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Fending off NBA nihilism after Durant’s move

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Kevin Durant's move to the Golden State Warriors threatens to turn team-building for every other club into a futile pursuit. The task for the Kings and their management, then, is to still understand there's a light at the end of the tunnel even if the Warriors basically demolished every team's tunnel, trapping them inside, and are outside laughing.

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

This offseason the Sacramento Kings have made some respectable moves. They traded back in the NBA Draft, turning the number eight pick into three picks and an international prospect and have done well to placate their team with veterans on good contracts. They will likely trade some or all of Rudy Gay, Kosta Koufos and Ben McLemore as they continue to rework the roster.

All that work likely won’t matter this season—not after Kevin Durant signed with the Golden State Warriors, forming a super team liable to set the NBA ablaze. Somehow, this will be different than last season, when the Warriors only allowed nine teams to experience either the thrill of victory or the relief of survival in the regular season. I guess with Durant in tow, maybe the teams lucky enough to beat them would only feel the latter?

Regardless, the mission for the Kings stays the same. Presumably, the point of team-building is to compete for a championship. The Kings have been public about their contentment with simply making the playoffs, being first round fodder for a Warriors team that will almost definitely whoever they face to shreds. Whatever the end, the means do not change. If anything, the Kings, and every team in the league except for maybe the Cavaliers, have to operate in their own vacuum; maximizing assets and hoping to be the most competent iteration of themselves if a chance to win maximally ever comes again in the near future.

It would be nice to conceive of a world where teams collude against the Warriors, but that world is too idealistic; it does not exist. The Mavericks just took on Andrew Bogut’s salary into their cap space, facilitating this super team, because it helped with their chances of also adding Harrison Barnes and leaving this offseason with at least something, anything. Teams will continue to operate in their own best interests, and the league will move on as it always has—just this time, we all kind of know to what end all that movement is going toward.

There is no conceiving of a way to stop this Warriors team. Not yet, anyway. Miami’s Big Three of yesteryear at least had some clear flaws—Wade and LeBron’s initial fit, whether to play Bosh at the 4 or 5, building a more fitting supporting cast—but the Warriors do not have any of these flaws. You can probably still beat them up on the glass a bit (in which case, thank god the Kings have 93 centers), but Curry-Thompson-Durant-Green represents the most dizzying array of complementary basketball skills the league has ever seen.

Vanquishing them is a feat for either the Basketball Gods or LeBron James, the chosen one himself. The Kings, meanwhile, can open up close to $50 million in cap space next summer. Obviously a lot of what happens then is contingent on what becomes of the league’s next round of labor negotiations, but the real goal for the Kings is preparing for a reality under a new CBA where they can either keep DeMarcus Cousins or transition into a rebuild more seamlessly than their last attempt at doing so. They have to make the playoffs, and they have to continue being prudent this offseason.

Durant’s addition probably shores up whatever fallibility the 2016 Cavaliers exposed in the Warriors, and with it went the hope of a more open route to winning a championship. For a team like the Kings, maybe that makes the ultimate goal a bit less lofty in the short-term, but the means of achieving it are still the same, and maybe that is the best reason to retain hope that all this actually matters.