Networks settle lineups as NBA season tips off
by Michael Hiestand, USA TODAY Sports
The NBA’s national TV carriers scrambled on Tuesday to make last-minute changes to their coverage.
TNT scrapped plans for its studio show to be on-site for Thursday night’s New York Knicks-Brooklyn Nets game even as the NBA was assessing whether that game could be staged given local hurricane damage.
And ESPN will announce today two new NBA studio analysts: longtime coach Flip Saunders, fired by the Washington Wizards last season, and Antonio Davis, who retired in 2006 after 13 NBA seasons — both in their first full-time TV jobs.
As for Thursday’s Nets home opener (7 p.m. ET), TNT’s Nate Smeltz says, “We are planning to televise the game as scheduled” — although the pregame show will stay in its Atlanta studio. Given that Knicks-Nets and TNT’s Oklahoma City-San Antonio (9:30 p.m. ET), are the only two NBA games scheduled for Thursday night, TNT might be left with just the second half of its scheduled doubleheader — and have to fill in early with entertainment programming.
But, says Smeltz, “We will have a pregame show no matter.”
Saunders and Davis represent the latest changes in ESPN’s NBA coverage as the network never hesitates to shuffle its announcers. Others changes this season include bringing in ex-NBA ref Steve Javie as a regular contributor for rules analysis — the latest in the promising trend of including ex-officials in TV sports — as well as ex-NBA front office exec Tom Penn having been signed to a long-term contract to offer up a management perspective. And the ESPN/ABC NBA studio show has added writer Bill Simmons and ex-player Jalen Rose.
By contrast, TNT’s coverage returns largely intact. Tweaks include studio star Charles Barkley, who called one game last year, calling at least two this season — San Antonio-Miami on Nov. 29 , and L.A. Lakers-New York on Dec. 13. Also, ex-player Rick Fox has been added as an analyst on Turned-managed NBA TV.
One obvious NBA TV storyline this season will be whether Jeremy Lin, now with Houston, will prove to still be a shooting star rather than a burned-out comet. Says ESPN’s Davis: “Was that stint in New York just … [For more on Networks settling lineups even as NBA season tips off, click here.]