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NBA 2K18 release moves Sixers, NBA toward inaugural NBA 2K League season

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NBA 2K18 release moves Sixers, NBA toward inaugural NBA 2K League season

For sports gamers across the country, Friday marked the anticipated opening whistle for NBA 2K18, the latest version of the most popular sports title in North America. But for the Sixers and NBA, it means another milestone in the progression toward the inaugural season of NBA 2K League.

“It’s huge,” said NBA 2K League managing director Brendan Donohue. “Everyone connected to this thing is wildly excited about the game coming out. It definitely throws some gas on the fire in terms of our excitement level, the teams and their respective markets. This will be another crescendo point on our calendar in the next six months.”

And there’s reason to be excited. NBA 2K League is a budding esports competition based on NBA 2K18 and future NBA 2K releases. Expected to begin in May 2018, the Sixers and 16 others NBA franchises will build a roster of professional gamers to battle it out on the NBA 2K18 court in fully staffed 5-on-5 games. 

“Since the league was announced in February, we’ve seen a growing excitement around the game and it keeps getting higher and higher,” Donohue said. “For us, we’re excited the game is well received and that the community is excited about it.”

While the idea of a competitive league based around a video game may seem foreign to many, joining the NBA 2K League wasn’t a shortsighted investment for the Sixers, who are extremely active in the esports space.

“The potential is endless,” said Sixers Chief Sales and Marketing Officer Chris Heck.

Newzoo, a market research firm dedicated to digital gaming, predicts general esports revenues will more than double to upwards of $1.5 billion by 2020. Jumping on that wave of momentum in September 2016, the Sixers purchased Team Dignitas as their first foray into esports.

“We had a very fast and hard dose of reality when we were investigating the purchase of Team Dignitas, our esports franchise,” Heck said. “What we found out was maybe half the world is watching traditional stick and ball sports, and we feel really good about that. But there’s the other half of the world and they are into esports. It was a no-brainer for us to jump into this space and we’re seeing the results with compelling numbers from our sponsors both locally and internationally.” 

According to Forbes, each NBA 2K League organization paid $750,000 to buy-in for a three-year commitment, with more NBA teams lined up to join in for the second season.

“It’s not for the faint of heart but we’re not in this business to just get through the day,” Heck said. “We want to do something that changes the future landscape. It’s a big commitment because we believe in it and we believe in esports in general, we obviously believe in the NBA and we think that being one of the original franchises is a gift.”

Being an original franchise in an original league also means building a team from scratch. Before organizations like the Sixers enter the competition, they need to identify, analyze and draft players. The first league draft will take place in March with tryouts held in February. 

There could even be a NBA-style lottery to determine pick seeding.

“We want all 17 teams to be successful and have a chance at being successful, so yes, you will see a draft from us,” Donohue said. “All of the teams will be able to draft their players, and we’ll create a system where they can identify those players.” 

Unlike many other esports clubs, once drafted, the 2K pros, who will be salaried, will move to their host city, live in a team-supplied gaming house and practice together. With the Sixers' infrastructure and connection to Dignitas, Donohue believes the Philadelphia team has an opportunity to stand out.

“The Sixers are already using their practice facility for crossover opportunities with Dignitas, so that’s really where it's amazing to see potential,” he said. “The player experience, whether that's access to education around nutrition, sleep, psychology and doctors. They have state of the art medical operations and facilities, it will be a pretty cool advantage.”

Heck noted that the Sixers will rely heavily on their already established esports connections. 

“We’re following their lead more on the esports side than on the basketball side,” Heck said of Dignitas. “We have a view of the world that is maybe different than everybody else.

“We’re as well suited for this opportunity as any franchise in the world.“

Taking a page from both the NBA schedule and popular esports tournaments, NBA 2K League could feature a regular season and side tournaments, similar to NCAA basketball conference tournaments and NCAA Men’s Division I basketball tournament, or March Madness. Details are still being worked out.

“We love how esports generates tournaments that create incredible drama and create incredible stories,” Donohue said. “It brings the players to life.”

Teams will be flown to the central location, which has yet to be determined, where all games will take place on either console, Sony PlayStation or Microsoft Xbox, or PC. This will likely be a small venue to host fans and provide infrastructure for a successful broadcast, which is also to be determined.

“They are working on that right now, we are weighing in with our own thoughts about what’s best for the league,” Heck said. “We have full faith that the NBA will make the right decision on how the fans and viewers receive the content.” 

With details constantly emerging, the league is hurdling toward relevancy and its 2018 launch. Esports, with all its potential, is the next evolution in big-money sports, and the NBA has claimed its spot.

“We believe that the NBA and league office has more of a global look and view in the world of sports and beyond than anyone else,” Heck said. “They see this as a new frontier.”

Joel Embiid disappointed Brett Brown has him on another minutes limit

Joel Embiid disappointed Brett Brown has him on another minutes limit

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid would like to play 48 minutes every game. The Sixers are looking at a maximum of 20 for opening night.

"I don't really know if there's a solid number," Brett Brown said Monday after practice. "I can tell if you were to choose a number, it's somewhere in the teens."

Embiid was hoping for more playing time on Wednesday against the Wizards, his first regular-season game since Jan. 27 (left knee surgery).

"I didn't know about that, but that's very disappointing," Embiid said Monday of the minutes restriction. "I feel great and hopefully that changes based on today's practice and tomorrow's practice."

The Sixers are being cautious with Embiid, who has both a lengthy history of injuries and a massive new contract extension. He clocked 15 minutes in both of his preseason games last week. Embiid felt he could have played twice as many minutes.

While the Sixers aren't ready to go as high as 30 minutes yet, they could exercise some wiggle room based on the flow of the game.

"There will be some minutes restrictions, but it's also a judgment of how is the game being played, not just looking at rote, rigid number," Brown said.

The NBA's new timeout rules could impact Embiid's playing time. The updated format changes include a decrease in the maximum number of timeouts allowed (18 to 14), 75-second team timeouts and fewer timeouts in the final minutes of the game. 

"One of the things that we're doing this year unlike previous years is there's a little bit of a looseness in relation to it doesn't have to be rigid if the game didn't dictate some track meet," Brown said. "This is like I'm coaching in the London Olympic Games again. The game moves. I can have guys at a scorers table for two minutes with no stoppage. So sometimes the torrid pace of a game doesn't favor Jo where you go flying up and down."

In addition to individual games, it remains to be seen if Embiid will be cleared this season for back-to-backs. The Sixers face their first set of consecutive games this Friday and Saturday against the Celtics at home and the Raptors in Toronto.

Markelle Fultz likely to start season on bench for Sixers

Markelle Fultz likely to start season on bench for Sixers

CAMDEN, N.J. — Brett Brown likely will bring Markelle Fultz in off the bench to start the season. 

The No. 1 pick missed the majority of the preseason because of soreness in his right knee and right shoulder. Fultz played a total of 47 minutes over just two games. He practiced Sunday.

When asked if Fultz will start, Brown said “I don’t believe so” and noted the lack of in-game experience. The Sixers face the Wizards’ dangerous backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal in the regular season opener Wednesday. 

“He hasn’t played much basketball in preseason,” Brown said Sunday. “He’s been out for a while. He hasn’t been with our group. I think the decision like, do you put him into the fire right away and have him play against starting NBA defensive players, especially with the little foundation that he has? I don’t think that’s smart.”

Fultz, last season’s Pac-12 leading scorer, struggled offensively in the preseason games in which he did play. He shot 2 for 13 from the field (0 for 3 from three) and scored four points in the opener against the Grizzlies. Facing the Celtics, he scored 12 points off of 5 for 11 shooting from the field (no three-point attempts).

“At the end of the day, I want to do whatever I’ve got to do to help my team win,” Fultz said. “So if that’s coming off the bench, I’m fine with that. Just contribute any ways I can.”

All the while, the change in his shot form has been in the spotlight. He missed the second preseason game against the Celtics because of shoulder soreness. He previously described the injury as ongoing and did not point to a specific moment of injury (see story). Fultz was sidelined for the final two preseason games with right knee soreness.

“My shoulder is bothering me, so that’s the reason my shot’s like that,” Fultz said. “At the end of the day, I’m not going use that as an excuse, like I said before. But my shoulder is the main reason why my shot’s doing that.”

The Sixers traded up to draft Fultz first overall largely because of his ability to complement Ben Simmons off the ball. The pair hasn’t played together much since then, though. Jerryd Bayless started four of the five preseason games at shooting guard alongside Simmons.

“You have a plan in your head. It’s deviated from the summer, lots of it because of his injuries and lack of availability,” Brown said. “But we’ll all sort of see how I use him and how he uses himself. It will all be driven out of, how do we develop him and still win games?”

Fultz’s role could change throughout the season. The Sixers will work through his minutes, guard pairings and ball-handling responsibilities. These considerations will be based on Fultz’s health, matchups and the availability of his teammates, all the while trying to be successful. 

“The balance of development and winning is a slippery slope because he hasn’t played basketball and he’s really had an erratic preseason,” Brown said. “How we are fair in delivering him to an NBA court and situations that I put him in and volume of minutes he gets with the notion he’s the first player chosen, we understand the microscope, the pedestal that he is on. But the reality with all those other things that I just said are also my responsibility to figure it all out. Ultimately, you’ve got play and develop him and take some hits so that he can grow with us.”