This week ESPN announced its lineup of commentators for the upcoming season of NBA basketball. There is one major enforced change to the announcing lineup with Mike Tirico moving to NBC Sports earlier this year. Tirico had been the network’s #2 play by play man for the NBA, calling games on ABC and ESPN alongside Hubie Brown. The 83-year-old longtime analyst and former coach just signed a new extension with ESPN and is returning this season and he’ll have a new partner in Mark Jones.
It’s a significant decision by ESPN as they’ve decided to promote from within to fill the void left by Tirico instead of trying to add a new voice to their NBA coverage. And it’s nice to see someone like Jones, who’s been so solid for so long for the network, get a chance at a larger platform and more of a lead role. Can you believe that Mark Jones has been calling games for ESPN since 1990?!? That amazing longevity makes him one of ESPN’s longest-tenured announcers. And although he also calls college football and basketball for the network, his contributions to the NBA are what he’s most well known for, whether it’s calling games, being involved with the network’s draft coverage, or being an anchor/reporter. Jones and Brown will work together on Christmas Day and in the NBA Playoffs.
The other significant development is Doug Collins moving from the studio to the broadcast booth, which is probably where he belongs as a game analyst. Collins isn’t bad as a studio analyst mind you, but over the years he’s established himself as one of the best game analysts in all of sports and it’ll only make ESPN’s broadcasting lineup stronger. The depth in that position is pretty impressive when you consider Collins is probably the #3 game analyst now at ESPN behind Mark Jackson/Jeff Van Gundy and Hubie Brown. Collins will work most of his games alongside Dave Pasch (which makes for a great third broadcast team), but will also work with ESPN’s other play by play announcers in Mike Breen, Jones, and Ryan Ruocco.
Finally, analyst Doris Burke will work more NBA games as an analyst this season alongside her work as a sideline reporter for the network’s top team. Burke has shown an incredible versatility in being a game analyst, sideline reporter, and studio host for the network and the more she can be involved in ESPN’s NBA coverage, the better it will be.
With Collins now in place as a game analyst and some of these other moves, one wonders if ESPN will be tempted to change it up with their top broadcasting lineup someday. Even though Breen, Jackson, and Van Gundy have established great chemistry over the years and are now the longest-tenured NBA Finals announcing team in history, it’ll be tough to have arguably the best game analyst in the sport so far down the depth chart. On the flip side, ESPN hasn’t said who will replace Collins in the studio, but with a number of retiring superstars, perhaps ESPN can convince one of Bryant, Duncan, or Garnett to make the transition to television. Please let it be Tim Duncan, just to see what that would be like.