After a summer where so many trade possibilities were presented to Lakers fans, the most likely outcome now seems to be the Lakers running it back. While LeBron James and Anthony Davis were givens to return, Russell Westbrook was far from it and the team has tried to find a new landing spot for him throughout the offseason.
Obviously, we can’t go back and play out all the scenarios to see what’s best. At least not in reality. Fortunately, it’s the 21st century and we can see super(ish) realistic(ish) simulations of those scenarios through NBA 2K23, which is exactly what I did.
Here are the results:
What if Russ stays?
Let’s start with the baseline of Russ just staying put and the Lakers doing nothing this season. The good news is that LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russ being healthy was enough for the Lakers to finish 45-37, tied with the Warriors for 5th.
Both LeBron and Russ played 82 games and AD played 80. Less realistic, though, is that Kendrick Nunn played 80 games as well. LeBron and AD had big seasons, averaging 24.9 and 20.1 points per game, respectively.
As for Russ, he averaged 11 points, 5.5 assists and 4.9 rebounds in 25.7 minutes per game. Lonnie Walker played more minutes per game and Patrick Beverley was just a tick fewer than Russ, who also shot 42.3% from the field and 25.7% from the 3-point line.
Luka Doncic won MVP with an absurd stat line of 34.9 points, 11.4 rebounds and 9.3 assists per game on 51.9% shooting from the field, 42.6% shooting from the arc and 88.2% shooting from the line. LeBron joined him on First Team All-NBA honors while AD was named 1st Team All-Defense.
The Lakers lost the tiebreaker to the Warriors and were the sixth seed in the playoffs, meeting the third-seeded Timberwolves. Behind D’Angelo Russell averaging 28.8 points and notching a pair of double-doubles, Minnesota swept the Lakers out of the playoffs.
Disgustingly, the Celtics won the title over Memphis with #FutureLaker Jayson Tatum averaging 40.2 points per game in the Finals.
This is the worst timeline.
What if the Lakers took the Pacers offer?
At this point, one of the very few options remaining for the Lakers is a Pacers trade, if they’re willing to cough up the draft capital. There is no actual consequence for me to trade those two picks, though, in 2K so let’s toss them in there.
(For the record, I had to spend about 10 minutes figuring out how to force trades through because Russ, two first-round picks and Wenyen Gabriel for Buddy Hield and Myles Turner was not accepted by the Pacers GM.)
In short, the Lakers were dominant. They finished 59-23, the best record in the league. While Luka again won MVP, Darvin Ham won Coach of the Year and LeBron earned 2nd Team All-NBA honors.
LeBron and AD cleared the 20-point-per-game threshold with AD adding 10.2 rebounds. Buddy Hield averaged 14.9 points on 44.7% 3-point shooting on the season and Myles Turner averaged 9.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 57 games.
In easily the worst plot twist ever, though, the ninth-seeded Suns win the play-in tournament to face the Lakers as the eighth seed, then upset them in seven games. The Lakers had a 3-2 lead in the series, then got blown out in Game 6 behind a 50-point performance from Devin Booker to force a seventh game where a Chris Paul masterclass gave Phoenix a stunning win.
AD was incredible in the series, including an 18-point, 21-rebound, 7-assist performance in a Game 2 win. He also had 28 points and 13 rebounds in Game 3, but he and LeBron shot just 14-29 in Game 7 combined.
THIS is the worst timeline.
What if the Lakers traded for Kyrie Irving?
Look, we need some good vibes after those two outcomes. Let’s go back in time and pretend the Lakers traded Russ and two first-round picks to the Nets for Kyrie Irving and Joe Harris, which seemed to be the closest the two sides got to a done deal.
The Lakers finish with a 52-30 record, second-best in the Western Conference behind the Memphis Grizzlies. Luka again wins MVP, LeBron again makes Second Team All-NBA and AD earns 2nd Team All-Defense honors.
LeBron, AD and Kyrie all average over 20 points per game and Kyrie shot FIFTY-THREE percent from the 3-point line. Lonnie Walker IV was the only other Lakers to average double figures on the season with Harris averaging 7.6 points on 40.6% shooting from deep.
Again, the Suns are a play-in team and, again, they figure out a way to play the Lakers in the first round. Improbably, Phoenix beats the Lakers, this time in six games. Booker has a 47-point Game 4 to tie the series at 2-2, a 51-point Game 5 to give them the 3-2 lead and a 44-point Game 6 to win the series.
I did not finish simulating the playoffs. I have a mission.
What if the Lakers decimated the Suns franchise?
I turned off the salary cap. I turned off needing to match salaries in trades. I turned on trade override.
I traded Russ for Steph Curry, Jay Huff for Giannis Antetokounmpo, Max Christie for Jayson Tatum, Damian Jones for Luka Doncic and Wenyen Gabriel for Bam Adebayo.
The team starts 15-0. Their first loss? The Phoenix Suns. We get revenge on them a month later to move to 29-1. We beat them by 40 in late March.
Luka wins MVP and Darvin Ham, who leads the Lakers to a 76-6 record, is Coach of the Year. We average 132.3 points per game and have a point differential of 26.8 points per game.
Phoenix enters the postseason as the seventh seed but is absolutely petrified at the thought of playing this team and chokes, losing both play-in games to miss the playoffs entirely including to the Luka-less Mavs.
We lose two games in the entire playoff run to win the title over Cleveland. Luka wins Finals MVP. I have won, but at what cost.