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OAKLAND — For a team 16 games below .500 with two months left in the season, successes are hard to come by.

The excuses and explanations are often aplenty, but the positives are usually the product of spin and exaggeration.

The Warriors, however, have legitimate fruit from this lost season: the development of some young players they can now rely on, and much better bartering tools on the trade market this offseason.

"It hasn't been a pleasure to win 19 games," general manager Larry Riley said in a phone interview. "It's been a real pleasure to see those kind of things happen with our team. We want these last 28 games to be used to continue to develop our squad.

"When the season's over, we want to be able to look back and say these guys played enough that we know what they are."

The growth of guards Marco Belinelli, C.J. Watson and Anthony Morrow, the emergence of swingman Kelenna Azubuike as a core player and even forward Brandan Wright solidifying himself as a reliable starter all give those in Warriors management something on which to hang their hats for this season.

The odd part is, these truths might not have been discovered had the season gone differently, had the Warriors been healthy and had they been a better team.

Chances are that Belinelli would have spent another year on the bench had guard Monta Ellis not missed the first 43 games recovering from left ankle surgery, especially after guard Jamal Crawford was acquired in late November.

As it is now, the Warriors have learned that Belinelli can create his own shot and has improved exponentially on defense.

Perhaps no Warrior's stock has risen higher than Watson's. He's turned out to be a quality backup point guard — which makes him a valuable commodity.

Remember, just seven months ago, the Warriors were uncertain enough about Watson to trade for point guard Marcus Williams. Just four months ago, the Warriors were so unsure about Watson that they named undrafted rookie DeMarcus Nelson the starting point guard.

Because of injuries, Watson got game experience to supplement the off-court work he put in. Now, coach Don Nelson calls Watson the team's most improved player.

Imagine if they didn't get a chance to see Watson and waived him in January before his contract was guaranteed?

"He always had that ability to do what he does," Ellis said. "He just needed to get the opportunity. This year, he got the opportunity and he helped us in so many ways."

The Warriors nearly passed up the opportunity to retain Azubuike this offseason. If veteran swingman Maurice Evans would have taken the same deal from the Warriors, Golden State probably wouldn't have matched the three-year, $9 million offer sheet Azubuike signed with the Los Angeles Clippers in July.

Now, that looks like a bargain. Which would you rather have, Azubuike at the current price or guard Jason Richardson, who is making $40 million over the same three years? Before the season, when Azubuike was an inconsistent talent, the answer might have been Richardson.

But with the Warriors knowing what they know now — that Azubuike is a solid starter or a significant weapon off the bench who can hit 3-pointers and rebound, and "he's even making some passes once in a while," as Nelson said Tuesday night — Azubuike doesn't look like such a bad option.

He'll certainly be more tradeable this offseason.

While Wright hadn't gotten significant minutes, even before he dislocated his left shoulder, he has proved something to the team. He's perhaps its best low-post scorer, and he's shown he can be an effective starter.

All of this adds up to a potentially busy offseason for those in Warriors management. They can afford to make a three-for-one trade or sacrifice one of their young talents without depleting the farm system.

Even for a team 16 games under .500, that ain't all bad.

Notes: Belinelli practiced for the first time since spraining his right ankle. He said he's about 99 percent healthy. Nelson said Belinelli would be active for tonight's game, but the coach wasn't sure he would play his "rusty" guard. ... Center Andris Biedrins (sprained right ankle) did not practice, just shot on the side. ... Azubuike spent much of practice on the side with an ice pack on his left knee.

Contact Marcus Thompson II at mthomps2@bayareanewsgroup.com

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