ESPN finds itself at a crossroads with its NBA coverage heading into the 2024-25 season. Screen grab: NBA Countdown

While there’s still some uncertainty regarding the NBA’s next media rights deal, what does appear clear is that ESPN will remain the league’s top partner.

But even before the new deal kicks in following the 2024-25 campaign, the Worldwide Leader finds itself at a crossroads with its NBA coverage, with several questions needing to be answered between now and the start of next season.

Those questions include (but aren’t limited to):

Who will be on ESPN’s A-team?

Most pressingly, ESPN will need to figure out its top NBA broadcast team, which has already undergone two different iterations since Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson were released last summer. After Doc Rivers abandoned his post to become the head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks in the middle of the season, his replacement, JJ Redick, appears poised to do the same with the Los Angeles Lakers (if he hasn’t already), leaving yet another void on ESPN’s A-team.

While it’s always possible the network could opt to stick with a two-person booth of Mike Breen and Doris Burke, shoehorning Redick into the top booth in the middle of this last season would seem to indicate that ESPN — and perhaps the league — prefers a three-person team. If that’s the case, it will be interesting to see who the network targets, with Richard Jefferson standing out as the most obvious candidate if Disney opts to promote from within.

Although there are no shortage of former players who have entered the media landscape in recent years, very few appear prepared to make the jump to ESPN’s — and by extension, the NBA’s — top broadcast team. But with Disney reportedly set to remain the home of the NBA Finals throughout the league’s next rights deal, figuring out who will call those games will be paramount.

What’s the future of NBA Countdown?

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but ESPN has yet to figure out its NBA studio show.

As basketball fans bemoan the uncertain future of Inside the NBA, ESPN’s NBA Countdown has yet to resonate in a manner remotely similar to its TNT counterpart. This past season’s Countdown featured Malika Andrews, Stephen A. Smith, Michael Wilbon and Bob Myers, with Jefferson, Kendrick Perkins, Adrian Wojnarowski, and Chiney Ogwumike also routinely appearing on the program.

Countdown‘s current issues were on full display during the Finals, with Andrews hosting and Smith, Wilbon, and Myers — none of whom are former NBA players — serving as analysts. In an apparent attempt to compensate for such shortcomings, ESPN welcomed current NBA players such as Josh Hart, Paul George, and Julius Randle to its set, which seemed like a curious decision on basketball’s biggest stage (more on that later).

ESPN’s NBA presentation received plenty of criticism throughout the playoffs, especially when it came to its Knicks-centric coverage. While Countdown has undergone several iterations, this is frankly one of its most lackluster in terms of both analysis and overall star power and it would hardly be surprising to see ESPN take yet another turn at overhauling the program, particularly when it comes to its cast of analysts and baffling production that sees its halftime segments sometimes given mere second of analysis between a monstrous amount of commercials.

Where’s the depth?

While there’s nothing wrong with current players getting on-air reps, perhaps the most jarring aspect of ESPN putting inexperienced broadcasters in such a prominent position is that it seemingly came out of necessity. Draymond Green is a polarizing presence on TNT, but he’s also a luxury on a show that also includes Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kenny Smith. Meanwhile, if Countdown wouldn’t have welcomed George or the two current Knicks to its broadcasts, it might not have had anyone to represent the voice of the NBA player (or even a coach) on its program during the Finals.

Analysis can come in many forms and some of the best in basketball have no previous playing or coaching experience in the league. But not having a single voice to represent the perspective of players and/or coaches on the pre-, halftime, and postgame shows would have been especially egregious, and it’s notable that the network found itself relying on a seemingly random rotation of current players to fill that void.

Moving forward, ESPN would be wise to invest in its pipeline of former players, especially with Redick likely heading to LA, Jefferson potentially being promoted to the top broadcast team, and Tim Legler’s contract set to expire. It also seems like a no-brainer to increase Brian Windhorst’s presence on the program, especially after his virtuoso performance throughout these playoffs.

With NBC and Amazon set to enter the fray as the NBA’s new partners, it figures to be a fascinating next few years in the league’s media landscape.

The good news for ESPN is that it has a year head start to work with.

The bad news? It has no shortage of problems — both big picture and smaller — to fix.

About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.