Welcome back to Deke Van’s quest to restore glory to the rebooted Seattle SuperSonics, a new spin-off from the Leathernecks Cinematic Universe. This will be the second installment of the Sonics series. There’s news on Year 18 of the Western Illinois series at the bottom of this post.
Make sure you’ve caught up on the series debut. Here’s a look at our rotation:
PG DeVonte’ Graham | Giovanni Nelke
SG Bogdan Bogdanovic | De’Anthony Melton
SF Matisse Thybulle | Malik Beasley
PF Paul Millsap | Carmelo Anthony
C Dwight Howard | Deke Van
We pick up with Deke and the Sonics three weeks into his rookie season ….
Deke Van was just happy to be here. At 28 years, he thought he had permanently missed his window to ever play in the NBA. Deke’s legendary college career was five years in the rearview mirror when he heard the rumors that the Seattle SuperSonics were coming back as an expansion team with Ricky Charisma leading the front office. He cried in his hotel room in Greece the night he was offered a contract. Life had been a blur ever since.
Deke had no complaints about his role on the Sonics. He was coming off the bench to backup Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap in the front court, getting about 20 minutes per game and the chance to play with his former Leathernecks running mate Giovanni Nelke on the second unit. He had scored 21 points in his third career game. He had everything he always wanted in Seattle. But as the early season losses started to mount, Deke was slowly realizing he didn’t connect with all of his new teammates the way he once did at Western Illinois.
Notably, Dwight Howard was hard on Deke. The rookie hazing never stopped. Deke would have been happy to bring donuts to practice or carry bags to the hotel, but this wasn’t that. Instead, every time Deke was asked by the media for an on-camera interview, Dwight would sneak up behind him and loudly fart. It was a skill Howard had been honing for years across his various stops in the NBA.
Dwight would then proudly announce to no one in particular that the sound and smell was coming from Deke. This happened almost every damn day, and it got old to everyone but Dwight very quickly. Eventually, Deke developed a simple retort: he told Howard he couldn’t smell anything because of his mask.
Deke Van wore his mask everywhere. With the pandemic that ushered in their re-introduction to the NBA still very much part of daily life, the Sonics made masks mandatory. Howard detested the rule but went along with it … at least until Deke told him it was his protection against the veteran’s toxic flatulence.
This enraged Dwight. The following day at practice, Howard stole the masks for the entire team. He then proceeded to let one loose and blame it on Deke. No one laughed. The players went looking for their masks at the end of practice only to discover they were all gone. A team official later discovered them in Howard’s locker.
Ricky Charisma was furious. He stripped Dwight of his starting spot and publicly stated he would be traded when the team could find the right deal. This is how Deke Van earned his first NBA start.
The Sonics were 5-9 on the season the day Deke Van entered the starting lineup, which had them tied for last place in the Western Conference. Deke’s first start would come against the Memphis Grizzlies and Phil Powell, Deke’s former teammate on the Leathernecks and the first player in program history to declare for the NBA draft as an underclassman.
With three Western Illinois alums in the game, we decided to actually play this one.
The Deke Van Starting Center era begins with a win for the Seattle SuperSonics. Here’s what happens for our remaining three games in November:
Loss to the Kings 120-100. Buddy Hield and De’Aaron Fox each score 27 points. Nelke goes off for a preposterous line in 18 minutes: 13 points, eight rebounds, four assists, three steals, two blocks.
Win over the Heat 129-113. DeVonte’ Graham: 28 points, 10 assists, 7-of-10 shooting from three. Deke Van: 15 points, nine rebounds, six assists.
Loss to the Raptors, 120-86. Deke Van: 14 points and 10 rebounds on 6-of-6 shooting, and 2-of-2 from three-point range.
The calendar flipped to December as we were streaming on Twitch, and the chat demanded we make a trade. The target: Tacko Fall. I said I’d throw in all the second rounds it took to get him. Four second rounders later, we had a new backup center to pair with Deke.
Our first game of December comes against Lubos Hatten and the San Antonio Spurs. Hatten is starting for the Spurs an averaging eight points per game on 41.2 percent shooting from the field and 36.4 percent shooting from three.
Can we start the month off with a win? Loss, 166-126. Sheesh. Deke Van goes off for 24 points and 15 rebounds, Nelke puts up 15 points in 18 minutes, and Hatten adds 15 points for the Spurs. We had no answer for DeMar DeRozan, who led San Antonio with 35 points.
December is getting rough our Sonics. We lose to the Hornets, 109-88, behind 22 points from Caris LeVert, who traded to Charlotte for Graham at the start of the season. LeBron dropped 54 on us in a loss to the Lakers. The Kings beat us by 14 points and Rockets beat us by seven.
Fortunately, there’s no cure for a six-game losing streak like playing the Washington Wizards. Paul Millsap (22 points) and Graham (20 points and 11 assists) led the way as we defeated the Wiz, 100-78. Following another loss to the Rockets (113-72) where the offense cratered, our Sonics start to get hot. We beat the Magic, Sixers, and Thunder to win four of six.
We end the month at 11-20 on the season.
We start the new year off with a bang: dropping 150 in a win over the Pistons.
DeVonte’ Graham with 49 points and 15 assists! Deke with 29 points and 17 rebounds!
We lose to the Spurs in the next game (110-88), but Deke finishes with 17 points and 18 rebounds on the night. After a loss to Detroit the next day on a back-to-back, our Sonics stun the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks, 125-110, behind 23 points each from Bogdan Bogdanovic and Millsap.
We’re playing our best ball of the season in January, and Deke Van is consistently putting up numbers. Here are some highlights from Deke’s breakout month:
Win over the Suns, 103-102. Deke finishes with 17 points and nine rebounds, and has the game-winning bucket at the buzzer!
Deke finishes with 18 points and 13 rebounds in a close loss to the Blazers.
Win over the Warriors, 131-85. Graham leads all scorers with 27 points, and Deke adds 18 points and 10 rebounds in the win.
Deke finishes with 12 points and 15 rebounds in a close loss to the Wolves.
Win over the Nuggets, 121-110. Deke Van: 13 points and 17 rebounds.
Loss to the Nets, 109-99, where Van puts up 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Loss to the Mavericks, 162-132. Deke Van with 30 points and 14 rebounds.
The Sonics finish January at 8-9 on the month. We have some news from @TreyKerby:
Deke wins Rookie of the Month in January!
Let’s go! For the month, Deke averages 13.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game. Our Sonics are still way back in the Western Conference playoff picture, but this is a great development.
We also have a trade to announce. On Jan. 24, we finally got an offer for Dwight Howard we’ve been waiting for.
Robert Covington is coming to Seattle. We traded Dwight Howard to acquire Cov and 2022 lottery protected first rounder from Houston. Covington is one of the most versatile defenders alive and a seamless fit into how we want to play. Only one problem: the game rates him as an 81 overall, which is two points worse than our current starter at power forward, Paul Millsap. Even though I fully believe Cov is the best player on the team, we’re going to bring him off the bench as the sixth man. I figure he can play three positions and fill a bunch of holes for us.
Back to the calendar: all we want right now is for Deke Van to play in the Rising Stars game on All-Star Weekend. We have five games before the All-Star break: a win over the Hornets (Deke: 18 points, six rebounds), a loss to the Jazz (Nelke: 14 points), a loss to the Mavs, a win over the Lakers (Van: 18 points and seven rebounds), and a loss to the Warriors (Nelke: 16 points).
All-Star Weekend is finally here. And …. Deke Van doesn’t make the Rising Stars Game. Damn. Graham (our leading scorer at 16.6 points per game) does make the Rising Stars Game, which is a nice consolation.
Here’s a look at the team at the All-Star break on Feb. 14:
This was always going to be a rebuilding year, so our record isn’t surprising or disappointing. We’re 8.5 games back of the eighth seed at the break and currently slated to have the seventh pick in the draft — more on that later.
Second half team? Let’s finish out the season.
We started off with a win against the Blazers. Then things got ugly fast:
Yes, that’s an 11-game losing streak over the course of three weeks. Some of those games I simulated via simcast on eight minute quarters, which is why the scores are a little bit lower. Regardless, this is a damn disaster, and I’m thankful for the suckage of Jim Boylen’s Chicago Bulls so we could finally stop the bleeding.
While the team was inadvertently tanking, Deke Van was holding steady. A few numbers:
Against the Knicks: 11 points and 12 rebounds
Against the Mavericks: 21 points and nine rebounds
Against the Grizzlies: 16 points and seven rebounds
Giovanni Nelke was also pretty good, dropping 18 points against the Clippers, 14 points on the Lakers, and 13 points on the Jazz and Hawks. To finish out the season, I made some lineup changes that were probably long overdue: Covington entered the starting lineup for at power forward, and Nelke at shooting guard.
We finish the year out at 27-55, last place in the West.
Let’s look at some end of season stats:
A few numbers that stood out to me:
Deke shoots 46.6 percent from the field, 27.3 percent from three on 1.4 attempts per game, 79.4 percent from the foul line. He finishes with 52 percent true shooting, an 18.2 percent usage rate, a 15.2 percent rebound rate, and a 14 PER. Deke ends the season as a 77 overall
Nelke shoots 46 percent from the field, 38.6 percent from three, 82 from the line. More Nelke numbers: 58.7 percent true shooting (second best on the team behind Graham), 24.3 assist rate, 23.3 usage, 16 PER. Nelke is a 78 overall.
Graham had a great year, leading the team in scoring (16.2 points per game) and assists (6.8 per game) while shooting 38.3 percent from three on 7.4 attempts per game. The game has a stat called Estimated Wins Added, where Graham leads the team at 8.1 wins (second best was Millsap at 5.6). Graham’s EWA is the 59th best in the league.
Malik Beasley averages 8.3 points per game but on ridiculous 64.2 true shooting. Beasley comes in 22nd in points per weighted shot and 10th in free throw rate at 24 percent. He’s a 79 overall. If we bring him back next year (he’s a restricted free agent), we might have to give him a bigger role.
Matisse Thybulle had a terrible year as our starting small forward: 43.5 percent true shooting, -7.5 estimated wins added, and a higher turnover rate (17 percent) than assist rate (9 percent). Nowhere to go but up, I guess.
Finishing out the season
Let’s run through the playoffs and end-of-season awards:
Luka Doncic wins MVP, Ja Morant wins Rookie of the Year
Deke Van: First Team All-Rookie. He comes in third in Rookie of the Year voting behind Ja and Zion.
Oh hell yeah, DeVonte’ Graham wins Most Improved Player!
The Nets (!) beat the Grizzlies (!!!) in the NBA Finals in five games. Kyrie is named Finals MVP after averaging 38.4 points pre game.
The playoffs were totally crazy: The top-seeded Clippers lost to the No. 8 seed Kings, and the second-seeded Lakers lost to the No. 7 seed Suns.
This year was always going to be about three things, and winning wasn’t one of them. Our goals were:
Improve the overall talent on the roster
Develop our young players
Create cap flexibility to land a superstar free agent
I think we accomplished all of them, even in a season that saw us finish as the worst team in the Western Conference with 27 wins.
I feel really great about three of the trades we made. Mike Conley — who we selected in the expansion draft — was too old, too expensive, and simply didn’t fit our timeline. I think we did well getting an unprotected 2023 first rounder and two expiring deals for him. The Caris LeVert for DeVonte’ Graham deal worked out for us, too — Graham was our engine offensively and should have room for improvement to continue growing into the role. The Dwight for Covington trade was highway robbery. I think the Tacko Fall deal probably wasn’t worth it, but that’s what I get for listening to the Twitch chat.
We’re going to have a ton of cap space going into the offseason. These are the guys on expiring deals: Paul Millsap (30.35 million), Evan Turner ($18.61 million), Marvin Williams ($15 million), Bogdanovic ($8.53 million), Malik Beasley ($2.7 million), Carmelo Anthony ($1.62 million), and De’Anthony Melton ($1.44 million). We have a team option on Graham at $1.6 million, which might be the best deal in basketball.
The only issue is this isn’t a great free agent class. Anthony Davis is available, but after him the pickings are slim. DeMar DeRozan is the second best UFA, while Brandon Ingram is the best restricted free agent.
I’m saying we’re in for a three- or four-year plan before we can compete for real. So much of it is going to come down to how Deke develops.
Bring on the NBA draft
Let’s run through the start of the offseason real quick.
Pau Gasol, Kyle Korver, and Jamal Crawford are the most notable players to retire. Also Zaza.
We signed our entire front office/coaching staff at the start of the season, so everyone is locked up for a few more years.
We have the fifth best odds entering the NBA draft lottery. We have a 10.4 percent chance of landing no. 1 pick. Let’s go!
Damn, we come in at No. 6. Could be prime Bert Draughan territory.
As I sim to the draft, here are the top players available when we come on the clock at No. 6:
I am torn on this one, man. Holmes is two inches and two years younger than Draughan and was also projected to be the higher pick. I also really like Magnus Wallgren, a 6’6 shooting guard from Sweden who has two more years on his contract overseas before arriving in the NBA. This is a win-win: he gets two additional years of development before starting his four-year rookie contract.
I’m really tempted to Wallgren with this pick, but also: c’mon. With the sixth pick in the NBA draft, the Seattle SuperSonics select:
The GOAT Leatherneck is coming to Seattle. I honestly didn’t have this pre-meditated coming into the season, but it worked out perfectly. And yes, I fixed the spelling of his name immediately.
As I tracked the next few picks, I noticed my boy Wallgren was falling a bit. I decided to try to make an offer for him, offer Ty Jerome and the lottery-protected first rounder we got for Dwight to the Spurs. To my shock and surprise, they said yes.
Huge! Magnus Wallgren is coming to Seattle … in two years. I think he can be a long-term option for us at shooting guard, and he’ll be on a super team-friendly deal when he finally arrives stateside.
I think we had a perfect draft: Draughan can contribute right away on the swing and Wallgren could be a stud down the road.
(Note: We’re going to be creating all of the former Leatherneck players who were drafted into the NBA in our College Hoops 2K8 sim dynasty. To maintain the integrity of the game, I chose a prospect projected in a similar range at the same position and edited their name and looks, but not their ratings. That way I have no idea how good Draughan or Ime Terrell really are. Some of their ratings and projection were subject to change when I agreed to the ‘update storyline’ option upon editing them.)
We start off free agency by picking up DeVonte’ Graham’s player option for $1.67 million. We have enough cap space to sign multiple max free agents after we renounce our cap holds, but as stated earlier, there really isn’t anyone worthy of that contract aside from Anthony Davis.
On the first day of free agency, we offer AD a max deal: $142 million over four years.
He doesn’t take it. Anthony Davis back to the Lakers. We decide to offer a max deal to Brandon Ingram on the next day, but he decides to re-sign with the Pelicans. Our first tough decision comes a few days into free agency, when the Heat sign Bogdan Bogdanovic (80 overall) to a $42 million offer sheet over three years. I just don’t think he has that much more room for improvement at 28 years old. We’re letting him walk.
After missing out on our top targets, we have to do something with all this cap space. Here’s what we do with it:
We sign Marc Gasol for one-year, $11.43 million
We sign Davis Bertans for two years, $27 million
We get Joe Harris for two years, $15 million
We re-sign Malik Beasley for three years, $34 million
We sign Duncan Robinson for one year, $9 million
Tacko Fall and De’Anthony Melton both decide to return on the qualifying offer. Here are some other signings from around the league:
Phil Powell signs with the Pistons for three years, $87 million
Fred VanVleet to the Jazz for $57 million over three years
Montrezl Harrell to the Raptors for $101 million over four years
Andre Drummond to the Hawks for $142 over four years
DeMar DeRozan to the Spurs for $180 million over five years
Hassan Whiteside to the Lakers for $51 million over two years
Danilo Gallinari to the Heat for $78 million over four years
Simming forward to next season
Thybulle has the most progress of anyone on the team, going up four points to 81. He’s now tied for the best player on the team at 81 overall with Graham, Covington, and Bertans.
I’m disappointed to see Deke and Nelke do not go up. They will start the new season as a 77 and 78 overall respectively.
I do get two bonus points to use on my team during training camp. I decide to use the ‘untapped potential’ boost on Deke and Draughan, who both go up to an A- now. I really thought Deke would improve more after his first year, so this is kind of a Hail Mary at boosting him before he gets too old. We’ll see.
Here’s a look at the starters for next season. Very much subject to change:
To be continued.
This series will return at some point. More importantly: here’s your Western Illinois live stream information for our Year 18 play-through on Twitch.
Western Illinois Year 18 live stream information
Game: Western Illinois, Year 18, 2024-2025. We’ll sim and watch one regular season game and then play through the season up to the NCAA tournament.
How to watch: My Twitch channel
Date: Monday, July 27
Tip-off time: 8:30 p.m. ET // 7:30 p.m. CT.