(Eds: Updates with Warriors winning tiebreaker for 7th lottery spot. With AP Photos.)
By ANTONIO GONZALEZ
AP Sports Writer
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) - On his first day as coach of the Golden State Warriors, Mark Jackson declared the "Bay Area will never be the same," promising the playoffs in his debut season and NBA championships to follow.
About the only real changes so far have been Jackson's words.
The former broadcaster stood in a corner of Oracle Arena recently, reflecting on his comments. He had no regrets, welcomed the criticism and admitted he was only trying to spice up a losing culture. Asked if he was ready to make another playoff prediction next season, Jackson looked around the hallway and smiled.
"Growing and maturing," he said. "No comment."
A season at the Warriors' helm is enough to humble anybody.
Jackson never really had a chance to show his skills on the sideline in this lockout-shortened season, stumbling to a 23-43 record. Injuries gutted Golden State and a trade that sent leading scorer Monta Ellis to Milwaukee at the deadline for center Andrew Bogut - expected to be healthy come fall and become the franchise star - did the rest.
That only began to tell the story.
Wins became so scarce and injuries so common that Jackson had to refute questions in the final month that the team was losing intentionally to improve its position in the draft lottery, which might've been the one thing that worked. The Warriors won Friday's drawing to break a tie with Toronto, also 23-43, moving up to the seventh spot and dramatically improving the team's chances of staying there.
Golden State needs to finish in the top seven after the May 30 lottery to keep the protected pick, held by Utah from a previous trade. The Warriors have a 72.4 percent chance of staying in the top seven; Toronto, now in eighth, has only a 12.5 percent chance of moving into the top seven.
The franchise has tried to leaving nothing else to chance.
Owner Joe Lacob sped up the plan to replace general manager Larry Riley with Bob Myers, the former sports agent and assistant GM, making the move two games before the season ended. That might still do little to appease fans.
At one point, frustration simmered so much that the Bay Area fans - amazingly still among the most vocal and loyal fan bases anywhere despite supporting a team with one playoff appearance since 1994 - booed Lacob so long during Hall of Famer Chris Mullin's jersey retirement ceremony that the clip became perhaps the franchise's most viewed national highlight this season.
Not exactly the kind of serenade the new Warriors owner had hoped for after hiring Jackson, Myers and executive board member Jerry West during a complete overhaul of the front office last summer.
"We have taken some hits this year, clearly," said Lacob, who bought Golden State with Peter Guber two years ago for an NBA-record $450 million. "I'm willing to take those hits. I paid a lot of money to take those hits. I can take them. I can get booed by 20,000 people and I can take them. I have to expect that (as part of the process)."
How many more hits Golden State and its fervent fans have to endure remains a mystery.
Expectations will be higher than they have in years at the start of training camp. The Warriors will finally have a starting lineup that has a legitimate chance to make the playoffs.
Health, however, is a huge concern.
Bogut, the 2005 No. 1 overall pick and best center the franchise has had in at least a decade, fractured his left ankle Jan. 25 with Milwaukee and sat out the rest of the season. Point guard Stephen Curry repeatedly sprained his surgically repaired right ankle this year while playing only 26 games. And David Lee missed the final eight games, undergoing surgery to repair a torn abdominal muscle.
All are expected back by training camp.
"I know it's tough to be a Warrior fan right now, not winning and not being relevant in April," Curry said last week. "We say it every year, but we are building, trying to build and go in the right direction and get to that level. We haven't done it in a very long time. So you've just got to keep at it.
"That's the only thing we can control as players and coaches."
Together, Bogut and Curry could provide a potent inside-out combo. Lee and standout rookie Klay Thompson could add a dynamic scoring punch, and Golden State could avoid the devastating injuries needed to make a playoff run.
All that could happen, sure.
History has shown otherwise.
Myers remained adamant about his hometown team's chances next season, if healthy. "And I think we'll be healthy," he said. "The team we will field next year is a team that can make the playoffs and is a team that is set at a lot of positions that are important in the NBA."
The young general manager stopped short of making any playoff promises, or any promises really, other than what he's after on the roster - more size and more veterans. A 37-year-old from nearby Danville, perhaps Myers has watched too many of his predecessors offer the same hope, and fail to deliver, to make any promises.
"The thing that needs the most addressing is winning, because that's what's going to come back at us," Myers said. "We have to do that, and we have to do more than say we're going to do that. We have to do that."
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