a historic year in the NBA as far as the competitive disparity between conferences go. Just making the playoffs in the Western Conference was essentially the equivalent of an 82-game postseason push, so let’s not ignore the context when evaluating the season as a whole. Just ask Phoenix or Minnesota. And what was the Warriors’ prize for their second-straight trip to the postseason? A meeting with a severely stacked #3 seed in the Los Angeles Clippers, who just happen to boast two All-Stars and one of the top coaches in the game. Oh, and they were going to have to beat them without their best defender and rim protector in Andrew Bogut, who would miss the entire series due to injury after being relatively healthy all season long. So, yes, the Warriors lost. But many would argue that a #6 seed pushing a #3 seed to the final minutes of Game 7 under that scenario is a victory in itself. You’ll have a hard time convincing the players to be satisfied with that, but it just goes to show that you can’t evaluate this season based on results alone. Some wins don’t show up on paper. Sometimes progress isn’t immediately measurable.

Stephen Curry and Chris Paul embrace following a hard-fought Game 7 that came down to the wire. (photo: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty)

Expectations are a good thing. They don’t exist without good cause, nor do they persist without good reason. The fact that an aura of disappointment, however slight, hovers over and around any discussion of the season the Warriors just had shows just how far they’ve come in a relatively short amount of time. Truth be told, they set themselves up for this. In the NBA, rarely do teams ever jump from worst to first in a quick turnaround. Almost always, there are growing pains along the way, and the Warriors are learning just how painful those aches can be. It wouldn’t be ludicrous to think that in a certain way, the Warriors “skipped” a year of the process when they bounced the Nuggets from the playoffs a year ago. With all the promise that run offered, coupled with an upgraded roster entering this year, it’s not hard to see how this season was in all likelihood doomed to be a so-called “disappointment”. It was just going to be extremely difficult to live up to those expectations, however realistic they may or may not have been. Going from bad to good is the easy part. Good to great…that’s a whole different animal.

And that is the task that lies in front of the Warriors now. Obviously some significant changes have already taken place, and next year’s team could look very different from the one we just watched, particularly as it relates to the coaching staff and style they implement. That said, this is a players league, and that bodes well for the Dubs, both next season and well into the future. We can be disappointed that the Warriors fell short this season, but the fact remains that this roster still boasts the likes of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee, Andrew Bogut, Draymond Green and others, and if you’re a fan of the team, you have to feel pretty good about that.

This season was another step in the process. Should or could they have done better is a debate with plenty of support on both sides, and yet, it’s almost entirely irrelevant now. What’s important is the future. What’s critical is how and when the Dubs are able to take that next step. What’s clear is that this ship is headed in the right direction, and regardless of who becomes the new captain, it’s obvious he’ll have plenty of wind to push the sails.

So as we close the book on the 2013-14 season, let’s just say this: It’s not the ending we hoped for, but then again, it’s not really the end either.

 

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Golden State Warriors.

 

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