Sports video games aren't meant to replicate reality. They're meant to give us something just realistic enough to give us the impression we're creating our own version of what we see in real life that we trick ourselves into thinking it's real, even if for a fleeting moment in time.
Video games can trick you into thinking you can do the impossible, whether it's creating a virtual version of yourself to guide your favorite team to a title, or creating a world where Robert Griffin III transforms into a defensive end and moves from team to team to haunt Kirk Cousins. It's all happens because video games provide a world where you convince yourself anything is possible.
But sometimes, even in a world with limitless potential, one can have a dream that borders on impossible. For me, that dream is to find a way to simulate Kevin Durant joining his hometown team, the Washington Wizards, without user interference in NBA 2K16. In other words, could I get KD to D.C. without moving virtual heaven and earth to do it?
To find out, I set off a mission to simulate the 2015-16 NBA season in NBA 2K16 repeatedly, for as long as it would take, to bring Kevin Durant home.
To simulate the 2015-16 NBA season, I used NBA 2K16's MyLeague feature, which allows users to automate all team functions from simulating games, to managing player rotations, and even automating player and coaching personnel decisions. By setting all teams to automated control, I was able to create an environment where virtual Kevin Durant was free to make his own decision, free of any human interference.
Below is a log of some of my attempts to simulate Kevin Durant joining the Wizards in 2016.
Attempt #1: Kevin Durant wins MVP and leads the Thunder to the second-best record in the Western Conference. To punish me for embarking on this stupid mission, 2K simulates that Kevin Durant stays with the Thunder and the Wizards don't even make the playoffs. We're off to a splendid start.
Attempt #2: Kevin Durant wins MVP again, and to make things worse, new Thunder coach Billy Donovan wins Coach of the Year after leading the Thunder to the top seed in the Western Conference. As you would probably guess, Durant stays in OKC.
Attempt #6: Finally some hope: Russell Westbrook wins MVP, and the Thunder falter with Westbrook as the lead man, finishing fourth in the Western Conference. Does the power struggle lead Kevin Durant to sign elsewhere? Nope, he signs a four-year deal with a player option to stay in Oklahoma City.
The Wizards respond by signing Kobe Bryant to a one-year deal. I think NBA 2K16 hates me.
Attempt #8: Billy Donovan wins Coach of the Year for the second time in eight attempts. Randy Wittman has not won Coach of the Year yet. KD signed with the Thunder again.
Attempt #15: The simulations are starting to get a little nutty. The Suns won the NBA Finals and Brandon Knight was Finals MVP. Does this wild, turbulent reality push KD towards the reassuring comfort of home? Nope, he re-ups with Oklahoma City, just like he has every other time.
Attempt #17: Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City!!! After a disappointing playoff exit, Kevin Durant packs his bags and signs a three-year deal with ... the Boston Celtics.
But don't worry, the Wizards probably weren't going to be in the hunt for Durant anyway after they traded Nene and Alan Anderson to Brooklyn for Brook Lopez.
Attempt #21: The Wizards miss out on bringing Kevin Durant home to Washington. Instead, they sign LeBron James to a three-year deal.
So it's official: NBA 2K16 hates me.
Attempt #22: For the first time, the Thunder do not secure a top-four seed in the Western Conference, finishing with the sixth-best record in the West. But don't worry, KD still believes in OKC and re-ups on the four-year deal with a player option for fifth year that he seems to agree to just about every time.
Randy Wittman still hasn't won Coach of the Year yet, in case anyone is wondering.
Attempt #24: Kevin Durant wins MVP, Billy Donovan wins Coach of the Year (for the sixth time in 24 attempts) and the Thunder finish with the best record in the West. Remarkably, they're upended in the first round by the upstart Los Angeles Lakers.
Kevin Durant signs a four-year deal with the Thunder with a player option for a fifth year.
Attempt #26: The Thunder win the NBA Finals. So yeah, KD stays in Oklahoma City.
Attempt #30: Out of nowhere, IT HAPPENS:
So how did we get here? Not the way you might think. The Thunder underperformed as you would expect them to do to force Durant's hand. They finished as the fifth-seed in the Western Conference and lost to the Spurs in the first round.
The Wizards' courtship of KD was a little messy. They finished 21-61 in this simulation and Randy Wittman was fired on January 2nd. But in their failure, the Wizards stumble their way into a better recruiting pitch when they get the top overall pick in the Draft Lottery, and take Jeffrey Bowden, who plays power forward. The appeal of playing with John Wall, Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat, AND a number one overall pick to handle the position where the Wizards were weakest was too much for Kevin Durant to resist, despite the team's struggles the previous season.
So for those of you keeping score at home, I went 1 for 30 in my attempts to simulate bringing Kevin Durant to the Wizards. In reality, I'd put Durant's chances of joining the Wizards are somewhere near 3.3 percent, so I'd argue NBA 2K16 does a great job of replicating reality.
But now that I've gotten this far, it would be silly not to play this out and see how Kevin Durant fares in Washington.
Life with Kevin Durant on the Wizards
Once I finally got Kevin Durant to Washington, I had to simulate it out to see if our KDinDC dreams lived up to the hype. But first, let's take care of some housekeeping:
- After signing Durant, the Wizards lock up Beal to a four-year deal to keep him in Washington.
- Unfortunately, the Wizards do not keep Otto Porter around in this alternate universe. The Wizards declined Porter's option for the 2016-17 season, and as a result he signs a three-year, $13 million deal with the Grizzlies during the summer.
- The Wizards hire Nate McMillan as head coach to replace the interim coach that filled in after Randy Wittman's dismissal.
Now that we've got that out of the way, here's how Kevin Durant's career with the Wizards unfolded.
Year 1: 2016-17
Kevin Durant's arrival leads to wholesale changes on the Wizards roster. The core players (Wall, Beal, Gortat) stick around, but the only other holdovers from the 2015-16 roster are Kelly Oubre, Garrett Temple, and DeJuan Blair. The Wizards fill out the rest of the roster with low-cost options, and unfortunately, it doesn't include many veterans taking discounts to join Durant and Wall. The Wizards signed Charlie Villanueva, Ray McCallum, Isaiah Canaan, Dorell Wright, Brandon Bass and Sim Bhullar to round out the squad.
Despite the lack of depth beyond the starting unit, the Wizards play well. They go 57-25, good enough to secure the second seed in the Eastern Conference. However, Durant's production takes a hit on the Wizards' loaded roster. He's named 3rd Team All-NBA, the first time he's missed on making the first team since 2009.
Even with Kevin Durant on the squad, they still can't get past the second round of the playoffs. For the second time in three years, they're knocked out of the playoffs by the Atlanta Hawks. Washington's early exit looks better with time, as the Hawks go on to win the NBA Finals thanks to Finals MVP Al Horford, but it's still a disappointing start to KDinDC era.
Year 2: 2017-18
The Wizards make some minor roster changes over the summer, swapping out Ray McCallum for Brian Roberts, Brandon Bass with Jon Leuer, and Dorell Wright with the 2017 first-round pick Lamar Griffith. It's hard to expect the Wizards to do much else over the summer with so little financial wiggle room.
But once the season begins, the Wizards shake things up with some trades to try to take the Wizards to the next level. They start by making a deal with the Knicks, sending Isaiah Canaan to the New York for Jerian Grant and a 2020 second-round pick, two of the assets the Wizards gave up in the Kelly Oubre trade. Next, they make a deal with Durant's old team, shipping Brian Roberts to Oklahoma City in exchange for Steven Adams.
Despite the trades, the Wizards do not improve on their record from the previous season. Washington finishes with a 54-28 record and the third seed in the East, behind Chicago and Boston, who both finished with 55 wins.
Oh did I mention the Celtics fired Brad Stevens and lured LeBron to Boston over the summer? Yeah, that happened.
The Wizards get past the first round with ease, knocking off the sixth-seeded Magic in five games. In the second round, they face the Hornets, who just finished upsetting the Bulls in seven games. Charlotte gave Washington all they could, but the Wizards prevailed in seven games to face the LeBron-less Cleveland Cavaliers in the Conference Finals, who just finished their own grueling series win over the LeBron-led Celtics.
After the Wizards finally cleared the second round hurdle, things got easier in the Eastern Conference Finals. Washington advanced with a convincing sweep of the Cavaliers to move on to the NBA Finals, where they would face the Houston Rockets. That sound you hear is every Thunder fan on earth in a parallel universe screaming as they realize the two stars they couldn't keep are now battling it out for a title.
As it would turn out, the battle of the departed Thunder stars was no contest. The Wizards won in four games:
Kevin Durant played exactly the way you would want a superstar worth two years of ridiculous speculation to play on basketball's biggest stage:
Other players have put up better averages in NBA Finals (Michael Jordan in 1993 comes to mind) but no one has ever looked so good in a sweep. Durant capped off his signature playoff run with a 34 point, 9 assist, 6 rebound, 3 steal performance in Game 4 to clinch the title for Washington.
In other news, while Rockets fans don't put all the blame on newcomer Andray Blatche for Houston's disappointing exit, he certainly doesn't help things.
Year 3: 2018-19
The Wizards start the third year of the KDinDC era in much the same way they started the previous two seasons, replacing low-cost, end-of-the-bench options with other low-cost, end-of-the-bench options. Steven Adams, Jerian Grant, Charlie Villanueva, and Jon Leuer move on, the Wizards replace them with C.J. Miles, Cory Jefferson, Gary Harris and their 2018 first round pick, Nicholas Baxter. If you can believe it, Garrett Temple is still around, now entering his seventh season as a Washington Wizard.
Things do not go according to plan in year 3. Kevin Durant misses 52 games in the middle of the season. In his absence, John Wall steps up, earning 3rd Team All-NBA and 2nd Team All-Defense honors, and dragging the Wizards into the playoffs as the eight seed, with a 42-40 record. Wall gets a boost in the final weeks as Kevin Durant finally returns to the lineup to help the Wizards make their playoff push.
Washington enters the playoffs as a dangerous eighth seed but have their work cut out for them against the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers (TRUST THE PROCESS). The 76ers give the defending champs a fight, but the Wizards prevail thanks to a Game 7 win in Philadelphia. Things get a little easier in the second round as the Wizards only require six games to get past the Bulls, and six more to get past the Brooklyn Nets in the Conference Finals.
In the NBA Finals, the Wizards face off against the Timberwolves, led by Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns, who have blossomed into one of the finest duos in the NBA. Unfortunately, they didn't have enough to overcome John Wall and Kevin Durant, who lead the Wizards to their second-straight title. Wall took Finals MVP honors:
While Wall's Finals run may not be quite as impressive as Durant's the year before, in a lot of ways it's the perfect vindication for Wall's career. He gets the credit for keeping the Wizards afloat without Durant, outplays three other top-two picks in the NBA Finals, and finally proves he can shoot as he makes 48.5 percent of his field goal attempts and half of his three-point attempts in the Finals.
The Wizards also make history as the first team to win the NBA Finals as the eighth-seed. Never underestimate the heart of a champion.
Year 4: 2019-20
Here's the dirty little secret about KD2DC: Once you give in to the temptation of trying to lure a superstar away from his team, even if you're trying to convince yourself that you're facilitating a homecoming, you're bound by a different set of rules as a basketball fan. Once you try to lure a player away from their team, you can't cry victim when another team starts trying to pry your stars away. Turnabout is fair play, after all.
This is my long-winded way of trying to break the news that after winning Finals MVP, John Wall signed with the Philadelphia 76ers in free agency. You're probably mad at this development, but you have no right to be. Wall left for the same reason Durant came to Washington. The 76ers were an emerging team with a more promising future and they had a need at point guard. It's just business.
With Wall gone, the Wizards had a lot of cap room to retool. They signed Tony Parker and Brandon Jennings to fill the void at point guard. They lock up Kelly Oubre with a three-year extension. Down low, the Wizards bring back Marcin Gortat on a one-year deal and sign Anthony Bennett and Bismack Biyombo to multi-year deals to add depth to the team's frontcourt now headlined by Jeffrey Bowden (Remember him? The 2016 top overall pick that brought KD to DC?) who is now the Wizards' third-best player, behind Durant and Beal.
The Wizards come together without Wall and go 57-25, the best the team has ever finished in the KDinDC era, and finish with the best record in the Eastern Conference. Nate McMillan wins Coach of the Year for his efforts.
In the playoffs, the Wizards defeat the Raptors in six games, then knock off the LeBron and the Celtics in six games to advance to the Conference Finals. Washington faces Brooklyn again and wins the rematch in five games.
In the Finals, they face D'Angelo Russell, who has led the Lakers back to the promised land. Without John Wall, Washington struggles to find a way to stop Russell, the league MVP. At the same time, the Lakers don't have anyone who can stop Durant, who does just enough to lead the Wizards to a win over the Lakers in 7 games.
Durant saved his best performance for last, going for 34 points, 11 assists and 8 rebounds in Game 7. Tony Parker (who retired after the season) also came up big in the final game, scoring 21 points in 27 minutes and going out on top with his fifth NBA title.
With the win, Durant secures adds to his legacy with his third ring and second Finals MVP award. He one-upped LeBron James' four-year run in Miami by winning his third title, and in doing so, secures his spot as D.C.'s greatest athlete and the best free agent signing in NBA history.
Sadly, that's about all that can be said for Kevin Durant's time in D.C. That summer, for the second year in a row, the Finals MVP went on to sign with a new team. Kevin Durant signed a three-year deal to reunite with his former Thunder teammate James Harden in Houston.
Though his time in Washington was brief, KD2DC proves to be worth all the speculation and agony. And while his exit was painful, Wizards fans could empathize with why a fanbase would go to desperate measures to bring their dream to reality.
NBA 2K16: 5 stars
The KDinDC era: 4.5 stars
Simulating NBA 2K16 30 times for a blog post: 2 stars