There are plenty of reported upcoming changes at NBA Countdown this season, including Michelle Beadle leaving and Rachel Nichols and Maria Taylor entering, plus Chauncey Billups shifting to work as a game analyst for ESPN nationally and the Los Angeles Clippers regionally. And now, it looks like there’s another change planned for ESPN’s studio content; featuring more of First Take pundit and NBA hot take expert Stephen A. Smith. Ryan Glasspiegel and Bobby Burack have a report on that at The Big Lead:
Stephen A. Smith is in ESPN’s plans for NBA studio coverage this upcoming season, The Big Lead has learned from multiple people with knowledge of the situation. An ESPN spokesperson declined to comment on the news.
Our sources indicate that Wednesday night is the most likely time for him to be involved, but cautioned that plans are not yet set in stone.
As Burack and Glasspiegel go on to note, the NBA’s decision to move start times earlier has a significant effect on ESPN (22 of their 36 double-headers will be bumped up to either 7 or 7:30 Eastern starts), and many of those are on Wednesdays. That could mean going directly into games from SportsCenter (which runs from 6 until 7 p.m. Eastern on that day) or quickly throwing to a host/halftime panel. And it sounds like the panel in those scenarios could be something different than the usual Countdown team, and it could include (or even just be) Smith.
ESPN’s certainly tried to use Smith in all sorts of roles over the years, many of them centering around the NBA. Back in his first stint at the network, they featured him on draft telecasts (ask the Heckling Society how that went), and in his current stint, he’s anchored SportsCenter proper, anchored NBA Finals SportsCenter “specials,” been repeatedly featured on SportsCenter segments and free agency specials, and more. And while it’s not his “ultimate fantasy” of hosting a late-night show, some more TV exposure on serious sports programming rather than First Take might help keep Smith happy, and it might help with his desire to get paid $10 million annually; it’s something else that he can point to, in addition to First Take and his radio show.
But adding Smith to NBA studio programming doesn’t necessarily carry a lot of value for many viewers. And that’s especially true for those who just want serious discussion of the players and the game in question rather than fiery Stephen A. takes. Smith tends to dominate the discussion on whatever programming he’s used on, too, so it will be interesting to see who, if anyone, winds up paired with him. We’ll see how this works out for ESPN and Smith.