It's been 11 seasons since the Warriors made the playoffs, but really, who's counting? Throughout, Bay Area fans have remained remarkably loyal, buying both season tickets and whatever sales pitch the franchise made for its resurgence. Todd Fuller is the future! Tom Gugliotta to the rescue! The Bimbo Coles Era starts now!
This year's promise comes courtesy of point guard Baron Davis, who asserts that Golden State will make the playoffs. Not next season. This season. He doesn't stop there. "We'll be one of the top 10 teams in the league," Davis says.
That's a stretch, but the franchise is headed in the right direction. After coming over from the Hornets in a steal of a trade last February, Baron led the Warriors to an 18-8 finish despite playing through a balky left knee. During the preseason a slimmed-down, healthier Davis showed that he has regained much of his quickness and jumping ability, which should allow him to get to the rim rather than continue his habit of early-in-the-shot-clock three-point bombing. "I look at Baron as our Steve Nash," says guard Jason Richardson, a near All-Star last year who has happily ceded the spotlight to Davis. "Phoenix had all those stars, and they weren't winning. Then Steve came along."
Of course it would be easy to dwell on the negatives--Davis's history of injuries and the team's shaky defense--but where's the fun in that? As the 20% bump in ticket sales testifies, Baron is winning people over. "I spent my first five years trying to convince fans that we are a good team, and they looked at me like I was on drugs," says center Adonal Foyle, the longest-tenured Warrior. "Now they come up to me and tell me how good we're going to be." --C.B.
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Warriors
I'm not saying they can't make the playoffs, but unless the other contenders are brought down by injuries, I think they're still one good frontcourt veteran away.... Troy Murphy is a 6'11" jump shooter who can't play with his back to the basket. He won't be truly valuable until they replace Adonal Foyle with a center who can score inside. Foyle defends and rebounds, but he can't even catch the ball.... Andris Biedrins was showing signs late in his rookie year of being productive in the low post, but he's too young to be a go-to guy for them. Zarko Cabarkapa looks like he's finally bouncing back from the broken wrist he suffered as a rookie [in '03], but he's another big guy who's more comfortable on the perimeter than in the paint.... They're putting a lot of emphasis on Ike Diogu to be a big post-up threat, but the only rookies who come in and make a big difference at any position are the special ones--and Diogu's not quite special.... The lack of inside scoring means that defenses won't have to double-down in the post. It'll be up to Baron Davis to create that double team by beating his man off the dribble, getting into the paint and kicking to the open man. It's not a bad strategy, because nobody can stop Baron one-on-one. When he's healthy, he's one of the league's top 10 players.
Golden State averaged 95.2 points and shot 42.4% before acquiring Baron Davis last February, and 105.4 points on 44.3% shooting afterward.
Projected Starting Lineup with 2004-05 statistics
Record: 34-48 (T11 in West)
Points scored: 98.7 (13th in NBA)
Points allowed: 100.9 (24th)
Coach: Mike Montgomery
(second season with the Warriors)
IKE DIOGU (R)
NEW ACQUISITION (R) Rookie (college stats)
JEFF REINKING/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES