While last month’s ESPN layoffs of on-air personalities were pretty shocking across the board, perhaps none was more surprising than Jeff Van Gundy.
Van Gundy called an incredible 17 NBA Finals with ESPN after joining the network in 2007, having worked the last 15 NBA Finals alongside Mike Breen and Mark Jackson. It’s the true end of an era for the network and basketball viewers who have grown accustomed to the former head coach’s ability to mix valuable game analysis with humor and humility (and his disdain for bad officiating).
And replacing Van Gundy won’t be an easy task. But it appears that the process is officially underway and JJ Redick’s name is garnering the most attention. According to Front Office Sports, Redick’s name has “zoomed to the top of the contenders’ list to join ESPN’s top NBA game broadcast team.”
Redick, along with fellow ESPN analysts Doris Burke and Richard Jefferson and four-time NBA head coach Doc Rivers, are all in the mix to replace Van Gundy, according to the report. However, while Redick has been named as a contender by Front Office Sports, columnist Chad Finn of the Boston Globe reported that he’s hearing there’s a good chance that it’ll be Rivers and Burke who will join ESPN’s top NBA broadcast team.
Nothing is imminent now, but hearing there's a good chance that Doc Rivers and Doris Burke join Mike Breen on ESPN's top NBA broadcast team next season.
— Chad Finn (@GlobeChadFinn) July 17, 2023
Only one report suggests that the remainder of ESPN’s booth would remain largely unchanged. Front Office Sports’ report indicates that Redick, Bruke, Jefferson and Rivers are all in play to possibly succeed Van Gundy, which means they would join a team of Jackson and Breen. Though, Finn suggests that something larger could be at play, including Jackosn potentially being replaced. He didn’t outwardly say that, but it’s largely inferred. And many were left wondering why it was Van Gundy who received a pink slip and not Jackson.
While Redick has been a fast riser in the industry and offers a fresh, differing perspective on ESPN’s First Take, it’s hard to imagine that the network would pass at the opportunity to promote Burke, who is currently on any secondary NBA broadcast on ESPN or ABC, primarily working alongside Mark Jones.
Given its cost-cutting mandate, ESPN is likely to stay in-house by promoting Redick, Burke or Jefferson. Though if Disney were to hire from outside the company, one potential candidate to replace Van Gundy could be Rivers.
Though it was almost 20 years ago, Rivers had success as a color analyst on ABC in 2004, calling that year’s Finals alongside play-by-play veteran Al Michaels. If Rivers is keen on returning to the booth, ESPN may just pair him with Breen, who the New York Post cites as a “close” friend.
Whether it’s Redick, Burke, Jefferson or Rivers, ESPN certainly has its work cut out when it comes to replacing Van Gundy.