With no basketball to speak of, we’ve turned to the What If, to simulation, and to the world of video games. In that spirit, we’re forced to ask and answer some uncomfortable questions. As an example, a set-up anecdote: When I first kicked around the idea for what you’re about to read, a friend was describing to me his more-recent NBA simulation, a complex game in which he runs pretty much every team. Knowing my appropriate fandom, he mentioned something that caught my eye.
“The Raptors just don’t really sim that well,” he wrote, “so they’ve been on the treadmill of mediocrity for a while.”
I saw that, and gasped. But, isn’t that with Kyle Lowry, the most winningest Raptor of all time? Ah, but of course Lowry’s skills don’t sim all that well. Sure, three-point shots rule the day — and I’ve spent many hours employing what is effectively the Houston Rockets’ strategy of threes and dunks — but you try taking charges in a video game.
Speaking of the Rockets, they used to pay Kyle Lowry millions of dollars. That is until the fateful day of July 11, 2012 when he was traded to the Toronto Raptors for Gary Forbes and a 1st round pick (which went to OKC in the James Harden trade, and became Steven Adams). Fittingly, that was the year I purchased the last basketball video game of my life, NBA 2K12 with the rosters set in place from the 2011-12 season. In this scenario, Kyle Lowry is still a Houston Rocket and we get a do-over — though not the one we’d want.
How This Will Work
I opened up a new save file on NBA 2K12 and became the General Manager of the Toronto Raptors. I assure you, I am not Bryan Colangelo—I will not be creating any kind of burner account, at least not yet—but I am also no Masai Ujiri. I am going to manage a roster, hire/fire coaches, and figure things out all according to two tenets.
- I am trying to win a championship as quickly as I can.
- I cannot acquire Kyle Lowry.
- I cannot play any games. I can only simulate.
Let’s Get Started - Year 1
When this game begins, Kyle Lowry is 25 years old—a 76 overall on a 3-year, $17.71M contract with a “Neutral” personality. He is the third-best player on the Houston Rockets, behind 79-overall guard Kevin Martin, who, as an aside, is one of my favourite players ever since I love a good sharpshooter, and 77-overall forward Luis Scola.
The Raptors are not in great shape. They’re rated as the 28th team overall (28th offense, 22nd defense). I’ve only got $4.56M in cap room to work with. And, uh, my best player is 71-overall Leandro Barbosa.
Let’s dive into Year 1. There are holes everywhere on my roster — the best potential comes from B+ Andrea Bargnani, who is 25 years old when our sim begins. DeMar has B potential. Essentially, no one on this roster is off-limits. Remember: the Raptors went 22-60 the previous year.
Nevertheless, I’m going to take a wait-and-see approach in the first season of my sim. I’m not going to go out and make a big trade, unless one comes knocking at my door. Hopefully, we’ll have a high pick in the Autogenerated 2012 NBA Draft (yeah, fake names, real schools, and, I guess, real talent.) We stink, and find ourselves quickly in the basement of the Atlantic Division. A weird thing from the sim: Toronto loses on February 1st to Boston by 41 points and then win on February 3rd over Washington by 33. What is going on?
I’m offered Tony Parker for DeMar DeRozan and Jose Calderon. I decline. Then, Jose gets hurt. I then trade Barbosa at the trade deadline to the Magic for 64-overall JJ Redick and a future 1st-round pick.
We finish the season as the third-worst team in the league, but Andrea Bargnani somehow makes the All-NBA Second Team, truly a bizarre outcome. Meanwhile, Steve Nash’s 7-seed Phoenix Suns make a run all the way to the NBA Finals, only to get swept by the Big 3 Miami Heat.
Into The Off-Season
Bargnani, DeRozan, Ed Davis, and Jerryd Bayless make big leaps in overall rating heading into year two. Bargnani and DeRozan are now 73 overall, Davis is a 71, and Bayless hits 69. Much like the real Raptors of the day, it looks like I need to fill the small forward spot. As such, we decline Solomon Alabi’s option. He becomes a free agent.
Some huge news: Toronto wins the draft lottery! We select fictional Lowell Hodges, a power forward from BYU with A+ potential. With our second round pick, we take a swing on Anthony Shelton a 6’7” small forward (D-rated) from Ohio State. We’ll do some maneuvering now that we’ve got forward depth to try and bring in an impact guard — we need a Kyle Lowry-type.
While I ultimately can’t get a handle on a guard, I add bench depth at the centre spot: Zyundras Ilgauskas will keep it warm down there.
Meanwhile, Kyle Lowry becomes Jrue Holiday’s backup in Philly.
Now Onto Year 2
Nothing notable in the regular season for the Raptors. We somehow beat the 23-4 defending champion Miami Heat in December. We get offered Vince Carter in a trade — very funny, computer gods — but I decline. Hodges makes All-Rookie First Team, Bargnani repeats on the All-NBA Second Team. And I can only ask, once again: what is happening?
In the NBA Finals, the Oklahoma City Thunder, led by Finals MVP Russell Westbrook, defeat another 7-seed: the New Jersey Nets.
Back To The Off-Season
Ilgauskas retires. Assistant Coach Alex English’s contract expires, and the only coach that fits in my price range is Sam Mitchell. The parallels between my unreality and actual history are terrifying. I brace myself for fights in the locker room.
Linas Kleiza picks up his player option, and I pick up Ed Davis’s option. I have the 8th and 27th picks in the draft. I move up to the seven-spot by dealing Weems and the number eight pick to Minnesota. I also pick up a second rounder in next year’s draft for my trouble.
I draft point guard Stan Bradshaw from Mississippi. But, here’s the thing: I don’t think he, Bayless, and Calderon are gonna cut it. I especially don't think they’re going to cut it when I see who’s available on the free agent market. It’s time to make a splash.
I make maximum offer sheets to restricted free agents Stephen Curry (88 overall) and James Harden (81 overall). Curry signs; the Warriors match. Harden signs; the Thunder don’t.
Yes, that’s right. The Toronto Raptors now have themselves James Harden. It’s a day of celebration in digital Toronto. Meanwhile, DeMar’s restricted free agency doesn’t go so well. He and James Johnson both re-up by signing their offer sheets.
2013 Roster Update
All right, through all the wheeling and dealing, let’s take stock of where our surreal Toronto Raptors are right now with their team. On the roster are the following players and their ranking:
Starters: Jerryd Bayless 72, James Harden 81, DeMar DeRozan 75, Lowell Hodges 81 (digital creation), Andrea Bargnani 74
Bench: Ed Davis 73, Amir Johnson 70, James Johnson 66, Linas Kleiza 65, Stan Bradshaw 65 (digital creation), Jose Calderon 62, JJ Redick 61
If we squint, that looks like a team that could win some games. But how many? Big days are ahead for the Raptors franchise. In Part 2, we’ll see just how big. Get yourselves ready for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 campaigns. Are playoffs in the future for Toronto? What about a championship?
What about world domination?