Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! This is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to basketball video games, the real NBA or another area of interest to our community, either as a list of five items or in the form of a Top 5 countdown.
As we all know, while some teams that look great on paper do indeed go on to win a lot of games and even championships, plenty of others do not live up to their potential and find themselves broken up sooner rather than later. Regardless of how they fare in the real world, teams that are stacked with talent usually become powerhouses and fun squads to play with in basketball video games.
In fact, some stacked teams can even look like they were put together in a video game. With rosters so deep, assembled with moves so shrewd, it’s as though a gamer has taken advantage of the CPU many times over. In this week’s Friday Five, I’m taking a look at five teams that were seemingly built for the enjoyment of basketball gamers, while reflecting upon how they fared in reality.
1. The Miami Heat, since 2010
Unlike the rest of teams on this list, the Miami Heat of the past four years have actually enjoyed a lot of success, with four straight NBA Finals appearances and back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013. With that in mind, they weren’t actually candidates for this list as I originally envisioned it, but the front office magic that Pat Riley was able to work in the 2010 offseason does somewhat resemble something out of Dynasty or Association mode.
Being an NBA powerhouse these past four seasons in the real world, when it comes to video games the Heat have naturally been a strong online team and ready-made contender in offline season play. With some of the players that they’ve added to their roster during the past couple of years, the opportunity is there to make significant trades, even without breaking up the Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. Should you feel like doing that, however, you can easily create an entirely different monster to wreak havoc upon the league.
2. The 2003/2004 Los Angeles Lakers
When Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers fell short of making a fourth straight NBA Finals appearance in 2003, the team re-tooled by signing Hall of Famers Karl Malone and Gary Payton. With a roster that was rounded out by the likes of Rick Fox, Derek Fisher, and Byron Russell, one didn’t have to do a lot of wheeling and dealing to make that team a powerhouse in NBA Live 2004. Of course, blockbuster moves were certainly more than feasible with four stars and several well-rated role players at your disposal.
The 2004 Lakers went 56-26 during the regular season and were just three wins away from winning the championship, making them the second most successful team on this list behind the aforementioned Miami Heat. It should also be noted that The Mailman’s knee injury certainly invites an interesting “What If?” discussion. Having said that, the Lakers dropped Game 1, won Game 2 in a relatively close affair, then lost the next three games as the Detroit Pistons went on to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy…a fate eerily similar to the one suffered by the star-studded Miami Heat, ten years later.
3. The 2012/2013 Los Angeles Lakers
Yes, the Los Angeles Lakers get two entries on this list, coming almost a decade apart. Expectations were high at the beginning of the Lakers’ 2013 season, with Dwight Howard and Steve Nash joining Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol in LA. This squad wouldn’t be nearly as successful as the one that reached the NBA Finals in 2004 however, as a combination of injuries and a lack of chemistry saw them fizzle out in the first round, where they were swept by the eventual Western Conference Champions, the San Antonio Spurs.
However, while the real Lakers struggled and barely made the postseason, their virtual counterparts were not a team that you relished facing online in NBA 2K13. On the other hand, you were certainly stacking the odds in your favour if you took control of them. With Antawn Jamison and Metta World Peace on the roster along with Kobe, Dwight, Gasol and Nash, you were likely to win a lot of games…or make some big trades of your own.
4. The Portland Trail Blazers of the early 2000s
After losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games in the 2000 Western Conference Finals, the Portland Trail Blazers spent the next few seasons swelling their payroll in an attempt to deepen their roster. The result was a lineup that featured – at one point or another – the likes of Scottie Pippen, Rasheed Wallace, Damon Stoudamire, Shawn Kemp, Dale Davis, Arvydas Sabonis, Derek Anderson, Rod Strickland and Steve Smith, not to mention young prospects like Zach Randolph and Bonzi Wells. Unfortunately for them, it was an exercise in futility, as the Blazers would not reach the second round again until this past season.
Nevertheless, the respectably deep rosters those Blazers teams boasted in the early years of the new millennium made them one of the better teams in the video games of the day. Without the chemistry and off-court issues that affected the real Blazers, their virtual counterparts were more or less ready-made for success in the hands of basketball gamers. Given that those squads also had as many as eight players rated at least 80 overall, there was a lot of fun to be had re-tooling the team with other stars from around the league, while also watching the young guns develop into superstars themselves.
5. The 2013/2014 Brooklyn Nets
This past season’s Brooklyn Nets might just be the ultimate example of a video game team. Their roster is very reminiscent of a gamer that has worked the trading AI to a tee, loading up on big names with big contracts without a second thought, because actually having to pay them isn’t a concern. Now, Mikhail Prokhorov and his ownership group did in fact pay over $100 million in salaries last year (not to mention millions more in luxury tax), but other than that, I’d say that was pretty much the philosophy when putting the team together.
A strong push after a slow start salvaged the Nets’ season to an extent, but suffice to say their 44-38 record and 4-1 loss in the second round to eventual Eastern Conference Champions the Miami Heat fell well short of expectations. I imagine that they fared much better in the hands of NBA Live 14 and NBA 2K14 gamers however, where their lineup of Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez (with Andrei Kirilenko coming off the bench) would have been quite formidable, while at the same time facilitating plenty of trade scenarios in Dynasty and Association.
An honourable mention goes to the 2007/2008 Boston Celtics, that season’s champions thanks to the efforts of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, with the latter two players both coming to Beantown in the Summer of 2007. The 2002/2003 Los Angeles Clippers are also worth a mention; they went 27-55 in real life, but featured a lot of young players including Elton Brand, Lamar Odom, Michael Olowokandi, Corey Maggette, Andre Miller, and Quentin Richardson, all of whom could be developed into superstars in NBA Live 2003 and in some cases, already had quite generous ratings.
What are some other teams that were a lot of fun to play with in basketball video games, or indeed look like they were put together in a video game? Post them in the comments section below and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum. Thanks for checking in this week, please join me again next Friday for another Five.