ESPN Needs to Make Major Changes to NBA Countdown; Here are Some Options

Bobby Burack

The NBA season is full of looking ahead to the following year and imagining what transactions will be made. It happens less on the media side but perhaps it should not. Just as we can all point to what NBA teams could and should make major moves, we can do the same with the NBA pregame shows. While TNT’s pregame show remains fun, discussed, and thriving in quality,  ESPN’s NBA Countdown is struggling to find any of that.

The biggest question heading into the offseason is what they do with the host Michelle Beadle. Beadle signed a long-term deal with ESPN that will pay her millions after departing from Get Up this past August. Beadle’s struggles as the host are unmissable. The belief around the industry is that the executives aren’t missing this, either. In February, The Big Lead broke down the possibilities of ESPN moving her. ESPN doesn’t appear to have a natural landing spot for her but it would be hardly shocking if she is not hosting all of the Countdown shows, or at least not the main days, sometime soon.

Moving Beadle wouldn’t solve all, but bringing over Rachel Nichols to host would certainly bolster the show’s notoriety. On The Jump, Nichols keeps on creating several talking points for other shows and it seems like all the major interviews in the NBA are conducted by her these days. She is well respected around the NBA and has chemistry with several of ESPN’s NBA analysts.

Maria Taylor is another name ESPN is high on. They look at her and Laura Rutledge as big parts of their future. Taylor has impressed at each role she has been given and is a logical long-term answer for any marquee hosting role at the network. And if they don’t have the same host doing all four days a week, it would be hard to dispute Taylor being the right fit for at least one of the days.

Stephen A. Smith getting into the picture is the quickest way for ESPN to make waves. There have been rumors Smith wants on Countdown. Would the NBA be alright with this? Years ago, the David Stern regime blocked Stan Van Gundy from being on the show (though now he is a regular contributor). There have been rumors that the NBA has objected to the idea of Stephen A. Smith on the program over the years, but if you call the league and ask them about that, they deny blocking it from happening. Given that he is often on SportsCenter right after the games, one would think it would be fine for him to be on right before as well. Whatever the case may be, it’s nonetheless difficult to see him co-existing with Beadle if she remains on the show.

Cassidy Hubbarth may be less likely, but is a good option for the show. Hubbarth’s energy is contagious and would instantly give the show some new life.

Whatever ESPN decides to do at the hosting position, there are other moves that need to be made simultaneously. Outside of Jalen Rose, the other rotating analysts have failed to make a mark on the show. Sure, Paul Pierce’s opinions get aggregated, but his ability to perform at a high level on the show remains suspect. Dwyane Wade is the name for them to go out and get with the hope that he can be that difference maker. In a list of sports media talents set to break out this year, The Big Lead brought up the possibility of Wade joining ESPN.

Chiney Ogwumike could also provide that, and is someone that could be a focal point of their NBA coverage for years to come. Ogwumike has an entertaining style that would give the show a unique vibe.

Whether or not they would do it, the right move would be to add non-former NBA players to the mix. ESPN’s roster of NBA reporters and commentators that didn’t play is impressive. Adding any combination of Adrian Wojnarowski, Ramona Shelburne, Brian Windhorst, Jorge Sedano, Zach Lowe, and Michael Wilbon would result in a major upgrade of quality.

Like with so many NBA rumors, the excitement of what could come next often is far more interesting than what is going on currently. NBA Countdown will not, and should not, try to be Inside the NBA. After all, also having a post-game show will always be far more interesting than just a pregame show due to having the chance to react, not preview. ESPN chooses to kick it out to SportsCenter after the conclusion of their games. But that doesn’t mean they can’t turn what is a currently a lackluster show into one of the better pregame shows on-air.