This is Wayback Wednesday, your midweek blast from the past! In this feature, we dig into the archives, look back at the history of basketball gaming, and indulge in some nostalgia. Check in every Wednesday for retrospectives and other features on older versions of NBA Live, NBA 2K, and old school basketball video games in general. You’ll also find old NLSC editorials re-published with added commentary, and other flashback content. This week, I’m using NBA 2K10 to simulate through to the current season.
It’s fair to say that the 2010 season marked a turning point for the NBA. Crossing into a new decade, it saw Kobe Bryant win the last of his five titles with the Los Angeles Lakers, as well as the final clash between the Lakers and Boston Celtics to date. It was also the season before a free agent frenzy that included LeBron James’ infamous “Decision”, and several other big names changing teams. Whether or not you like the current trend of superstars joining forces via free agency to form “super teams”, or some of the other changes over the past decade, it’s been an eventful era.
As it happened, it was also a turning point for NBA video games. NBA Live 10 was the last NBA Live game before the ill-fated rebrand to NBA Elite, making 2010 the final season to see two sim-oriented releases until NBA Live returned for the 2014 campaign. I thought it’d be fun to go back to one of those games and simulate through to the present, just to see how the sim engine would predict everything would turn out. NBA 2K10 is a game I haven’t talked about all that much outside of one article, so it’s the one I’ve settled on for this exercise. Let’s take a look back…way back…and then bring it all back to the 2018 season.
When I started the new Association game in NBA 2K10, I wasn’t using final 2010 season rosters, nor did I have any real Draft Classes on hand. As such, I had to settle for some fictional trades taking place in the first season, as well as fictional rookies moving forward. That’s obviously had an effect on the simulation to some extent, as the league is missing players from the Class of 2010 onwards who have gone on to become some of its brightest stars. Nevertheless, I believe the game churned out some interesting and entertaining results, which I’ll recap season by season. We’re of course tipping things off with the aforementioned pivotal 2010 campaign.
I decided to take control of my beloved Chicago Bulls for the Association. I figured that it would cause the least interference with the powerful teams of the time, as well as give me a chance to try to build the Bulls of the early 2010s. From the start, the simulation was not kind to me. Injuries struck down Brad Miller and John Salmons, the latter of which prevented me from replicating one of the team’s midseason trades. I instead ended up sending Tyrus Thomas to the Milwaukee Bucks for Joe Alexander and Hakim Warrick, instead of dealing him to the Charlotte Bobcats as in real life. I finished a dismal 32-50, missing the Playoffs.
The Orlando Magic finished atop the East with a record of 59-23, while the Lakers topped the West with a record of 57-25. Orlando was upset by the Bobcats in the first round however, while the Lakers made it through to the NBA Finals. The Celtics, owners of the third best record in the league, were downed by the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals. In a stunning upset, the Hawks came back from 0-2 down to win their first championship since 1958, with Joe Johnson being named the Finals MVP. LeBron James was named the regular season MVP, a result that did in fact mimic real life. The infamous offseason of 2010 had now arrived.
My attempts to replicate the Bulls’ offseason of 2010 came up short. I failed to sign Boozer, settling for David Lee instead. I also managed to get Kyle Korver, but not Ronnie Brewer. It turned out to be an anti-climactic offseason, anyway. Most of the big name free agents either opted into the final years of their deals, or ended up re-signing with their current team. In NBA 2K10, there was no Decision, or at least LeBron chose to keep his talents in northeastern Ohio. He had another MVP season, averaging 34.9 points, 10 rebounds, 6.2 assists, and 2.5 steals, but the Cavaliers went 46-36 before bowing out in the first round of the 2011 Playoffs.
Since I had a lottery pick – in reality, the Bulls had traded away their first rounder in 2010 – I snagged a generated rookie named Abe Bridges, who went on to be Rookie of the Year. The team improved to 40-42 but missed the Playoffs again, in contrast to the real Bulls’ 62-20 record and Eastern Conference Finals appearance. Not that I was likely to win it all, anyway. The season would belong to the Sacramento Kings, of all teams, who won the Pacific Division with a record of 48-34, which was also the top record in the West. They met with little resistance in the postseason, and swept the Celtics to take home the Larry O’Brien trophy.
There would be no lockout in my NBA 2K10 Association, which meant the season started on time, with the usual 82-game regular season schedule. A wrench was thrown into my rebuilding plans as Joakim Noah refused to re-sign, and became even more upset when I matched his offer sheet from the New York Knicks. Elsewhere, Carmelo Anthony finally left the Denver Nuggets, joining the Bucks. The New Jersey Nets scored big with Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki, who joined emerging star Devin Harris. The Los Angeles Clippers picked up Zach Randolph, Pau Gasol went to the Philadelphia 76ers, and by the end of the year, Stephen Curry was traded to Denver.
Arguably my biggest move of the offseason was replacing Vinny Del Negro with Mike D’Antoni. The loss of D’Antoni seemingly reversed the Phoenix Suns’ luck, as they finished fifth in the West with a 46-36 record, but lost only four games on route to finally winning their first NBA championship, defeating Pierce, Dirk, and Harris in the Nets’ third Finals appearance. LeBron picked up yet another regular season MVP award, but the Cavaliers were eliminated by the Toronto Raptors in the second round, following a seven game series. Amar’e Stoudemire meanwhile was the Finals MVP, with Steve Nash retiring a champion in the 2012 offseason.
Having never sustained a serious knee injury, Derrick Rose had developed into a bona fide star, and I made sure to lock him up with a six year contract. However, Joakim Noah’s morale hit rock bottom, and so I grudgingly traded him to the Clippers for DeAndre Jordan, simply to get him out of town. Other big moves that year included the Celtics signing Eric Gordon, and Richard Hamilton going to the Bucks. The Bulls bottomed out with a 24-58 record, which led to me winning the lottery and snaring the top pick. I’d like to blame the sim engine in NBA 2K10 here, but I hadn’t done a great job of building the roster, nor was I utilising all of the advanced simulation options.
Devin Harris managed to interrupt LeBron James’ streak of regular season MVPs, as his 22.3 points, 9.2 assists, and 2.3 steals per game helped led the Nets to a 57-25 record. They were upset by the eighth seeded Washington Wizards in the first round of the Playoffs though, thanks in no small part to Gilbert Arenas, still on the team and still a star player. The Wizards would go all the way to the Finals, where they fell to another big three: the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. Westbrook was the standout player in the series, capturing the Finals MVP. Things were certainly shaping up very differently in NBA 2K10!
With the first pick of the draft, I took a power forward called Dustin Winter. I wasn’t able to make a pitch to any of the top free agents, which included Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Blake Griffin, James Harden, and Andre Iguodala. Duncan and Manu left the San Antonio Spurs, going to the New Orleans Hornets and Houston Rockets respectively. Blake Griffin joined the Utah Jazz, forming Lob City Southwest with Deron Williams. Iguodala, whom the 76ers had never traded, stayed in Philadelphia. Despite coming off a championship with the Thunder, Harden sought to escape the shadow cast by Durant and Westbrook, ultimately signing with the Knicks.
The regular season MVP was back in LeBron’s hands, but Harris, now a fixture on the All-NBA teams, had the last laugh in the East. His Nets made it back to the Finals, while LeBron and the Cavaliers went down to James Harden and Rookie of the Year Kurt Slaughter in five games in the first round. The Nets’ luck would run out in the championship round however, at the hands the Nuggets’ dynamic duo of Sixth Man of the Year Stephen Curry, and star centre Andrew Bynum. Curry would be named MVP of the series, a trophy he’s yet to win in real life despite becoming the first unanimous regular season MVP in league history.
By this point, several big names had called it a day; some earlier than they did in real life, others much sooner. Shaquille O’Neal, Grant Hill, and Jason Kidd had retired in 2010, sooner than in reality. Allen Iverson stuck around until 2013, finishing up with the Phoenix Suns. Before the 2015 season, Vince Carter – still active today at age 41 – retired as a member of the Magic, where he’d been since the 2010 campaign. With all the retirements and player movement, the NBA landscape was looking very different, and the results of the past few seasons reflected that. NBA 2K10 had produced some very strange results through the first five seasons of this Association.
My rebuilding plans hit another snag as former Rookie of the Year Abe Bridges left via free agency, and last year’s top pick, Dustin Winter, demanded a trade. I ended up dealing him to the Hornets for Tim Duncan and Eddy Curry. Derrick Rose then broke his ankle in November. I would make the Playoffs for the first time in the simulation, but Rose then separated his shoulder during the second round clash with the Knicks, the eventual champions. Harden’s new team beat his old one as New York defeated Oklahoma City in six games, with Defensive Player of the Year Jessie Walker being named Finals MVP. Harris, meanwhile, took back the season MVP from LeBron.
Tired of winning MVP awards but suffering first and second round exits, LeBron at long last took his talents elsewhere. The King joined The Mamba in Los Angeles, a move that oddly coincided with Phil Jackson’s retirement. The situation would get even stranger, as Carmelo Anthony also joined the team, and then Kobe was traded to the Kings midseason. It resulted in yet another MVP trophy for LeBron and 57 wins during the regular season, but an all too familiar first round defeat, this time to the Spurs. It was the New Orleans Hornets – still led by Chris Paul – who would emerge from the West to vie for the championship.
Out in the East, I finally managed to make a little noise with the Bulls. I managed to sign Kevin Durant in the offseason, after taking a chance by letting David Lee go in order to free up cap space. I won the Central Division with a record of 45-37, good enough for the third seed in the East. Led by the duo of Rose and Durant, the Bulls made the Finals, and incredibly, defeated the Hornets for their first title since 1998! Of all the results that NBA 2K10 had thrown at me so far, it was easily the strangest. I wasn’t about to question it, though. After all the disappointment I’d endured, it was nice to land a top free agent, and sim my way to victory in the Finals.
There would be no repeat in 2017. Despite adding another veteran in Kevin Garnett, I was eliminated in the first round. The Knicks went on to win their second title in the last three years, with Kurt Slaughter being named the MVP this time around. LeBron, still with the Lakers, continued his dominance of the regular season MVP award, but was once again eliminated in the first round, this time by the Rockets. The Thunder made it through to the Finals for the third time in five years, led by Westbrook and an aging Tracy McGrady, who retired at the end of the year. Dirk Nowitzki and Ron Artest also called it a career after the 2017 campaign had concluded.
Rajon Rondo (Memphis Grizzlies), O.J. Mayo (Bobcats), and LaMarcus Aldridge (Cavaliers) were the biggest names on the move in the offseason, with Manu Ginobili also going to the Miami Heat. Oftentimes, there wasn’t much of a rhyme or reason to players going where they went, and it was interesting that a lot of players who would be traded or sign on elsewhere in real life ended up sticking with the same team. I also noticed a lot of parity with the team records, as only the 2015 Nuggets had topped the 60-win mark. While there are still some issues with the sim engine in recent games, I would have to say it’s improved significantly since NBA 2K10.
Arriving at 2018
Suffice to say, NBA 2K10 had some strange ideas about how the NBA would turn out years down the road, from the teams winning the championship to the award winners and players who would become and remain stars. I suppose it does highlight how the 2010 offseason changed the face and course of the NBA though, with the title picture looking very different with LeBron James remaining in Cleveland. The inability of any other players to win the MVP award (aside from Devin Harris) does demonstrate the limitations of the sim engine and awards logic, but the Playoffs were not kind to King James. Even with the Lakers, his postseason fortunes didn’t get any better.
It was also interesting to see Chris Paul and Chris Bosh remain in New Orleans and Toronto respectively. Dwyane Wade stuck with the Heat until 2017. Kobe remains active as of the 2018 season, still with the Kings and showing interest in resigning with them at the end of the year. Players like Amar’e Stoudemire, Derrick Rose, and Gilbert Arenas remained healthy and star players on the same teams they’d played for in 2010. Keeping Rose in Chicago was obviously something I had influence over, but it was still interesting to see which other players the game pegged to be the pillars of stability, while so many others changed teams, in some cases multiple times.
All in all, it was fun to go back and create an alternate history with NBA 2K10. I wish I had some real Draft Classes at my disposal, as I could’ve injected some real players who came along after 2009. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed the exercise. There was a big departure from what actually happened, and I would suggest that a lot of the results were highly unlikely to say the least. However, take away the Heat’s big moves of the 2010 offseason, and it’s fair to say the last seven seasons would have produced a very different NBA. It likely wouldn’t have gone down quite as NBA 2K10 suggested, but as far as an NBA version of Sliding Doors is concerned, it was fun to sim through.