I know it. You know it. Everyone who follows the NBA knows it. Golden State is winning this year’s championship. Yes, they just lost to the Lakers on Christmas night. Yes, they look vulnerable at times and have had some injury issues. But it’s the regular season, and the construction of the team still feels like that Simpsons storyline where Mr. Burns employs the best MLB players to wipe out the competition.
But unlike that episode, Kevin Durant is not being afflicted by Gigantism, Steph Curry has no sideburns for the owner to demand he shave off, and Barney Gumble is no match for Draymond Green. Feel free to YouTube the song from the episode and continue reading. Okay, you know what, scratch that, here you go:
Reality doesn’t give us any logical reason why Golden State won’t roll through the playoffs. Yeah, maybe Toronto can play a five-man unit that can defend Golden State, and I could even talk myself into OKC taking two games off them, but nobody is beating them four times.
So let’s see if NBA 2K can provide a path to dethrone them. With the trade deadline approaching, I chose five teams and simulated the rest of their season using the “start now” feature of the MyLeague mode. In each case, I made a trade that I deemed realistic (…enough) and recorded the results. If you want competitive playoffs, the results are disheartening — with one exception.
Trade 1: Nikola Vucevic to Boston for Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris
This makes so much sense. Boston gets a big who can shoot, pass and fits into their offense perfectly. And with Al Horford getting older and more prone to injury, this Montenegrin post threat can be his replacement. And not that anyone really cares, but Orlando doesn’t have a point guard so they can pay Scary Terry. Their fan/s would like this. But our concern is with whether or not this trade propels Boston all the way. And in my best James Earl Jones voice, “it does not.” In fact, they don’t even make it back to the Eastern Conference Finals. Philadelphia knocks them out 4-1 in the second round. Vucevic puts up 18 points and 9 boards throughout the playoffs so you can’t blame me. They just lacked some punch off the bench from their backup point guard and swing spots, mainly because I traded them. So maybe you can blame me.
Verdict: I’m not sure there are enough rabbits in hats for Danny Ainge this time.
Trade 2: Anthony Davis to Los Angeles for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and draft picks until the end of time
Watching AD and the Los Angeles LeBrons flirt with each other is unbearable. If it’s going to happen, just get it done. If he wants to join the storied list of Lakers big men (Wilt, Shaq, Kareem, Andrew Bynum…), then let’s just do the trade now. In my simulation, the Lakers give up two young players who need to not play with LeBron for Davis. It’s the type of lopsided trade they’ve pulled off numerous times. Do they beat Golden State? Nearly. They were leading them 3-1 in the second round, and then choked the series away to lose in seven games. Who was the biggest choker? Davis averaged a measly 18 points and 6 boards on 43 percent shooting in the final three games. Skip Bayless still found a way to blame LeBron.
Verdict: Use trade assets on someone else, and freeze LeBron until the Lakers can just sign Davis in free agency in a couple years. But the real loser here is the NBA 2K simulation engine that predicted the pathetic Washington Wizards will get the right to be obliterated by Golden State in the NBA Finals.
Trade 3: Wesley Matthews to Oklahoma City, bits and pieces to teams that aren’t very relevant
I like Wesley Matthews. Lots of Dallas fans don’t. The issue is that the Mavs don’t have very many good players so he is forced to do things he really shouldn’t have to — things like dribbling, passing and creating. He’s best suited on a team that only requires him to shoot open shots and defend. Oklahoma City has two ball-dominant stars. Matthews would just have to hit the open looks created by Russell Westbrook and Paul George. They are currently starting a shooting guard who’s a developmental player, so Matthews would walk straight into their starting line up. The team needs more long-range shooting, and this is his best skill. This looks like the perfect fit. I feel like a real GM. It’s got to be enough to take down Golden State? Right?
Verdict: Swept in the second round by San Antonio. Matthews shot less than 40 percent. This is why I only write about basketball trades.
Trade 4: Kevin Love to Denver for Paul Milsap
Sticking Kevin Love next to Nikola Jokic would be a re-creation of the 2002 Sacramento Kings (also let’s ignore that I’m putting Denver on the hook for Love’s long-term contract over Millsap’s short-term contract). Two elite passing bigs positioned at the elbows with intelligent cutters whirling around them. Even with Swaggy P on their roster (just kidding, already cut), the Nuggets would still be very likable. But according to NBA 2K, it won’t work. They won less than half their games from the time of the hypothetical Love trade, and got knocked out in the first round.
Verdict: Their defensive efficiency plummeted. I suppose that happens when you pair a poor defending center with a poor defending power forward.
Trade 5: Bradley Beal to Toronto for Jonas Valanciunas, OG Anunoby and Delon Wright
The Raptors are deep. I would even say their roster runs deeper than any other team in the NBA. Unfortunately for them, stars win playoff games, not scrappy bench players. Apologies to Fred Van Fleet. Toronto has one superstar. Golden State has, like, a lot. This trade is about moving some nice pieces for a really nice piece. Beal can shoot off the dribble, play in pick and roll, and create for others. His jump shot is buttery smooth. It’s an offense to the basketball zeitgeist that he is forced to display these skills for a stagnant team like Washington. After this trade, NBA 2K predicts the Raptors would beat Golden State. In this scenario, Beal is the team’s second-best scorer with 23 PPG and shoots 44 percent from deep. He scored 39 points in the pivotal Game 3 win.
Verdict: Easy. To beat Golden State, just convince a team to give up their superstar for three role players (let’s say there’s a pick or two somewhere in there as well just to pretend that makes it more fair).
We all want competitive playoffs. Seeing Golden State bulldoze the Cleveland LeBrons in 2017 and 2018 was not engaging. With some trade maneuvers (well, one at least) NBA 2K19 has shown that Golden State is vulnerable. Maybe. Sort of. But not really.