The Tragedy of the Cleveland Cavaliers: A 2K23 Story

Donovan Mitchell would be a consistent part of this would-be Cavaliers dynasty.

What if I told you that the Cleveland Cavaliers would make it to five championship appearances in six years? And what if I told you that, with all that success, they'd only come away with one title to hang their proverbial hats on?

This is the story of the fictional Cleveland Cavaliers in my most recent playthrough of NBA 2K23's MyNBA mode. A team with success nearly unmatched in the annals of NBA history. Multiple MVP caliber players on the same team, an all-star starting five lineup, and a dominant regular and postseason season run that makes LeBron's efforts from 2015-2018 look quaint in comparison. 

From time to time, as some readers know, I like to write about the stories I uncover while playing videogames. One of my favorite story generators is the NBA 2K series, mainly because I like basketball, but also because its franchise mode lends itself to the creation of thoroughly random but always enjoyable stories that leave me on the edge of my seat. This is one of those stories that I felt I had to share with you. 

It all started during the current 2022-2023 season. The Cavs immediately got off to a hot start thanks to the emergence of a surprisingly strong "big three" lineup including Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, and Evan Mobley. Shoring them up was Jarrett Allen at the center position and Isaac Okoro at the small forward slot. For the first few years this would be the core that the Cavs would build around. 

This young Cavs squad had little trouble in the regular season, finishing with a 55-27 record (an eleven game improvement over the previous year). Once in the playoffs, they steamrolled their way to the NBA Finals, where they met LeBron and the revamped Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers, as many who follow the NBA know, made a huge trade at the deadline last month. In 2K as in real life, this had a tremendous impact, transforming them from a non-playoff team into a team to be reckoned with. 

The experience on that Lakers team, combined with the depth granted by the trade, led to the Lakers beating the Cavs in six games. LeBron won Finals MVP, and the Cavs would go on to try and re-tool for the next year. 

Having such a young and talented core, the Cavs didn't need to do much. They went into the 2023-2024 season with essentially the same cast of characters, but improved upon their previous regular season record, winning 61 games. Darius Garland improved by an order of magnitude, winning the MVP award while averaging almost thirty points per game. They again made quick work of the Eastern Conference in the playoffs. 

As for why Garland is on the 76ers here, well, that's explained later...

Their reward for making it to the peak again? A re-match with the Lakers, which, despite LeBron's age, was a better team than they were the year before. LeBron had barely declined, Anthony Davis had improved a bit, and the team had another year of chemistry under its belt. They had also replaced Darvin Ham with a better coach, and had somehow managed to draft two talented plays to bolster areas they were deficient in the year prior (backup point guard and center). 

The 61-win Cavs went down in five games to these experienced Lakers, with LeBron winning yet another Finals MVP award. At this point, nobody would have blamed the Cavaliers for taking a break. If this were real life, the Cavs GM might have even pulled the trigger on a trade to re-tool the team. But not here. 

The Cavs went into the 2024-2025 season on a mission. Garland improved further, averaging 32 points per game, Mobley turned into an MVP caliber player, and Mitchell continued to offer a solid all-star level contribution. Unsurprisingly, this star-studded team with years of chemistry breezed through the regular season, winning 70 games. Garland won MVP again, and no other team in the Eastern Conference threatened them in the playoffs. 

Upon reaching the Finals, the Cavs came up against a new opponent. Gone were the LeBron-led Lakers, who were in flux re-tooling themselves now that James was clearly on the decline. Instead, standing across from the Cavs were the Dallas Mavericks led by the rising Luka Doncic. Luka had been putting up insane numbers for several years, and that, combined with the arrival of newer better teammates, led to a surprising 59-23 regular season run.

Even so, they didn't have the talent to compete with the Cavs. From the outside, this Cavs vs. Mavs series should have been a straightforward win for the former, but as we have seen, nothing came easily for this Cleveland team. Backed by stunning play from Luka, the Mavs took the Cavs to game seven, nearly beating the Garland-led Cavaliers before ultimately falling.

The Cavs had finally won their first championship with this core of players, but it carried with it a few bittersweet notes. For one, the victory had come against a relative newcomer in the Mavs, and despite Dallas' inexperience they still managed to take Cleveland to seven games. Luka, supported by no other stars, nearly out-dueled the Cavaliers' big three by himself. Second, they had won a ring, but it had not come against the Lakers, who had thoroughly defeated them the prior two years. Questions remained: Would they ever get their revenge against LA, and could they keep winning championships?

The 2025-2026 season went fairly similarly to the year prior for the Cavs. Garland, Mitchell, and Mobley continued to be all-time regular season performers, carrying the team to 69 wins. Even better, Mobley took another leap, winning that season's MVP award. Now the Cavs had two MVP players in their starting lineup, buoyed by a great supporting cast. 

Mobley became an MVP-caliber player around the 2025-2026 season.

The Cavaliers unsurprisingly rolled over the Eastern Conference again during the playoffs, appearing in the Finals for the fourth consecutive year.  Waiting for them this time around was another newcomer: The young Houston Rockets, a deep lengthy team led by new stars Jalen Green and Jabari Smith Jr. Whereas in real life both of those guys are still fringe starters developing their talents, in 2K they had become fantastic players with automatic three point shots. Not only were they great, but they were backed by a talented supporting cast. 

To give an example of how consistently talented that Rockets team was top-to-bottom, Jerami Grant with an overall rating of 84 was tied as their sixth or seventh best player. While the Cavaliers had the advantage in top-end talent, the Rockets beat them when placing their nine-man rotations side-by-side. 

Even with tremendous performances by Garland and Mobley, the defending champion Cavs would go down to the Rockets in just five games. Jalen Green won Finals MVP, and the dejected Cavs would go into the offseason asking themselves why such a talented team continued to fail on the biggest stage. 

They answered that question much as they had in years before: By shuffling the deck and continuing to build around the core of Garland/Mitchell/Mobley. This time the limits of that strategy became more apparent than ever. They won only 59 games in the regular season, down from 69 the year prior, and missed the Finals completely. In the Eastern Conference Finals the Cavs met new contenders in the form of the rebuilt Charlotte Hornets, who managed to make a trade to pair Nikola Jokic with a surging LaMelo Ball. Together they made quick work of the Cavs and moved on to the championship round. 

Waiting for the Hornets were the Cavaliers' old nemesis, the Lakers. There was a certain irony in the Cavs missing the Finals the one year they would be able to test themselves against their rivals. The new-look Lakers beat the Hornets in six games, led by a 42 year old LeBron and a cadre of talented draft picks acquired in a trade involving Anthony Davis. LeBron would win Finals MVP and retire a seven-time NBA champion. Never again would this version of the Cavs get the opportunity to defeat the LeBron-led Lakers. 

In the offseason the Cavs finally make a big move to shake up the core of the team. They traded two-time MVP Darius Garland along with a number of first round picks to the 76ers for Luka Doncic (how Doncic went from the Mavs to the 76ers is an entirely different story). Although this surely disrupted team chemistry, it guaranteed that the Cavs could survive Mitchell declining and Mobley becoming far more injury-prone as he approached the age of thirty. 

The Luka Cavs lineup looked something like this. Ingram was a later addition via trade, though even before they acquired him they had decent (82-ish rated overall) small forward options.

The 2027-2028 Cavaliers were mediocre in the regular season, winning only 56 games. However, the tandem of Luka Doncic and Evan Mobley proved deadly in the playoffs. They easily made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they met the Darius Garland-led Philadelphia 76ers. The 76ers were a talented squad in their own right, with Garland, Chet Holmgren, and a smattering of good roleplayers. The Sixers took the Cavs to seven games, losing in a close match that the Cavs won thanks to Luka's heroics. 

The Luka-led Cavs would face their toughest challenge, however, in the NBA Finals. There they would face the San Antonio Spurs, led by newly formed superstar tandem Jayson Tatum and Zion Williamson. Tatum and Williamson thoroughly outplayed Doncic and Mobley, and the Spurs won the series in a decisive game six. Tatum won Finals MVP, and the Cavaliers marched into yet another offseason having nearly reached the pinnacle of the NBA only to be swatted away by a superior team. 

The tragedy of the Cleveland Cavaliers, encapsulated.

That leads us to the conclusion of our story. Never again would the Cavaliers make it to the Finals (in my playthrough at least). In the end, they made it to the NBA Finals five times in six years, winning just once. While I'm sure many NBA fans would love if their team were able to replicate this kind of storyline, I'd argue that this was a tragedy indeed. 

What other storylines have I uncovered in NBA 2K23? There are countless more like this one, and perhaps I'll document those in the future. Until then, thanks for reading the article, and I'll see you next time.