Warriors' fast finish creates a buzz among the faithful

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 22, 2005 8:51 am
TIMES COLUMNIST
September 22, 2005

OAKLAND - Warriors fever in September?

Yeah, that might be a stretch. After all, the A's and Giants (barely) are making playoff pushes, Cal's undefeated football team is climbing up the national polls, and Stanford's train-wreck loss to UC Davis has our morbid attention.

The 49ers, meanwhile, are filling up bulletin boards throughout the NFL with wild quotes, the Raiders are consulting Oliver Stone about conspiracy theories, and the Sharks are finally playing hockey again.

Our sports plates are definitely overflowing.

Yet you can't deny there is already a definite buzz about the Warriors, who open training camp in Hawaii in 11 days.

The Warriors have missed the NBA playoffs 11 consecutive seasons, but they've sold over 3,100 more season tickets this year than they sold last year.

Expectations have been skyrocketing ever since the Warriors went 18-10 down the stretch after trading for point guard Baron Davis on Feb. 24.

Of course, Warriors fans have been fooled before, have bought into their team's this-will-be-the-year spiels. Borrowing a line from Fed Chief Alan Greenspan, they've been victims of "irrational exuberance" before.

This year, though, seems different. Those high expectations seem downright rational, assuming Davis remains healthy and continues to be the leader and superstar the Warriors so desperately needed.

"The players, from what they've done this summer, feel this is real," Warriors executive vice president Chris Mullin said Wednesday afternoon during a pre-training camp news conference at a McAfee Coliseum luxury suite. "I think the excitement is about the talent that fits together that can win. It's not a marketing ploy.

"I think right now we've got a bunch of guys who are hungry. They're welcoming the expectations and want to go out and prove that together they're winners."

Last season, when Mullin and coach Mike Montgomery were rookies, only the most faithful fans expected the Warriors to make the playoffs.

Montgomery knows times have changed, that expectations have gone off the charts. Fans didn't scoop up season tickets to watch the Warriors finish below .500 and miss the playoffs -- again.

The first question Wednesday to Montgomery, although basically facetious, was about his job security this year.

"We're going to hear a lot about playoffs," Montgomery said. "And that's fair. But, you know, it's not a make-or-break thing with the playoffs. ... I think that given the fact that we haven't had a winning season for 11 years, maybe that's a starting point. Let's talk about winning more than we lose.

"But I think if you do that, you're going to be in a position to potentially be in the playoffs. ... We want to give fans, everybody, the opportunity to say, 'Hey, we've got a shot.' And I think we do."

The Warriors will open camp with all the key players they had last season plus draft picks Ike Diogu, Chris Taft and Monta Ellis.

Mullin said there's still a chance he could add someone to the roster, using part or all of their available $5.2 million trade exception.

According to Mullin, the Warriors have had "internal" talks about Chicago Bulls center Eddy Curry, a restricted free agent, and are interested in a handful of other players.

Of course, the key to the Warriors' playoff hopes is Davis. The Warriors were 16-38 when he arrived, then won 18 of their final 28 games. During that stretch, they beat the Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings twice.

Davis averaged 19.5 points and 8.3 assists as a Warrior, despite battling a long list of nagging injuries. Now he's healthier and stronger.

"You've got to see him," Mullin said. "You'll be pretty impressed. He's been training, taking care of his body, strengthening, just getting ready to have a great season."

So what does the thought of having Davis for a full season, not just 28 games, mean to Mullin?

"A smile on my face," Mullin said, flashing that smile. "Excitement. Trust. Confidence. Leadership. And more importantly, a whole lot of talent. Or as important.

"He's got a unique combination of talent, skill, personality. And he backs it up. And he does things with a certain flair."

Maybe it's not too early for Warriors fever, after all.

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