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Shiny new arena could help Warriors become one of NBA’s elite franchises

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We’ve seen this play before: the Warriors shock the world with an emotional first-round upset, the future looks bright and then the team spirals back into the basement quicker than a Run TMC fastbreak.

Is there any reason to think the plot will take a different turn this time around?     

The Warriors will be hard-pressed to extend this turnaround season beyond their second-round playoff series with the San Antonio Spurs, which tips off at the AT&T Center tonight. But the stars are lining up nicely for the next chapter and the biggest game is being played off the court.  

The Warriors unveiled an updated design plan for their proposed waterfront arena at Piers 30-32 on Sunday and if legislation survives city and state government, it could revolutionize a franchise that has wallowed in mediocrity for decades.

This isn’t a judgment about whether a basketball arena is appropriate for The City’s waterfront or it’s impact on traffic in an already-congested neighborhood; those are debates for another section of the paper. Here’s the case for why a state-of-the-art building could push the Warriors into the NBA’s upper-echelon with the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat.

San Francisco is a world-class city with big-ticket sports teams. The Giants are among the elite franchises in baseball and you can’t have a debate about the all-time best football teams without mentioning the 49ers. The fans in Oakland are among the most dedicated, passionate and rowdiest in the country, but it’s hard to convince top-notch free agents to play on a slab of concrete next to the freeway.

More than any sport, the NBA is about glitz and glamor, showtime, living the red carpet lifestyle. Consequently, when the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony hit free agency, only five or six teams — the Knicks, Lakers, Heat, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls and, maybe, the Dallas Mavericks — are ever in the running. Can you remember the last time a marquee name signed with the Portland Trailblazers, Milwaukee Bucks or Cleveland Cavaliers?

This isn’t to say that you can’t build a winner in other markets. The Spurs, Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder are prime examples of how success can be sustained through smart drafting, good coaching and savvy moves in free agency, areas where the Warriors failed miserably for years.

But now, things are turning around. The culture is changing with Mark Jackson, the front office drafted Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes, traded for David Lee and Jarrett Jack, and snagged Carl Landry in free agency.  

With the pieces in the place, San Francisco will be a viable destination for big-name free agents by the time the proposed arena opens for the 2017-18 season. The facility will be among the finest in sports with stunning views of the Bay on the foot of one of the world’s most spectacular skylines. How could the Warriors not be in the conversation when Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis go shopping for a new home?   

Yes, a new narrative is unfolding for Warriors basketball and The City could wind up being one of the best basketball towns in the country.

Paul Gackle is a columnist for The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at pgackle@sfexaminer.com and followed on Twitter @GackleReport.