Earlier today, ESPN announced Grantland editor-in-chief Bill Simmons and ESPN analyst Jalen Rose will join Kia NBA Countdown – ESPN and ABC’s NBA pre-game show. Simmons and Rose participated in a media conference call this afternoon to discuss their new roles. Here is the replay.
Q. Jalen, why do you think you’ll be a good fit on the show?
JALEN ROSE: I’m really excited about the opportunity to join NBA Countdown. We all know that the standard for the NBA studio show was set, and rightfully so, by the TNT show lead by Ernie, Charles, Kenny and now they added Shaq.
I’ve been covering the NBA for 10 years, played 13 years. I have a very good pulse on what’s happening in the league. I think my experience and my wealth of knowledge – not only with the players and front office – but also with being able to really have a good handle on the landscape of what’s going to really take place on and off the floor makes me a great addition.
BILL SIMMONS: Jalen doesn’t have just a wealth of knowledge, he has wealth. That’s why he’s going to be on the show, he doesn’t give a crap.
Q. I wanted to get Bill and Jalen’s take on the Thunder’s chances of getting back to the NBA Finals this season.
BILL SIMMONS: I’ll go first. I actually think people are sleeping on them a little bit. They came very close in the first four games. Probably decided on a total of six plays. They got their feet wet. Everybody’s attention is on the Lakers, and rightly so.
I don’t know, I think those guys are going to be motivated. The one thing I have is with James Harden, the contract thing, whether that ends up submarining them if that’s not settled. I don’t think it will, but I’m also not a hundred percent it’s going to be the Good Ship Lollypop.
JALEN ROSE: I’m not a huge fan of predictions, but if I had to make one, the toughest one so far is who is going to win the West. If I had to give an edge to a team, everyone was playing healthy at a high level, right now the reason I would probably give the Lakers the advantage, they not only have two all-star bigs in Gasol and Dwight Howard, they also are threats on the offensive end that consistently gets you 15 to 20 points on a nightly basis where you can’t double-team off of them.
Obviously we know Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook – on the perimeter with James Harden – and with the contract provisions that Bill just talked about, are going to have an exciting season.
The key is going to be home-court advantage. If Dwight is not going to be able to go early in Game 7 in Oklahoma City, we know the numbers dictate the team that hosts Game 7 normally wins. So that’s the caveat I’m trying to hang out and see how long Dwight Howard is going to be out recovering from his back injury.
BILL SIMMONS: Jalen is also sweet on the Lakers because he’s as old as five of the guys on the team.
Q. Bill and Jalen, my first question is, who is going to be the host of the show, if it’s going to have a host? Secondly, what do you want to accomplish with the show? What are your aims?
BILL SIMMONS: Well, I can answer the host question. I think all four of us are going to be driving the show, specifically I think the burden will fall at least a little bit on my and Wilbon. I think hosts can be underrated and overrated depending on the quality of the content and the conversations you’re having.
In my mind, I just think the four of us are going to be able to have good conversations. The key is going to be just how you structure that without overproducing it and stepping on it and kind of putting people in positions where they know what the next person is going to say. We don’t want to do any of that.
JALEN ROSE: The second part of that is to give quality analysis, insightful opinions that can be deep, fun, lighthearted, really bring fans a perspective behind the curtain that they normally probably would not get.
BILL SIMMONS: I have the most pressure because I don’t have the wardrobe of the other three guys. I’m going to have to really step it up or go the other direction like an NHL coach and spend a minimum on suits. Bargain basement. I don’t know what I’m going to do yet.
JALEN ROSE: I swear, I was just on the phone with someone to make me some suits. Bill, you in trouble.
BILL SIMMONS: Oh, no (laughter).
Q. Bill, are you surprised how much interest the show has garnered online? People have been talking about this for six weeks. And can you explain the process of how Jalen joined the show? Apparently you were the third member or the first member to join the show. How much input did you have on bringing him in after Van Gundy or Isiah Thomas?
BILL SIMMONS: I was excited you had some source that said I was responsible. I never really ended up in a post like that where I hadn’t done something that somebody said I did. I just work here. I have no input who is on the show, who is not on the show. Jalen is on the show because he’s been on our network for five years. I thought he was probably the best NBA analyst we had last year just day after day, the stuff he was churning out.
I just think it would have been kind of crazy not to have him on the show. So I look at it that way.
Q. Jalen mentioned TNT before. How will you differentiate yourselves from what they’re doing? Do you see yourselves being in ESPN TV spots because they like to feature their guys in humorous things? Are you looking forward to that?
JALEN ROSE: Looking forward to the opportunity to compete with the best. It is no different than us discussing what is going to happen as far as who is going to win the NBA championship. They’ve set the bar. We’re fans of their show. I’m fans of Charles, Shaq, Charles and Ernie. I worked at TNT before I was full-time at ESPN.
We all want to have the tuxedo and white shirt on Emmy night. Hopefully we put ourselves in that position by gaining the respect of the fans and putting out quality content that everyone enjoys.
BILL SIMMONS: I agree. I think Charles is the best studio analyst of all time in any sport. For us, the key is can people look forward to this show the same way that Jalen and I look forward to Thursday nights with TNT. If they have a doubleheader, I’m excited.
I’m hoping, especially if we can figure out how to use Los Angeles correctly, we have games where we’re in L.A. for the second half of a doubleheader, something like that, I’m hoping Wednesday or Friday night can become a signature night for us. This is cool, ESPN has a doubleheader tonight. If we can get there, I think that’s half the battle.
JALEN ROSE: Also, part of what TNT did, you have to give them a lot of credit, the day their show comes on, it’s almost like a Monday Night Football. Two games, a signature night, all eyes are on the show. We need to create that.
But our opportunity is not going to be in a vacuum, it’s going to be on a sports night where there are things happening, baseball, college football, basketball, NFL football on Wednesdays, Sundays and Fridays. So we have to work that much harder to captivate the audience.
BILL SIMMONS: Jalen and I love working hard. Both of us are intrigued by using the Internet, using Grantland, using the YouTube channel we have, just these little subtle things, using Twitter, ways to kind of make people feel like the show is a little bit more a part of their lives rather than a show that happens to come on when ESPN shows games. I think that’s the other half of the battle.
Q. Do you see yourself being in any ESPN spots, driving the ESPN van kind of thing?
BILL SIMMONS: It would definitely be strange. It’s certainly not something I’ve ever done in the past. I don’t know. I could see Jalen being in those spots more than me.
Q. Jalen, can you give us a little bit of a timeframe as to when you were either approached by management and when you then decided to accept the role on the show?
JALEN ROSE: Really this happened for me I believe within the last seven to ten days. The great thing about working for ESPN is, unlike we were describing with TNT, I was carving out and have tried to carve out a niche as not only someone that covers basketball, but covers sports and entertainment as well. So doing Numbers Never Lie, and doing College Game Day, I was focused on trying to do the best job I could at those tasks.
When I was approached with that opportunity, it was obviously something I would jump at and welcome the opportunity to work with my childhood idol Magic Johnson, Michael Wilbon – who is on an Emmy Award-winning show PTI right now – he’s well-respected, and Bill Simmons, who is not only a friend, but my boss at the Grantland Network doing podcasts over there.
So once I found out about the opportunity, I leaped at the opportunity to be on the top show.
BILL SIMMONS: I just found out an hour ago (laughter).
Q. Jalen, specifically who made the ask from ESPN to you?
JALEN ROSE: Initially it was just the spot was possibly available, would I be interested. I legitimately did not find out that this was going to be something legit until the pasThere was a thing that I saw on the Internet about it. I didn’t really physically find out about it until the last three to five days.
BILL SIMMONS: I think the other thing is Jalen had already committed to doing a whole bunch of other stuff for the company. It was complicated because he was already in plans for a couple other things. It’s like, if we do this, what do you also do about these other things he’s doing?
JALEN ROSE: And a lot of people don’t know that Los Angeles is my second home. Once I got drafted in 1994, this has become my second home. I’m out here right now actually. I learned the landscape of not only what’s happening in Los Angeles sports, and once ESPN decided to put their studio there, I felt like I’d be a great fit as well because I’m a hop, skip and a jump away from work.
BILL SIMMONS: The other thing with the Los Angeles thing which is cool, Jalen and I both live here, which is a bonus, the Grantland offices are right across the street from the Staples Center, too. That’s where we film the show. Also you have the Lakers and Clippers playing there. Basically you’re going to have 82 home games during the season and potentially another 20 in the playoffs. We’re going to be right across the street.
I think the biggest flaw of last year’s show was they didn’t capture that. They were telling you across the street, but you never felt that way. I’m not saying that we’re going to be doing shows from mid-court as they’re shooting warm-ups, but it is pretty amazing that we’re across the street from these two teams that are both contenders, probably the best two point guards in the league, Hall of Famers, different story lines and guys on those teams. It’s kind of amazing that we’re right across the street.
JALEN ROSE: It also gave me a sense of normalcy with my schedule. Being an NBA player, especially one like me that played for multiple teams, I never really got a chance to live where I work, so to speak. Even working at ESPN in 2007 as an independent contractor in essence, working 12 to 15 days a month, flying back and forth between Bristol, Los Angeles, Detroit, now it gives me a sense of normalcy to work where I live. It’s really going to enhance my work.
BILL SIMMONS: People know Magic was a point guard, Jalen played a lot of point guard. People don’t realize I was a point guard, too. I love sharing the ball. When you have three point guards and Wilbon, there’s a potential for magic.
Q. Bill, I wanted to ask you, how do you see everyone sort of filling their roles on the show? You talked about the three point guards. Quite a mix you have here.
BILL SIMMONS: Here is the thing. Lord knows I’ve written a lot of stuff about TV shows, especially sports and studios and stuff like that. I do think you need to have certain elements for a show to work or not to work.
I think with me and Jalen, I think at the very least we can all agree we don’t give a crap. We’re going to say what we’re feeling. I’m not going to pull back punches, and neither is he.
I also think the calibration of the show in my mind it’s going to work really well because last year I felt like they were leaning too much on Magic to be the be all and end all coming out of every commercial, right at the end of every game.
As we said before, he’s a point guard. I think him and Wilbon are both counter-punchers, they love playing off somebody. I know I am. Jalen is a both a puncher and a counter-puncher.
The bottom line is we’re having a conversation. For me it’s like, would this work if the four of us went out to dinner and started arguing about basketball for two hours. I think the answer is yes. Jalen and I did an hour-long podcast yesterday, and then we went to lunch right across the street and talked for about an hour and a half. It’s genuine. You can’t fake that. You either have that or you don’t.
Q. Can you have that vibe come through on television? Seems like it’s a difficult thing to pull off when the lights and the cameras are on.
BILL SIMMONS: It can be tough. I think part of the thing they got rid of last year, which I thought was really smart, was the habit sometimes our shows have of the guys staring in the camera with their hands moving. I’m bad at. I can tell you firsthand, if I can get through this whole season without doing that once, it will be a miracle for me.
I’m better at playing off other people. That’s why I love having my podcast. I love when somebody is in person. I think Jalen is the same way. I know Magic is the same way.
I think the more you capture that, that’s why Wilbon is so successful on PTI, just playing off somebody else is half the battle. I just think all four of us can do that.
Q. Jalen, do you have that same comfort level with these three guys?
JALEN ROSE: I do. I’m very excited about the opportunity. I indirectly have worked with all of them at some point in my career. Now to be working on the same set with those gentlemen, it’s going to be an honor for me.
Again, we’re not trying to duplicate what they do at Turner.
That’s a different network, different stage, different setup. We’re trying to create something that we are really excited about, that the fans are going to be excited about, that the players and the teams and the media can appreciate a different perspective, a different look, four guys that have been covering the space, planning the space for a long time. I’m talking sports.
BILL SIMMONS: I do want the show to have a level of sophistication that I just think you have to have in this day and age, especially the basketball bloggers. There’s so many out there now. They’re all so smart. They know how to use statistics. They know who is on everyone’s roster. They know how to use the trade machine.
I don’t want to say you have to cater the show to those people, but you have to earn their respect, too. You have to do that while making sure that somebody like my stepmother, who only knows who is on the Celtics, that she can follow the show. That’s the balance. How hardcore and sophisticated can you get while making sure you’re not alienating the casual fans.
It’s a challenge. It’s something for whatever reason TNT has been always able to pull off. I think the biggest reason they have been able to pull it off is that Charles is so good and Kenny is so smart and he works hard and he’s really prepared.
You learn from those guys. You feel like you’re not only entertained, but you’re actually learning and you trust their opinions. That’s what you need to get as a basketball studio show, I think.
Q. Talked a little bit about James Harden. If you had a choice, Harden or Ibaka, who would you pick?
JALEN ROSE: Kerry Hilson. Over a few people’s head. That’s who Ibaka is dating right now (laughter).
BILL SIMMONS: I just wrote about this whole situation. I think it’s a little disingenuous on Oklahoma City’s part to pretend they can’t afford everybody. The bottom line is, yeah, eventually they’re going to have to take a luxury tax and face a situation where they’re not going to turn a profit, or so they say. They just spent the last five years raking in profits.
Sports is a business. At some point you have to realize, yeah, we’re going to have ebbs and flows. Over a five-year stretch, we might make $75 million, over the next three we might lose $20 million. You can’t let that affect your chances to win a championship.
I looked this up. No team has ever made the decision to choose the financial bottom line over the championships by trading as big of a guy as Harden. I guess the closest was Phoenix with Joe Johnson in 2005, he left. Part of the reason he left was they didn’t take care of him with an extension in time. The bottom line is they were still ready to pay him. He got fed up and left. You look at the ramifications that had on the Suns games, how close they came in ’06, ’07, even ’08, toe to toe with the Spurs, that was a catastrophic turn of events for them.
You can’t tell me Oklahoma City is going to have a better chance to win the title over the next five years if they lose one of their best three guys. In my opinion, Ibaka would be more expendable, but I would not get rid of the other three.
JALEN ROSE: My answer to that question is 30 teams, 15 roster spots, 450 jobs, there’s always going to be a competitive space, and you have to follow the tea leaves. Who did OKC draft? Perry Jones III. If he can play, be a sixth man on a rookie contract but play at a high level, that gives them leverage to moves James Harden.
That’s what they’re going to be looking to try to do if he’s playing at a high level and not necessarily give James Harden $10 million, $15 million a year, but try to trade him while his value I high.
BILL SIMMONS: Sounds like you have inside info on that one.
JALEN ROSE: I plead the Fifth.
BILL SIMMONS: I’m just a third. I will not be using the third on the telecast like Perry Jones and Robert Griffin.
Q. Bill, does your new role now at ESPN in this slot mean that you’ve given up the dream of becoming the general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks?
BILL SIMMONS: I have never given up that dream. I’m always ready. Milwaukee and Seattle, those two cities, I’m always ready to take charge.
I actually think the more I learn about being an NBA GM, all the stuff that goes with that job, that seems like one of the more thankless jobs you have.
It’s interesting. Mike Zarren of the Celtics, their assistant GM, turned down the Phillies job this summer. People never turn down GM jobs normally. There were a variety of reasons for it. I haven’t talked to him since it happened. I’m guessing one of them is you have a really good chance of getting fired in three to four years, especially if you’re a small-market team. You got to give credit to what Sam Presti pulled off.
I think with the Bucks, (indiscernible), Brandon Jennings combo, I’m not sure where that takes you. If you’re a GM, that’s your big move, you go and you trade Bogut, who is the No. 1 overall pick, you’re building a team around two shoot-first guards, it doesn’t work out, that’s it, you’re on the street. It’s probably safer to be on the studio show.