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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.”

NBA draft profile: Bosnia F Dzanan Musa

NBA draft profile: Bosnia F Dzanan Musa

Dzanan Musa

Position: Forward

Height: 6-9

Weight: 190

Team: Cedevita Zagreb (Croatia)

You hear stories all the time about what prospects in different sports sacrificed to chase their dreams. Few of them can match Dzanan Musa.

At 11 years old, the Bosnian Musa moved from his hometown of Bihac to capital city Sarajevo (a nearly five-and-a-half-hour drive) to attend a basketball academy. Musa lived in an apartment by himself and trained several times a day until he turned professional at age 16.

“I know how to manage myself,” Musa said after a recent workout with the Denver Nuggets. “Especially when you’re from a small town as I am and you go in the main city, you have people looking at you like you’re nothing. You have to fight through that, so I fight. I fight all the time.” 

That hunger has placed the offensively-gifted wing among first-round talents in the 2018 draft class even if it takes a couple more years for Musa to suit up in the NBA.

Strengths
Musa has been getting buckets since he picked up a basketball. Look no further than his prolific scoring numbers with the Bosnian national team. 

In the 2014 FIBA Europe Under-16 Championship, he put up 23.0 points a game and followed that up in the 2015 FIBA Europe Under-16 Championship with 23.3 points a contest. Musa took it up a notch in the 2016 FIBA Under-17 World Cup when he racked up 34.0 points a night en route to being named tournament MVP.

Of course, that was against players his own age. But Musa has held his own against grown men in the professional ranks as well. In 71 total games for Cedevita Zagreb this past season across the Croatian Leagues and EuroCup, the 19-year-old averaged 12.3 points on 47.0 percent shooting from the field and 31.3 from three-point range in addition to 3.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 23.1 minutes (see highlights).

Overall, Musa is an offensive-minded player that can score in bunches at all three levels when on his game and handle play-making duties as a point-forward.

Weaknesses
Like plenty of European prospects before him, Musa has two huge areas to focus on if he wants to make it in the league: physique and defense. 

“In Europe, we don’t have people around here who are these kinds of athletes,” Musa said after a recent workout with the Indiana Pacers. "I have to develop myself into that kind of player to finish through contact.”

Notice he didn’t mention bulking up to help play defense. That’s because Musa apparently isn’t all that concerned with that end of the floor, which will be a major problem when the talent level spikes in the NBA.

Also, Musa apparently has a competitive side that boils over on the court and gets the best of him at times. That works when you’re someone like Draymond Green, an All-Star and multiple-time champion. Not so much when you’re a young player from overseas trying to find his way.

NBA comparison
While Musa would love to be compared to idol Manu Ginobili, we’re not about to make that link. Sorry, kid. 

However, another recent European prospect that was versatile offensively and was confident in his ability to the point of being cocky is Magic forward Mario Hezonja. That seems like a much better pairing. Like Hezonja, it will take time for Musa to adapt his body and game to the league before he is ready to contribute.

How’d he fit with Sixers
Offensively, Musa would appear to fit in pretty well with the Sixers. He likes to get out on the break and can knock down shots. He also would be able to take over ball-handling duties at times if needed.

On the defensive end, the Sixers have studs in Robert Covington and Joel Embiid that can cover up some deficiencies from others, but even they can only do so much.

Draft projection
Musa is projected to go anywhere from the late teens to near the end of the first round. With the Sixers holding the No. 26 pick and already having 11 players under contract for next season, he could be a serious candidate for a draft-and-stash selection.

More on the Sixers and the NBA draft

Despite Brett Brown connection, Sixers should steer clear of Kawhi Leonard trade

Despite Brett Brown connection, Sixers should steer clear of Kawhi Leonard trade

Brett Brown knows only one way to go about his business in the basketball world: attack.

That is evident from his pace-and-space style of play the Sixers have displayed since he took over as head coach. Now he has vowed to do the same thing as the team’s interim general manager.

“We are completely exploring aggressively all options, and I think we just know we need a little bit more,” Brown said Friday.

It’s evident the Sixers need help to become a championship-level team, but we’re not so sure it should come in the form of a man wearing black and silver hitchhiking his way out of San Antonio.

Kawhi Leonard sent shockwaves around the NBA when he reportedly made it clear he wants a split from the Spurs. Per the reports, Leonard has Los Angeles — specifically the Lakers — as his top destination for a trade.

And while there’s no guarantee the Spurs send the former Finals MVP and two-time All-Star to Hollywood, the Sixers would be better served to stay out of the hunt. That’s because if the quiet superstar has proven anything over the past year, it’s that he can do a lot of damage to an organization without saying a word. 

Leonard missed the first 27 games of 2017-18 with a right quad injury. He returned on a heavy-restriction plan only to play seven contests before suffering a tear in his left shoulder. The swingman played one more game before being shut down indefinitely because of the nagging quad. 

After more rehab and eventually being cleared by the Spurs’ medical staff, Leonard opted to leave the team for a second opinion in New York. He stayed away from San Antonio while getting treatment, which allegedly caused friction within the organization that eventually blew up in a players-only meeting.

That didn’t deter Leonard from his plan. He didn’t suit up again nor did he show support for the squad in its first-round series against the champion Golden State Warriors. (Oh, by the way, Leonard has missed time in three straight seasons because of his right quad and reportedly still isn’t 100 percent).

Now if that’s enough to shake up the locker room of arguably the most stable franchise in all of sports, what impact do you think Leonard’s methods would have on the Sixers’ impressionable roster?

Could it be that Leonard just reached his tolerance level with the legendary head coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurs and simply needs a change of scenery? Of course.

But that’s not a risk the Sixers should be willing to take. Not for virtually the only player in recent memory to ever clash with the highly-respected Spurs. Not for a guy that’s willing to potentially walk away from a $219 million supermax extension for a $188 million maximum just to escape to his hometown of L.A.

Certainly not when it could mean parting with key pieces of your core (Dario Saric, Robert Covington and/or Markelle Fultz) in addition to the No. 10 overall pick in the draft. All for what could be a one-year rental player, as Leonard is able to opt out of his current deal after next season.

Surely the Sixers would want a guarantee Leonard plans to stay before pulling the trigger on a trade, but that’s not a handshake agreement they should be willing to trust. Even if old buddy Brown is the one shaking hands with “The Claw.”

“He’s a great guy,” Brown said. “I’ve spent years with him, as you know, in San Antonio. I’m reminded of the recruiting process we went through to identify him and the sort of pain we went through to give up George Hill to move up and target him. He’s good people, he’s obviously an elite talent and I enjoyed my time with Kawhi in San Antonio.”

Things could be even more painful for Brown this time around if he’s not careful.

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