TORONTO — Raptors Uprising GC have traded away former NBA 2K League MVP Kenneth (Kenny Got Work) Hailey, the esports team's first-ever draft pick.
The Raptors sent Hailey and the 36th pick in the 2023 NBA 2K League draft to the DUX Infinitos for Waseem (Ball Like Seem) Talbert and the 13th pick.
Hailey has been with the Toronto esports team since the league's inaugural 2018 season. The Memphis native was named league MVP and a first-team all-star in 2020 when Raptors Uprising went 16-0 during the regular season and won two tournaments.
In all, it had a 28-1 record in all competitions in 2020. But that one loss was costly — in the semifinals to eventual champion Wizards District Gaming.
The Toronto team has not been able to match that success since.
The league changed formats in 2022, switching from a regular season and playoffs to a "tournament-centric season" structure.
"It was a really tough year last year for the Raptors," said head coach Roy Krishnan, who arrived in November from Mavs Gaming where he was assistant coach and GM. "We were the only team in the NBA 2K League to make zero dollars in earnings."
"The team really hadn't been competitive since Season 3 (in 2018)" he added. "And we're going into Season 6 now … The construction of the team made it so that we weren't a winner today and we weren't a winner tomorrow because we didn't hold any future assets."
Toronto, which will field a five-player roster, now has Talbot and the 13th, 15th, 25th and 26th draft picks in Thursday's draft in New York City.
At 23, Krishnan is the youngest head coach in the league.
Talbert was a fourth-round pick by Mavs Gaming in 2018 before joining Kings Guard Gaming a year later. He was part of DUX’s inaugural season last year, debuting as the first NBA 2K League team based out of Mexico.
Hailey was drafted in the first round (11th overall) in 2018 by Raptors Uprising and has been with the team ever since.
He thanked the organization in a social media post.
"Being the first-ever Raptors Uprising player is something that I'm proud about. Words can't express my gratitude," he wrote.
He also thanked his new team.
"You won't be disappointed," he said.
The esports league, a joint venture between the NBA and Take-Two Interactive, is the first official esports league operated by a U.S. professional sports league. It started in 2017 with 17 teams, each affiliated with an NBA team.
Since then, the league has expanded to 25 teams, 22 of which are affiliated with NBA teams. The other non-NBA-affiliated teams are Gen. G Tigers of Shanghai and NBL Oz Gaming, which represents Australia and the National Basketball League.
Teams compete in both three-versus-three and five-versus-five game play with Pistons GT (3v3) and Bucks Gaming (5v5) the 2022 champions.
Raptors Uprising made three trades in November and December, acquiring draft picks while shipping out Xavier (Type) Vescovi and Xavier (Big Saint) St. John, the two other players it retained after the 2022 season.
Emmanuel (FantaSZN) Gosman and Tyer (Plondo) Lay were left unprotected for the November expansion draft to stock NBL Oz Gaming.
Knicks Gaming won the 2018 league title following by T-Wolves Gaming (2019) and Wizards District Gaming (2021 and '22).
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2023
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press