The start of the NBA season is only days away and yet ESPN is still looking at uncertainty in their main NBA studio show. It's amazing to think that this close to the start of the season, the network that will broadcast the NBA Finals still doesn't have things figured out, but that's the unique state of flux ESPN NBA Countdown finds itself in at the moment. First came the announcement that Doug Collins would be replacing Michael Wilbon on set. Then came the surprise news that Magic Johnson was leaving on his own and the juicy story of whether or not it was due to a power struggle with Bill Simmons. In the midst of all of this, Doris Burke also jumped on board too. Got all of that straight?
Good, because the music hasn't stopped yet so don't sit down. Now John Koblin, who's been on the everchanging nature of NBA Countdown, reports that Sage Steele has been offered a completely new role on the show – studio host! (Revolutionary, I know.) However, she has yet to make a decision to accept the offer:
"NBA Countdown may have found its new host. We've learned that SportsCenter anchor Sage Steele has been offered the job, according to four sources familiar with the process. It is not clear if she'll accept.
If Steele takes the job it'll give the show a proper host, a role that no person claimed last year. We've also been told that Steele's contract with ESPN is set to expire next year. What the job would mean for her future at ESPN—whether she'd re-up or do the show while running out her contract—isn't clear, either."
I can hardly remember one show going through this much change this close to the start of the season. It's been about as organized and structured as 5 AM shopping at Wal Mart on Black Friday. Perhaps that's appropriate given the fact that NBA Countdown has abandoned concepts like organization and structure in the past two years by purposely not naming a studio host and instead going with a free-flowing discussion amongst its analysts.
The results to that formula two years ago with Jon Barry, Magic Johnson, Michael Wilbon, and Chris Broussard were ugly. Last year the show was much better with Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose replacing Barry and Broussard. NBA Countdown was more interesting, more entertaining, more insightful, and much less painful to watch. However, it still had plenty of room for growth and still faced some bumps in the road.
Now with even more turnover and an analyst lineup that includes some combination of Rose, Simmons, Collins, and Burke the only thing missing is a proper host. And Sage Steele is the perfect choice for ESPN among many capable options.
Steele has anchored countless NBA segments for SportsCenter so she's a familiar face for basketball fans. And what Countdown needs more than anything is a host who doesn't have to dominate the screen and can capably navigate both serious basketball analysis and the lighter moments as well. Thankfully, Steele has been a part of enough weird moments on daytime SportsCenters to be able to handle any situation.
It may seem like ESPN is desperate by blowing up NBA Countdown and starting over once again, but if Steele joins the show and it finally gets a proper host then it will be the best move Countdown can make. Doug Collins and Doris Burke are a huge upgrade over Magic Johnson in a TV sense – both in basketball analysis and in the show not having to be overly deferential to their legacies. Also, a host should allow Rose and Simmons to continue to grow their chemistry on Countdown and bring to TV what they've done at Grantland without them having to worry about leading in and out of breaks or making sure everyone is getting their word in. Steele (or any host quite frankly) can bring all of these moving parts together in some sort of coherent way and make the show even better. It still won't reach Inside the NBA, but at least it can close the gap just a bit more.
In spite of all of the shifting in the analyst chairs, a host is what Countdown needs more than anything. Sage Steele is the right person for the job. If all the pieces come together, it will be another major step forward for NBA Countdown this year.