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How will the NBA respond to the Warriors’ dynasty? The same as it always does

The superteam era is no different than other eras. Nobody will hold back in trying to knock off the champs.

NBA: Playoffs-Houston Rockets at Utah Jazz Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

When Kevin Durant declared he would join the 73-win Golden State Warriors back in July 2016, we all acknowledged that franchise’s supreme excellence and immediately discounted every other team’s hopes of beating them. Frankly, very little over the past two years has changed the consensus thinking on that.

Of course, the rest of the NBA didn’t fold when Durant made that fateful decision. Several teams loaded up specifically to do battle with the improved Warriors. Chief among them: the Houston Rockets, who actually came the closest to pulling it off, taking Golden State to seven in the Western Conference Finals this season.

The Spurs didn’t blink upon coming into contact with the mighty Warriors machine. In fact, San Antonio appeared to have Golden State’s number before Zaza Pachulia stepped under Kawhi Leonard in Game 1 of the 2017 West finals. Kawhi has barely played since.

The Cavaliers with LeBron James didn’t stop trying to one-up the Warriors, though they didn’t come close and in fact have taken a couple steps back since beating Golden State for the 2016 championship. The Thunder, whose honor Durant besmirched in the first place, threw a wild haymaker last summer and ... well, fell short. The Celtics, who just missed out on signing Durant themselves, kept playing their cards until they found a full deck.

Other teams didn’t give up in the face of what appeared to be insurmountable odds, but they have all fallen short.

What now? Well, it will be the same as it always was.

Teams well-positioned to at least threaten the Warriors will do whatever they can to get better. Other teams a little further away will build more organically. Bad teams will attempt to thrash out of mediocrity.

In other words, in the face of a clear hegemon, teams will continue do what they always try to do: get better.

This is the unspoken reality of the NBA in each of its eras. The strategies don’t really change, whether there’s a clear superpower or legitimate parity. Every team is always trying to improve. Every franchise wants to win.

Of course, different teams have different timelines. The 76ers showed us their plan over the past five years. But the goal — the long-term goal, in their case — was always to win. Now that the plan has bore plenty of fruit, the Sixers will do everything they can this summer to get better, to get an opportunity against the Warriors.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey recently discussed his franchise’s obsession with challenging Golden State and questioned why any team wouldn’t likewise be all-in on trying to knock off the Warriors. There are about 20 teams (maybe 25, even) that are nowhere close to talented enough to challenge the Warriors, even if fortune blessed them. But they are trying — not this year or even next, but eventually.

There’s no evidence any single team has changed their timeline to try to wait out the Warriors dynasty. (You could argue that Cleveland hedged its bets a little by trading Kyrie Irving for a draft pick, but that was more about planning for the potential end of the LeBron era than responding to Golden State.) And while there’s no evidence that anyone is changing their plans to put off a run at the title, there are several examples of teams loading up specifically to challenge the Warriors. Those efforts are real, even if they have thus far failed.

While it is true that the Warriors’ supremacy has made the results more predictable, it is not true that Golden State has made the NBA less competitive. Sure, the blowout NBA Finals were capped with a blowout. That’s not particularly fun. But that won’t stop the Rockets, Sixers, Spurs, Celtics, and other teams from pressing to find advantages over the Warriors in the summer and come roaring back in 2018-19. No one fears the Warriors, even if they should.

The super-team era, as it were, is the same as every other era. Team-building is all about boosting your talent, filling holes, exploiting advantages, answering top opponents’ challenges. The Warriors are everyone’s target right now. Before them, it was the Heat, and before them the Lakers and Celtics, and before them the Pistons and Spurs, and before them the Lakers, and before them the Bulls. Having a dominant force lording over the NBA, making opponents obsessed about knocking them off, is the normal state of the NBA, even if team-building has changed amid superstars’ seemingly new interest in joining together.

In this sense, the Warriors haven’t broken basketball at all. Winning a championship is always exceptionally difficult. The path is just that much harder with Golden State in the way.

That doesn’t mean any team is going to just stop trying.