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NBA 2K18 Review | MyGM gets its own story

Team Drewkerbockers seen at the NBA 2K16 Road to the Finals championship event on Wednesday, June 1, 2016, in Los Angeles. Two teams of gamers go head to head during a competition that merges simulation basketball with eSports for a shot at $250,000 and a trip to the 2015-2016 NBA Finals. (Photo by Dan Steinberg/Invision for NBA 2K/AP Images)
Dan Steinberg/Invision for NBA 2K/AP Images

Don’t trust anybody when running an NBA franchise — not even the people you work with or for. That is the lesson from the latest iteration of NBA 2K18, which drops for a full release Tuesday. 2K Sports has brought to consumers fascinating, fun, and ridiculous custom storylines in past versions of the video game. With the MyPlayer franchise, in which you can scan your face and put your likeness in the game for the entirety of a custom career, 2K Sports switches up the career scenarios year-to-year.

In the past, players have navigated different stories — from a 10-day contract guy trying to become a Hall of Famer to a top high school prospect with a Ball Is Life mixtape. There was even Spike Lee’s story mirroring He Got Game as you find out your friend possibly covered up a murder for you during high school. In the past, 2K integrated college one-and-done storylines into the MyPlayer story. This year, NBA 2K18 offers two different scenarios. If you want to go the MyPlayer route and build a player career, you’re a former player who left the basketball world to be a professional DJ. Seriously. But that’s not the only story NBA 2K18 offers.

For the first time in the franchise’s history, the story mode has been implanted into the MyGM mode. MyGM is 2K’s franchise mode in which players can construct, deconstruct, and shape dynasties however they want. Scout for the draft, sign free agents, make trades, and go through the minutiae of being a general manager for an NBA team. Manage player morale, coaching staff morale, and the trust of owners, media, and fans. It can be as in-depth or superficial as the player wants. It has also been consistently the best franchise mode for sports video games for a couple of years.

Not only has 2K18 added even more CBA aspects to running a team, but the story added to the mode creates a preposterous and yet addictive cold open to a fantastic sports video game mode.

WARNING: If you don’t want the story of this mode spoiled, skip to the next bold headline of this article. Also we’re going to use the royal “you” in this piece because the story literally puts your likeness into the game, should you so choose.

The story itself

The story begins in the 2011 Western Conference finals. Your MyPlayer likeness sits on a training table in the Dallas Mavericks’ locker room. The player has already dropped 36 points in the playoff game, but had to leave because of a knee injury. MRI results come back as the trainer tries to comfort the current sense of fragility. There are tears to the ACL, as well as ligaments you’ve never heard about. Your career has come to a screeching halt as a player because back in 2011, rehabbing ACL injuries was like trying to cure polio in 1922.

Fast-forward six years and your player has just been named the general manager of whichever team you choose to control. I decided to make GM Zach Harper the architect of the Chicago Bulls. Immediately, I’m on a phone call with the virtual owner of the Bulls, Eugene Petit. He welcomes me to the organization as I arrive at the team facility. A conversation of praise and expectation comes to a screeching halt. I have to go inside and say hello to Dwyane Wade and Fred Hoiberg at the doorway. When you choose a team, the star and coach of that team greet you in this first scene as GM.

After my interaction with Wade and Hoiberg, I attend my first press conference with local media. I get asked about my plan to rebuild or contend. I receive questions about retaining Hoiberg as the coach or going a new direction. Your answers to these questions will shape organizational reactions, like a Choose Your Own Adventure book.

A new direction

In the press conference, I inform the media the Bulls will go full rebuild mode. Despite Hoiberg sitting next to me at the press conference, I bluntly discuss going in a new coaching direction. We are rebuilding and we are going with a new coach. To say that Hoiberg handled the news of his eventual ousting well would be a false statement. (I can only assume Hoiberg was so upset that his wearing a tie with reckless abandon for his own heart health didn’t weigh on his mind at all.)

Shortly after Hoiberg hits me with the “you can’t fire me; I quit” rant, assistant coach Jim Boylen slinks into my office to ask for the head coaching job. He wants to know his standing with the team remains strong and he would love a shot. Not wanting to rock the boat with the players too much, I give Boylen the job. He also has very low coaching ratings so I’m not too worried about him adding extra wins with his expertise.

The boat has indeed been rocked though. While the owner confuses you with every interaction (they all involve an obsession with food) and I lie to the media about what went down, Wade wants to have a talk about this new direction. He isn’t tied to Hoiberg but he wonders how we got to a place with him playing on a rebuilding roster. This seems pretty true to life, considering real life buyout discussions.

I agree to find a new home for Wade and he seems at peace with the decision. Eventually, I trade Wade to Cleveland to join his buddy LeBron James in exchange for JR Smith (and cap filler named Iman Shumpert). I guess Cleveland couldn’t wait for the buyout.

Nepotism

Once you get past the drama of personnel decisions, you enter the drama of the team’s ownership. Mr. Petit has some cashflow problems after investment opportunities went awry. One of the investment failures is something that would never fail. He created an app called Porkify in which you receive alerts of the nearest pulled pork sandwich in your area. I guess it’s possible Petit would make too much money from this venture to the point that it sunk his operations. To increase value in the team, the owner demands you trade for 40-year old Vince Carter. Things are cratering in Chicago.

In comes Bob Sanderson — a lover of the Bulls and a Seattle native. Bob loves all of the new gadgetry and trends of the NBA. He wants strobe light training, sleep cycles tracked, analytics-laced reports distributed, and more. He drops the term “light years” as he channels his inner Joe Lacob. However, in the way Lacob turned the state of the sad Golden State Warriors around, Sanderson does basically the opposite. He meddles in improper and troublesome ways.

Sanderson wants you to trade for Derrick Rose because an analytics report states his cost-effective value. He wants you to hire his son as assistant GM, flat-out telling you he will be the GM someday. Bob also implores you to go get a top-three pick in the draft via trade because another subplot of this franchise mode is the three can’t-miss prospects at the top of the draft. One guy compares to a 6-foot-10 LeBron James type from Kentucky, nicknamed the “Creek Freak” because of his physical similarities to Giannis. Your top scout sells the idea of a point guard from UCLA as Russell Westbrook with Steph Curry’s jumper and Tony Allen’s defense. Or you can select a European big man compared to Anthony Davis with the potential for a 3-point shot, as well.

If you’re going to make a deal for Rose, you can’t give up your first-round pick. Cleveland is mighty protective of Rose, calling him an integral part of their championship prospects. They play hardball in negotiations. Completing a deal for him proves virtually impossible. That happens by design.

They stage a coup!

Can’t trade for Derrick Rose. But you know who can? Bob’s son Andrew Sanderson can trade for Derrick Rose. As you receive more and more pressure to call Cleveland and get a deal done, assistant GM Sanderson works behind the scenes to get things done. There are talks between father and son about trading for Rose, which get passed to me as pseudo-demands. The owner has been overheard in the locker room talking to the analytics guy about getting a deal done for Rose. This sends Jerian Grant into a panic and I have to calm him down and promise everything will work out.

The friction and drama in this organization overwhelm the tanking effort.

After multiple attempts to coerce Cleveland into giving me Rose, the trade deadline approaches. I move on from reacquiring Rose to the Bulls because I can’t risk giving up a top-three pick. I will not Billy King this organization. The trade deadline nearly passes before an alert from social media pops up on the screen. The Bulls have traded for Derrick Rose, except I didn’t trade for Rose. The owner’s son went behind my back to make the trade, moving the same Jerian Grant I promised wouldn’t be traded. In the process, Rose has some questions about the state of this organization.

He has made me look like a powerless fool and I will get my revenge on him in this life or the next.

Resolution and MyGM mode back to normal

Four things happen to finish out this first season with my Bulls organization.

After the unauthorized trade and Zach LaVine telling me Young Sanderson has been tweeting criticism at him for bad games, I attempt to fire the owner’s son. Although despite my harsh words, he still works for the organization. I guess I truly am a powerless fool.

Second, Bob Sanderson decides to move the Bulls to Seattle and puts the relocation into motion. Rumors fly and I have to dodge them, at the behest of the owner. It’s only slightly less egregious than the plot of Eddie in which Frank Langella buys the Knicks and tries to move them to St. Louis after putting sneakers on a horse. Bob has me tap dancing around questions about the relocation and denying everything.

Third, the previous owner of the Bulls and Porkify comes back into the picture. He comes flush with heavy-hitting investors with pockets deeper than Steph Curry’s range. He wants back into the NBA just months after selling his team and he wants to keep the Bulls from moving to Seattle. Right before league approval to move to Seattle, The Porkify Prince swoops in and purchases the team back from Bob Sanderson, whose businesses outside of the NBA have fallen on hard times.

Last but not least, the management of the team gets cleaned up. I finally get to fire Andrew Sanderson (by choice) and I get promoted from GM to president of the team. This is the first year of the new MyGM storyline. From there, you transition smoothly into the traditional version of this mode. And if you’re lucky enough to land a top-three pick, you select from the UCLA point guard, the European Anthony Davis, or the Creek Freak. I took the Creek Freak.

Robust General Managing

Aside from a few layout changes, this is largely the same MyGM mode from the revamped and improved version last year. That’s mostly a good thing. Things are more customizable this time with frequency of random free agency decisions (not always money based) and career-ending injuries. The interactions you have with personnel and players remains just about identical. That can grow pretty stale with the process of scouting draft prospects, dealing with injuries, and gameplan/training changes. However, these are also all customizable if you want to have the computer change it.

Where things take a bigger leap is the depth of the CBA in the game. You can sign players to two-way deals that employ the G-League. You don’t play G-League games but you get the opportunity to add these guys to your roster. Also with international players, some don’t come over to the NBA right away. You can draft guys who won’t join the NBA for one or two years, meaning you can plan even more for the future while holding draft rights. It’s a cool little wrinkle to the game that might eventually lead to some type of financial managing in paying for buyouts. But that isn’t happening yet.

A small touch to the draft process also includes ceiling and floor player comps for scouted prospects. One small forward had a ceiling of Kevin Durant and a floor of Danny Green. Another top-eight prospect had a ceiling of Michael Carter-Williams and a floor of Tim Frazier. And you can now trade for draft rights of players during the draft to wheel and deal all offseason.

The offseason now includes a moratorium for free agency. The first three days of free agency limit you to three offers per day as you try to get players to agree to sign without it being official. Is there the chance for a DeAndre Jordan-Dallas fiasco? You bet. DeMarcus Cousins joined the Los Angeles Lakers in the moratorium before eventually re-signing with the New Orleans Pelicans. You can make all kinds of moves and agreements with free agents and you will be told whether you have the cap space to complete the moves.

You can get Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis to sign with you. But if you don’t clear the cap space in the process, you have to make financial decisions. Work on moving players under contract or renouncing free agent rights to clear cap holds. However you need to get it done to add both players, you do it. Then you hope KD tweets out his Players Tribune article from the correct Twitter account (OK, it’s isn’t that real).

There are still the little touches like expansion, relocation, realignment, rule changes (they eliminated goaltending!), and All-Star city selection that can keep things fresh.

The drawbacks of this mode

All of this can look extremely detailed and fun. The entertainment value of the story writing shoots through the roof at times. However, sometimes you just want to jump into the old MyGM mode without having to resort to MyLeague. That option to start an expansion team no longer exists in MyGM mode. You start with the traditional 30 teams no matter what. An option to go back to the MyGM of old with the new, non-story features isn’t there.

Jump to MyLeague for the expansion life and you miss out on things like fulfilling owner’s goals and the more intimate difficulties of relocating a team. It sounds small and nitpicking, but that’s a misstep for the MyGM mode. You should be able to turn off the MyGM story if you’re not into going through that for every franchise you start. This serves as a subtle gripe but it disappoints nonetheless.

Overall game impressions

This still rates out as the best, most comprehensive franchise mode in a sports video game. It far surpassed the cookie-cutter approach to Madden years ago. MLB: The Show rivals NBA 2K for the depth and entertainment of running franchises. But the king remains the king for now. The gameplay engines and animations on the court have improved. Everything looks and feels a lot smoother for player movement and actions. However, a new shot meter takes some getting used to. Timing on missed layups early on, and the new shot meter, will frustrate gamers. Some tweaks in patches need to happen to smooth out those aspects but that remains fixable.

Once 2K figures out the patches for the initial launch problems (mostly tied to MyCareer and MyPlayer), this will serve as the deepest, best version of the franchise. It also sets the bar pretty high for 2K Sports to clear next year. As long as those corrections happen in a timely manner, of course.



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