Using the wonders of (old) technology, we’re using the last basketball video game I ever purchased — NBA 2K12 — to simulate a massive what if: What if the Raptors never acquired Kyle Lowry? Why that version of the game, you ask? Well, that’s when Toronto got Lowry on the team through a trade. That’s the start of when everything began to change. That’s how we began the Kyle Lowry Over Everything era — which is still ongoing.
If you missed it, here’s part one of the simulation, which sets the stage and takes us through one full season plus a pair of off-seasons. We’re about to start 2013-14, so let’s get to it.
The 2013-14 Season
After a tough year of rebuilding, the Raptors finally find themselves in the thick of the playoff hunt, fighting for one of those bottom-half spots. As Ed Davis and DeMar DeRozan’s contracts are about to expire, so I see what it will take to re-sign them. DeRozan, due to some contractual stuff — good ol’ Bird Rights — is someone I will have to wait on. Davis agrees to a 4-year, $34.41 million deal to be my sixth man. He’s a good one, that Davis.
The Raps officially clinch on April 5, the same day that star acquisition James Harden — yeah, Toronto has James Harden in this scenario; read yesterday’s part one — goes down for two to four weeks with an injury. He’ll certainly have to miss some playoff action. That’s no good.
At the end of the season, I’m notified that these Toronto Raptors led the league in FG%, which is nice. Both Andrea Bargnani and Lowell Hodges, my fictional superstar first overall draft pick, make the All-NBA Third Team. (Yes, in this digital world, Bargnani has them all fooled!) Meanwhile, fictional rookie sensation Stan Bradshaw makes the All-Rookie Second Team.
As the playoffs get underway, Toronto draws the 4-seed Cleveland Cavaliers. We lose the first game by 24 and lose JJ Redick for 4-to-6 weeks. With both Harden and Redick out, I don’t want to say that this is the universe rejecting the idea of a Raptors team succeeding without Kyle Lowry, but, well, things aren't looking so good.
Until they are. We eke out a Game 2 victory by one point and take Game 3 convincingly by a score of 114-96. The Cavs win Game 4 and we’re knotted up 2-2 for, aha, the return of James Harden.
The Raps, rejuvenated by Harden’s return, win Game 5 114-101. Then, they finish things off at home with a resounding 31-point victory. Jerryd Bayless has 26 (we always knew he had it in him!); Lowell Hodges, Toronto’s young budding superstar has 25.
The Raptors move onto the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals and face the top-seeded Knicks, led by Melo and Amar’e Stoudemire. Yes, you read that right. We lose Game 1 badly, but tie the series up in Game 2 behind 27 points from — brace yourself — Linas Kleiza. We lose Game 3, but then tie the series right back up with a dominant Game 4 victory, in which the Raps take a 32-7 lead at the end of the first quarter and never look back.
Unfortunately, as exciting as all that sounds, the Raptors’ season ends with Game 5 and Game 6 losses. The New York Knicks move on and eventually win the NBA Championship over the Los Angeles Clippers. Stoudemire is named MVP. Video games are weird.
Into The Off-Season
Of note, Gregg Popovich retires.
Naturally, I decide that Toronto should pick up Hodges’ 2-year rookie option. The league free agency tracker shows me that it’s a big year for free agents: LeBron James and Chris Bosh opt out of their Heat deals and Carmelo Anthony is prepared to leave the Knicks. Elsewhere, Philly’s Finest Kyle Lowry is a free agent as well. (But rules stipulate that we must let Lowry take his talents to any other team but the Raptors.)
My focus is on re-signing DeMar DeRozan. His market isn’t that great, and by not great, I mean terrible. As such, I re-sign him to a 4-year deal for a shade over $18M, a far cry from his real-life figures. Kleiza, Calderon, and James Johnson all walk. I shed tears of various sizes for all three.
Bosh becomes a Milwaukee Buck — which is an extremely weird sentence to write. LeBron becomes a New Orleans Hornet — an even weirder sentence to write. Carmelo becomes a Detroit Piston — weird, but it also fulfills an actual real-world outcome that should have happened (Detroit taking Melo over Darko in the 2003 Draft). And, non-Raptor Kyle Lowry? He’s signed on to be Derrick Rose’s backup in Chicago. Lowry deserves better.
The 2014-15 Season
Toronto holds steady — and as a result the team does the same, putting in another solid campaign and picking up the fifth-seed once again. Due to some injuries, none of our players make any All-NBA teams, which is an unfortunate first. The Miami Heat’s James Johnson wins Most Improved Player — which makes some sense (but we also know roughly how that will turn out in real life).
The Raptors head to the playoffs once again. But this time there’s an even more cruel turn of events: Toronto has to play Lowry’s Chicago Bulls in the playoffs, defeating them in six games. (Somehow we lose Game 2 of the series because we only score 59 points?) Ending the post-season for Lowry feels mean but Toronto carries on.
Unfortunately, that carrying on runs the Raptors right into the eventual champion Boston Celtics. Toronto loses there in a tightly-contested seven games. Rajon Rondo, who averages 9.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 9.1 assists for the Finals series, is eventually named Finals MVP. Going out on top, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett retire, as do Spurs legend Tim Duncan and Thunder legend Manu Ginobili. (I guess since I signed Harden, they went and got themselves a guard?) In all this, I have to ask once again: what can the Raptors do to get over the hump?
As I head into the 2015 off-season, Jerryd Bayless is prepared to walk and Andrea Bargnani will become a free agent as well. I see many more years of holding steady — and, well, mediocrity ahead. It’s a real grind, building a team into a championship contender, and there’s no big swing to be made just yet.
In that spirit, I’ll keep GMing the Raptors with the dominant Harden-Hodges core in place, but it looks like it’ll be years before I can do anything like what Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard did. Harden-Hodges is no NBA champion just yet. Kyle Lowry, the best Raptor of all-time, is an actual NBA champion, though his virtual career might be as meh as mine. All of which is to say: I will take Lowry over this alternate history or nearly any alternate history. Because, as you and I know, Kyle Lowry over everything.