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OAKLAND, Calif. – Rookie forward Draymond Green walked out of Golden State's practice facility Friday holding a yellow "We Are Warriors" shirt, taking home the small souvenir to savor the team's captivating playoff run.
Even though the season ended so painfully, the Warriors will carry more positive memories from the 2012-13 campaign than they ever imagined back in training camp. No banner will be raised and no rings will be awarded, but there was a sense of accomplishment all around.
"The expectations for us this year, we exceeded all of them plus way more," Green said.
The Warriors overcame injury setbacks all season to earn a rare playoff berth, pulled off a first-round upset against Denver and pushed the four-time champion San Antonio Spurs to six games in the Western Conference semifinals. The franchise won more postseason games than it had in 36 years and might be on the brink of something even more special.
If Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut can find a way to stay healthy, the Warriors believe they can be a major championship contender in the coming years.
"I think so," Curry said. "We're young. We have a great core. And for us to get to the level we got to this year, two wins away from the Spurs to get to the Western Conference finals, you feel like you have the confidence to do it, the right pieces to do it. It takes a lot of things going for anybody to win a championship, but I feel like we have the pieces to do it."
At the start of the season, Warriors general manager Bob Myers referred to his revamped roster as "good on paper."
Questions persisted about how Curry would return from two surgeries on his troublesome right ankle and whether Bogut's surgically repaired left ankle would hold up. Coach Mark Jackson even joked that his family's financial footing depended on his inside-out duo staying healthy.
Curry averaged a career-high 22.9 points and 6.9 assists per game. He made 272 3-pointers — three more than Ray Allen's record of 269 set with Seattle in 2005-06 — shot 45 percent from the floor, including from beyond the arc, and elevated his game to star status in the playoffs.
Bogut began the season in the lineup before missing 50 of 82 regular season games, acknowledging he rushed back too soon. While still hobbled by the left ankle, he broke out in the playoffs to give Golden State the lift it had hoped for inside.
By the time Thursday night's 94-82 home loss to the Spurs ended the season, Bogut said he "was so jacked up on anti-inflammatories" he couldn't take an injection in his ankle to ease the pain if he wanted to.
"I think it was hell for me for four months. And the last three weeks until (Thursday), for me, were great," Bogut said.
Bogut plans to spend the summer splitting time between his native Australia and Croatia with family and friends. He expects to be at full strength by training camp and his goal is to play all 82 games next season, which he has never done since Milwaukee drafted him with the No. 1 overall pick in 2005 out of Utah.
All-Star power forward David Lee tried to gut his way through a torn right hip flexor for most of the playoffs and plans to have surgery in the coming weeks. Top reserve Brandon Rush should be back as well after he tore a ligament in his left knee in the home opener. And dynamic rookie Harrison Barnes, who sat out the final quarter with headaches after taking a hard fall, sported six stitches above his right eye but said he'd be just fine — and so would the Warriors.
"I think when people look at this team, coming in next year, they look at us as legit," Barnes said.
The Warriors will be somewhat limited in free agency this summer.
The two biggest questions will be deciding whether to re-sign free agent Jarrett Jack and possibly Carl Landry, who is likely to opt out of the final year of his two-year, $8 million deal. Both Jack and Landry said they hope to be back next season, citing all the right phrases players usually use.
Whether the Warriors can afford them remains unclear. If Landry does opt out, Golden State will be at about the $70,307,000 luxury tax line already, give or take a million.
"Being a realist, you probably can't keep both of them," Bogut said.
Myers is expected to address the roster when he meets with reporters Monday. Jackson spent Friday holding exit interviews with players, but he praised his team following its season-sending loss the previous night, saying "it's inspiring to think of what we were able to accomplish this year and the foundation that has been laid."
"It was a great season for us as an organization," Warriors owner Joe Lacob said. "We turned it around is the bottom line. This organization and this team needed to be turned around and a lot of things had to happen for that turnaround to happen."
Golden State's biggest reason to be optimistic lies with its greatest asset: Curry.
For the first time since his rookie season, the dynamic point guard will be able to work on his game and not rehab his right ankle. Curry said he's looking forward to giving his legs some rest for a while and wants to concentrate on getting to the free throw line more next season when he resumes practice.
With most of the key contributors set to return next season, he doubts he'll be able to stay away from the court long.
"You can't help but be excited about taking that next step next year," Curry said. "And the challenges that will bring also, but you try to live up to that pressure."
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP