Frantz: West will still be stacked

You know, it’s really too bad the NBA couldn’t have hired that Miss Teen South Carolina chick to realign its divisions — at least for the Warriors’ sake. Maybe the geographically-challenged Miss “I personally believe U.S. Americans should help South Africa and the Iraq, therefore such as, and the Asian countries” would stick Oakland in the Eastern half of the United States, giving the Warriors a realistic opportunity to contend for a conference championship.

After all, she probably doesn’t have a map and Carolina is spelled an awful lot like California, so they have to be close to one another, right?

Such as.

Sure, the East has improved itself with the help of Western imports Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to the Boston Celtics and the Detroit Pistons are nobody’s patsies, but the bottom line is the Warriors would be right in the thick of it with the likes of Cleveland and Miami for the third seed in the NBA’s inferior conference, were geography not a factor.

Unfortunately for Nellie and his merry band of runners and gunners, stuck in the wild West they are. And the more things change, the more they stay the same — with the Western Conference being the gauntlet of hell for young, up-and-coming teams such as the Warriors.

The good news for Golden State, of course, is the tremendous shot of “We can play with anybody!” they got from last year’s playoff upset of the Dallas Mavericks. Taking one of the best regular-season teams in history out in the first round was a monumental step for the Golden ones.

The bad news is that none of the adrenaline and confidence that drove Baron Davis and company through that short playoff series will mean much in 82 games spread out over six long months against the heavy hitters in the West.

The loaded Mavericks will be just as driven by their playoff failure as the Warriors will be buoyed by their success, which could have them steamrolling the conference in an attempt to get their respect back. Steve Nash’s Phoenix Suns are still one of the three most talented teams in the NBA, and just as much of a threat to win it all as the Mavs are. The Rockets, with MVP candidate Yao Ming and all-everything Tracy McGrady, will finally be able to relax and play their game with Rick Adelman taking over for the aneurysm-in-waiting that was Jeff Van Gundy. And if Andrei Kirilenko stops pouting, he’ll join Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer to form their own Big Three in Utah.

And then there’s the real Big Three. The San Antonio Spurs have won four of the last nine NBA championships and there is absolutely no reason to thing they won’t make it five of 10 by the time the season’s story has been written.

And so, you may ask, whither the Warriors?

Davis is one of the truly great leaders in all of team sports, as evidenced by that ’06 playoff run, and Nellie can get more out a team than nearly any coach in basketball. If the coach can keep Stephen Jackson under control for the entire season, and if Al Harrington can work with Andris Biedrins and rookie Brandan Wright to revive the lost art of rebounding in Oakland, the Warriors could well have enough firepower and, most importantly, depth to make a serious run at the postseason.

But alas, when we turn our attention to the three most important words in real estate — location, location and location — we remember that even all the right moves and all the lucky bounces in the world don’t mean as much in the West. Five of the top seven teams in the league play ball on the Warriors’ half of the continent, which makes it hard to get too terribly excited about the playoff prospects as we get set to tip off the season. But one thing is certain for fans of one of the most exciting teams in the NBA: It’s gonna be one helluva ride.

Sports personality Bob Frantz is a regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at bfrantz@examiner.com.

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