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By far the most shocking of ESPN’s layoffs this summer was longtime lead NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy. Not only has JVG been a record-setting presence in the broadcast booth calling an astounding 17 NBA Finals, but he was still fairly popular amongst fans of all kinds. Sometimes after that length of tenure it’s easy for fans to sour on personalities. Other times they can become too distant from the modern game. Van Gundy managed to stay at the top of his game while presenting it with a unique flavor of insights and irreverence.
JVG will be hard to replace at ESPN, but already the race to sit in the empty chair beside Mike Breen is heating up. Here is a ranking of the candidates to be ESPN’s new lead NBA analyst.
6. Bill Walton – We can only dream, right? Giving Walton another crack at the Finals (he was an analyst for multiple years with NBC in the 1990s) would be a magical stroke of genius on the level of Einstein’s theory of relativity.
5. Doc Rivers – While Rivers has been a popular choice to replace JVG, it’s hard to fathom how it makes sense from ESPN’s perspective. The whole reason for cutting Van Gundy was due to budget constraints and Rivers wouldn’t come cheap. Although he was decent in his first TV run and is a big name, it would be a puzzling decision.
4. Nobody – ESPN could choose to leave Mike Breen and Mark Jackson as a two-man booth, but that would probably be the most disappointing outcome for fans. Jackson has never been as popular as Van Gundy and without the former coach to bounce off banter, it would feel like a step backwards… like a Marty Janetty singles run after The Rockers split up.
3. Doris Burke – Burke is a logical choice as the longtime analyst and sideline reporter has been a mainstay in ESPN’s NBA coverage. Her work is well thought of by those inside and outside the industry and if ESPN wanted to go with the smoothest possible route, they would slide Burke up from the second broadcast booth with Mark Jones to the top spot. How Burke would fit in with Jackson and Breen would be interesting to watch from a chemistry standpoint.
1A and 1B. J.J. Redick and Richard Jefferson – If ESPN wants to be bold, what about a fresh start with two former NBA stars who are both younger than 45? Jefferson and Redick both have a lot of reps as game analysts and have starred as young, bright, and engaging personalities in the booth and the studio. And they already have established chemistry working together. Bringing both up to the lead analyst seats could rejuvenate ESPN’s NBA coverage and show that the network is truly taking an opportunity to look forward with their coverage. It’s also a clean break from the JVG-Jackson era. Jackson could slide back to work with Burke or even move to the studio, where change seems to happen every year, not once every 17 years.