It has been less than three years since Warriors Owner Joe Lacob addressed the fans at Oracle Arena and pointed to the Warriors’ 1975 Championship banner and said, “We want another one.”
Yes, winning the NBA Finals is the ultimate goal, and it’s one shared by 30 teams. The Warriors fell 10 postseason wins short of that quest this season, but the 2012-13 season was far from a failure. The team came into the season with the goal of making the playoffs, and they exceeded pretty much everyone’s expectations with a run to the Western Conference semifinals.
The Warriors won Game 4 to force a 2-2 tie with the Spurs, but San Antonio then rallied for consecutive victories to close out the series and bring the Warriors’ 2012-13 season to a sudden halt. Nearly three weeks later, the Warriors are still the only team to post a single victory over the Spurs in the 2013 NBA Playoffs, as San Antonio swept the Grizzlies in the conference semifinals, just as they did the Lakers in the first round.
Taking two playoff games against the Spurs doesn’t mark success on its own, but this season was about making progress. The 2011-12 Warriors went 23-43 and this year’s squad increased the regular season win total by 24 games. Playing a full 82-game schedule certainly contributed to that jump, but still, it can’t be denied that the Warriors figure to be in good shape going forward.
The next challenge is to sustain this run of success and become a perennial playoff contender, and if the Warriors were to flirt with a championship or two during this run, all the better. The Dubs haven’t had consecutive playoff appearances since the early 1990s. The “We Believe” Warriors of 2007 followed their memorable playoff run with 48 wins in the 2007-08 season, which by strength of the West that season was not good enough to make the playoffs. Four-straight losing seasons followed before this season came along, and the Warriors look to be in much better shape moving forward than the previous playoff team.
For starters, the Warriors have lots of young talent. They have had successful drafts the last four years, netting them three starters (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes) who each were First Team All-Rookie selections. Plus, their No. 1 pick from 2010, Ekpe Udoh, was used as part of a trade that landed Andrew Bogut last spring. Curry’s superstar tendencies hit the mainstream in the playoffs and Barnes showed off his All-Star potential in the postseason as well, while Thompson’s ability as a defender are catching up to his ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter. With the young trio able to work on their respective games this season, it is well within the realm of possibilities that all three players enter the 2013-14 season ready for bigger and better things.
And don’t sleep on David Lee or Bogut. Lee is coming off an All-Star season in which he led the NBA in double-doubles and 20-and-10 games, and Bogut is the anchoring force on defense whose impact on the game far exceeds his statistical output.
Health will be the biggest hurdle that the Warriors will need to overcome. One can only wonder how far the Warriors could have gone this season if Curry wasn’t slowed by his ankle issue, if Bogut had two good wheels, if Lee didn’t have to deal with a torn right hip flexor for which he has since undergone surgery, if Barnes hadn’t smacked his head hard on the hardwood and if Brandon Rush hadn’t torn his ACL and MCL in his left knee in the second game of the season. While injuries are part of the game, it’s tough to reach your potential when key players are hampered with injuries. Barring any setbacks, the Warriors should, for the most part, be at full strength when training camp commences this fall. The one exception to that could be Rush, who underwent surgery in January and has no set timetable for a complete recovery.
While the futures of Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack are unclear, the Warriors’ core will be back. All five starters are under contract for at least next season, and larger roles could be in store for Draymond Green, Festus Ezeli and Kent Bazemore. Toss in the veteran experience of Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins and the Warriors are set up to follow this season’s success with more triumphs in 2013-14 and beyond.
Even without a draft pick this year and without the expectation of a big-time free agent signing, there’s still a lot to like about the Warriors prospects for the immediate future. Now it will just be a matter of proving it on the court, something we’ll have to sadly wait about five more months for. But for the first time in a long time, it’s not that farfetched to point to the rafters at Oracle Arena and picture another Championship banner alongside that of 1975.