NBA Countdown host Maria Taylor, analysts Jalen Rose, and Jay Williams and Senior NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski discussed the upcoming NBA Season with the media members via Zoom.
NBA Countdown will tip off ABC’s NBA Christmas Day coverage at 2 p.m. ET with a 30-minute show, which includes Taylor’s exclusive interview with three-time NBA Champion Steph Curry, and return to ABC at 7:30 p.m. with an additional 30-minture show prior to the primetime Mavericks vs. Lakers game. The show will tipoff ESPN and ABC’s NBA game coverage and provide halftime reporters throughout the 2020-21 season.
Full Transcript Below:
Jalen, I know the Mavs have made a big push to build around Luka and to add pieces to their roster that will enhance Luka’s play this year. What do you see as areas that they could still target, whether it’s at the trade deadline or next season? Where do you see room for improvement?
JALEN ROSE: Thank you for the question. Luka made a terrific leap last year, not only leading the Mavs to the Playoffs but also becoming an all-NBA performer. So when you have that guy, that’s your anchor, that’s your franchise player, you hope he’s there as long as Dirk was if not longer and deliver multiple championships.
But the next key has got to be Porzingis. I think they did a terrific job acquiring him from the Knicks, and his potential with his height and his ability to shoot threes and also play defense at the rim, he could be a 20-10 two-block guy and that’s very unique in the game.
So having both of those guys and now that Giannis is off the board, I think first is keeping Porzingis healthy and maximizing it, but then also you always pay attention to what’s happening around the league and see if you can try to add an All-Star-level player, but having those two guys healthy and playing well in the West should lift them higher, to a higher seed, but more importantly an opportunity to advance.
You want to see the growth from that team kind of like we saw from the Denver Nuggets, how they kind of was down 3-1, overcame the Clippers and made it to the Conference Finals.
I want to ask you about the challenge of broadcasting and analyzing these games post-bubble. During the bubble they had no positive tests, but now both players and leagues and broadcast networks are all going to be out there in the teeth of this virus. Can you talk about that challenge, please?
JALEN ROSE: Thank you very much for the question. The studio crew in particular, NBA Countdown, we were not called upon to go into the bubble, and so for us it allows us to at least put some quality television together. We went from recording at home — I became an engineer during the pandemic, I’m pretty sure like all of you guys have, setting up studios, learning different ways to talk and communicate, and then the NBA were playing horse games on TV on ESPN.
We’ve come a long way. Each situation is going to be different based on the team and based on the state. Some teams aren’t going to allow fans, others are going to allow fans, so that’s going to affect the TV personalities, the crews. Some people live in the state, some people are out of state, some people have preexisting conditions.
We’re just excited that the season is starting and that basketball is going to happen. I anticipate like in the NFL you will see players missing games, missing practices and whatnot, failing tests because there isn’t a bubble situation, so it won’t be as flawless as the bubble was clearly, but I think the goal is to try to do what you can to entertain the fans and get back out there on the floor and hopefully get to a champion.
So I think the NBA is going to get close to trying to do that.
MARIA TAYLOR: I can add to Jalen that our normal is kind of a moving target, and we’ve already all been in the studio together where one of the games has a team on-site and a truck there and it’s Doris Burke and Mark Jones and Cassidy Hubbarth. And then the late game, there’s two people there; Jorge Sedano is there, Dave Pasch is there, but Jeff Van Gundy is at home.
It’s going to look a little different for us, and we’re going to need studio support throughout the entire game, and there may be times when the call, the broadcast drops, and we’ve seen that happen in college basketball before. So it’s not going to be perfect and it’s not going to be seamless, but we’re going to continue to get the games on television.
And as a studio crew we’re kind of blessed that we get to be together and in New York where most of us can drive to location. I know it will be in Bristol for the Christmas Day show and the same thing for us.
I noticed in football, though, as you mentioned, you’re traveling and you’re trying to be safe and doing the best you can, but on College Gameday we had breakouts of COVID, and you’re dealing with it on the front lines but you still find a way to make a broadcast.
There’s a lot of people, and that’s our camera guys, that’s our producers, that’s our directors that are risking time, spending time away from their family and trying to make sure that these games get on, and we can’t forget that that’s constantly going on despite the fact that we’ve got these great games and these great opportunities to put sports on television.
ADRIAN WOJNAROWSKI: I think the second part of your question, I think it’s going to have great impact on the league this year. The bubble, I think there was some thought maybe there would be positive tests in the bubble. Nobody quite knew how impenetrable it would be, which it turned out to be almost a force that just allowed the league to play the postseason, the final eight games and then the Playoffs without any positive tests. That’s not going to be the case this year, and I think teams are really feeling that reality now.
There’s great concern among organizations and the league, Players’ Association, about what happens when teams really start traveling and start getting on the road and the impact it’s going to have on lineups and the health, not just players but staff. You have older coaches, you have older staff members around. Once we get into a playoff scenario it’ll be interesting to see just in terms of at that point where vaccinations are, where the players and staff are in terms of being in line to get those. The fact that unlike the Playoffs last year, you may have situations this year where a positive test within a team or multiple positive tests derail a team in the postseason, but maybe by the time we get to that in the spring, individuals in the league will have been vaccinated and perhaps it’s less of an issue.
Given the fact we know about obvious issues, about doing sports in the middle of a pandemic, what little things do you feel in your role will have changed in terms of covering the NBA?
MARIA TAYLOR: I know right off the top I can think that it was great last season or at least in the beginning of last season where you could still get the one-on-one time with players. I know for me a big part of what I would like to bring to the show is just hearing their voices, and so now obviously with interviews — it was great last year, I got to sit down with Jayson Tatum, but now we’re not going to be able to make those trips and have those conversations, so it’s a matter of we’re Zooming and trying to put together an interview. But that feels different and the connection is a little bit different when it’s through technology.
The opportunities that we had, we got to take our show on the road for Lakers-Bucks right before the shutdown happened, and just being able to be on-site and having some of that energy, that changes.
So I think that we’ll have to bring our own energy. We’ll have to come up with different and unique ways to still get players involved, and we’re still doing interviews and making sure there’s some contact and personality there, but those are the biggest differences that I’ve kind of noticed. And that’s across the board, whether when we’ve been in the NBA, we’ve adjusted — we’ve had to adjust in football and I can see how it’s already adjusting now on this side.
Another Mavs question if you don’t mind, Jalen. The NBA general managers’ survey came out a few days ago and it had Luka as co-MVP favorite with Giannis. I want to ask you, considering Luka’s age, he would be — he would supplant Derrick Rose as the youngest winner, and then traditionally you need to be a top one, two or three team in your conference to be MVP. I wonder how legitimate an MVP pick you think he is.
JALEN ROSE: I think Luka is a terrific performer, and he deserves the opportunity to be mentioned in that conversation. Usually when the MVP happens, a lot of it has to do with story lines, in particular for those that have not won it, and usually those that outplay expectations. So Luka has a chance to still do both because the Mavs were a 6 seed last year. So if they take the leap into a top-3 seed even and he’s putting up the kind of numbers he was putting up in the Playoffs, that then is going to catapult him to that legitimate opportunity to be MVP this year.
But as you noted, they’ve definitely got to take the leap, and the thing I love about the West, unlike the East, when you look at it from top to bottom, a lot of those squads have their franchise player, have a young player that they’re invested in. That’s one of the things I like about going into the season. It’s almost like watching certain players take a Luka leap that weren’t in the Playoffs, Ja Morant, Trae Young, Zion Williamson; these guys weren’t in the Playoffs last year. It’s extremely tougher in the West when you see that Donovan Mitchell is still going to be there or Rudy Gobert and all of the teams.
I think it will depend on their record if they can make it to the top three, but skill wise and game wise and stats wise, he’s definitely going to deserve to be in that conversation.
Maria, what words of encouragement could you give people that work in sports media during this unorthodox time?
MARIA TAYLOR: You know, I think the most encouraging words I can give is that in a lot of ways it makes us put into perspective how important certain things are, and we realize that working in sports media we are allowed an opportunity to provide relief to people and entertainment, and it’s not necessarily hope, but it’s in some ways a distraction from having to stay at home and work and teach your kids and find ways to make sure that you bring an income in when we’re dealing with what we’re dealing with in the economy.
I would just encourage people to realize that their job matters and it’s an opportunity to still kind of give back. That’s how I’ve been looking at it. As we continue to travel and try to broadcast these games or the fact that the NBA was able to put together a five-game slate and allow people while they’re at home to be able to sit back and watch the games and the teams that they love, I think that that kind of thing matters and we get to be involved in it, and it’s a blessing to be a part of it, and just to remember as times get tough or it doesn’t look the same way that we were used to having it look or we don’t see fans, but the fact that it’s still going on means we’re making progress and we’re getting closer and closer to the normal that we’re used to.
Jalen, I just wanted your thoughts on Troy Weaver and how you felt he did in the draft and what are your hopes and expectations for him and the Pistons this coming year?
JALEN ROSE: Thank you very much for the question. Born and raised in the city of Detroit, for those that don’t know, and as a lifetime sports fan, the Pistons are my absolute favorite team in any sport. Probably has something to do with the fact that my biological father was drafted by them, and my godfather Dave Bing is one of the top 50 players of all time.
But even fast forward to the team now being downtown and opening up the facility to become a voting site and things like that that have happened over the last few months with Tom Gores and them trying to give back to the community, it’s an extension of the city. Troy’s hire really mattered because he’s really accomplished and well respected around the league.
When you now bring him to Detroit, we’re going to now check out the expectations. And so when you try to take a point guard in the first round — I got a chance to interview Killian right before the draft and I thought he was a great young man. I think he has the size. I think he has a soft touch. I think he has a great basketball IQ.
In a point guard-driven league, you hope that you get that position right because as you know, so many great guards are going to be coming to town on a nightly basis putting up video game-type numbers.
Hopefully he’s able to compete defensively and continue to work, continue to get better.
The other young fellow I think out of Villanova, Bey, the shooter, when you play for Jay Wright, it seems like certain players have a certain level of moxie about them. They know the game; they play multiple positions; they kind of play a role and try to master their role and star in their role.
The last big fella from Washington, he just seemed like he has brute strength and force, and he’s going to be one of those guys that when there’s a loose ball on the floor or elbow to be thrown, legally, that is, that he’s going to do it, and you know that’s something on Woodward Avenue, that’s what the fans want to see.
It’s more than just what’s necessarily going to happen in the box score, and I think they’re quality young men and going to give back to the community. I’m proud of what the Pistons are doing and how they continue to give back to the community, and now we’ve just got to turn that into some wins.
Jalen, what’s the difference between being kind of the rising star — Jayson Tatum is considered now on the cusp of being a top-15 player, Jaylen Brown is probably a top-25 or -30 player. What’s the difference when teams are focusing on you defensively every night? What are they going to face this year knowing they’re not sneaking up on anybody anymore and given what they’ve done the last couple years?
JALEN ROSE: Those guys have been so good so fast and so young. And for me, when you get Tatum, basically in theory, the Markelle Fultz move, and he’s playing the way he’s playing as a rookie in the Playoffs and then you look at the Philadelphia bench and Fultz is getting DMPs, like you really scored if you’re Danny Ainge.
To put him with Jaylen Brown, who has all-NBA defensive potential every year, improved his shooting, Tatum improved his isolation game, and so now you have two of the best players at their positions in the league. And so being able to get shots off the dribble and compete on a nightly basis.
They’re ready to accept being the hunted. You see how Tatum stepped back against the Clippers and made a big shot over Paul George. These are the kind of moments that continue to build their confidence.
One of the things that I would have liked the Celtics to do at some point when they were gathering those assets, and obviously Danny Ainge is an amazing front office person, is what would have happened if they would have been able to cash in some of those assets for a big man that could grow with those guys. Like those two guys and Marcus Smart, I feel like they’re the heartbeat of that team, and it seems like later in games what ends up happening is Tatum ends up guarding players that are just bigger than him. Like basketball is still a physical tall man’s game, and that’s how it looked like Bam was playing against them, a lot of times when they were playing against Giannis and also when Philadelphia comes to town and you have Ben Simmons and you have Joel Embiid.
So that’s the theme for the Celtics to me is to give those guys some support up front physically. I know they added Tristan Thompson, as well. That’s another basketball topic because he’s not going to necessarily spread the floor, even though he’s really good defensively.
But either way, that’s what I would like to see from the Celtics, but those two guys, during the season I called them the East Coast version of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, and I think that’s pretty accurate.
What little story line hasn’t been talked about or that you feel should be looked at even at the beginning of the season or throughout the season in your opinion?
MARIA TAYLOR: I think Jalen said it best on — I don’t know if it was Countdown or one of our halftimes but just kind of how excited he is on that everyone should be that we have these young stars that didn’t even make it into the Playoffs that we get to have looks at all throughout the regular season that are kind of growing into themselves, whether that’s more Zion, that’s more Ja Morant, being able to see them. It’s being able to watch the Suns and Devin Booker, even though he’s been in the league a few years but still young. We don’t know what they’re capable of because they’re coming off that 8-0 run. Almost the top-to-bottom intrigue that we have, so some of the games that you might have wrote off in the past could still be fun and interesting to be able to watch, and we’re going to see high-scoring games and we’re going to see like really talented young players, and I think that’ll be fun all season long to be a part of and watch.
JALEN ROSE: Absolutely, and all the bases are covered. You still have the superstars, the marquee and the noble franchise, LeBron and AD playing for the Lakers, and then what the Clippers are going to do right there in LA. And then the East Coast is going to get a chance to see KD and Kyrie. They’re going to put on a show and get some oohs and ahhs happening in Brooklyn. We just talked about the Celtics and the talented team that they have; the Miami Heat, outplaying expectations last year and making it to the NBA Finals. There’s so many story lines, also. Russ is now going to be in D.C. playing with Bradley Beal; what’s going to happen with James Harden. You could go on and on and on with story lines and great teams and great players that’s going to keep their fan bases excited about this NBA season.
ADRIAN WOJNAROWSKI: And I think one thing we haven’t talked a lot about, we saw it in the bubble last year in a very different form, but the play-in tournament and how that impacts the way teams keep playing late into the season, being motivated to get a 9 or 10 seed and be able to get into that play-in with 7 and 8. Does it give a chance for some of the teams, some of the younger teams that Maria and Jalen just mentioned who may not make the top 8 but give them a chance to play some important games late in the season, maybe get into that scenario where you see a Trae Young, you see a Zion Williamson in almost sudden death postseason formats.
I think it’s going to be interesting to see how that impacts the league and maybe keeps teams more determined. I think the goal of it is to keep teams playing their key guys late in the year and not playing for the lottery and ping-pong balls.
JAY WILLIAMS: I’ll say what really intrigues me. It’s happening right in your backyard. I went to St. Joseph’s high school in Metuchen, New Jersey. I’ve known Karl-Anthony Towns for a very long time. I knew his mother Jacquie, knew his father Karl Sr., and I also think, look, guys not being in the bubble, what’s going to happen as relates to COVID and games being canceled, how the NBA handles that, and then more importantly for KAT, that viral video that you saw of him during introductions a couple of nights ago, just how he’s dealing with everything, how are a lot of guys dealing with stuff. We’re not supposed to talk about that. We’re not going to really go into those kind of issues quickly in a halftime segment, but for KAT, losing his mom, losing multiple family members, how basketball seems secondary for him, how do you continue to push yourself through that I think is a legitimate question that we have to ask a lot of guys who are going through the different challenges psychologically and mentally. Even Paul George making sense of it last year in the bubble, right, how he had to deal with it, and I think it’s still a subject line that we should pay attention to this year.
JALEN ROSE: And also Giannis re-signing with the Bucks. Steph is back, Curry. Just got to say those names into the atmosphere.
One of the recurring story lines last season was the fall in NBA ratings. Why do you think they dropped so much and will there be a rebound this season?
JALEN ROSE: I think ratings are one of those things like stats or analytics. They can be looked at and dissected, analyzed and overanalyzed in a lot of different ways based on so many different factors that people that work in television or people that work in the media understands how that can be highlighted or it can be manipulated.
I think the most important thing that the NBA did, though, is listen to the players’ voices and invested in those 400 plus players when they agreed to put 29 messages on the back of jerseys and they put Black Lives Matter on the floor. They planted a seed with those players that let them know that it was important for them to be heard and make the sacrifices that the Milwaukee Bucks made and deciding not to play a basketball game because they felt like what was happening in their community was so vastly more important.
And when those type of things happen, they’re bigger than stats. They’re bigger than numbers because they invested into their players, and they invested — I think they planted seeds that are going to grow forever.
I think fans are going to appreciate the league long-term for that forward thinking because what I’ve learned in the country during a lot of social and civil unrest is that there’s a generation of young people that don’t necessarily think and feel like the old guard does, and what ends up happening is as generations continue to turn over, those become your NBA fans and supporters, also.
So I think the NBA, while again, the ratings probably weren’t as high for the NBA Finals, and for me, I’ve worked the NBA Finals each year since 2002 for BET MAAD Sports, so I understand and have seen it go a long way. But I’m really proud of the league, and I let Adam Silver know this, I let the players know this, because I think the investment into the players, which filters to the fans, becomes a unique bond that will never be broken.
JAY WILLIAMS: I also think a lot of the ratings don’t provide insight to how from a social perspective the sport of basketball and the NBA is so dominant. I mean, I can’t tell you how many things that were trending — and also, I understand that there is a certain slice of people who may feel that the league was too progressive in their stance. I do not agree with that. But I will also say from somebody who was quarantined, from somebody who has a daughter who’s immunosuppressed —
I also find myself not watching a lot of TV as much as I used to. There were a lot of different things I was doing around the house, a lot more things I was trying to be present with as it relates to my family, and it was challenging — it was my job to pay attention to it, but it was challenging for me to keep up with every aspect even when games were on, and that was me. Right, I watch it every single day. So the fact for somebody who’s considered to be, quote-unquote expert, who studies it and reads about it every single day, talking to friends, it was also a challenge for people like that.
Look, I think there were a lot of factors on to it. I will say at the end of the day the NBA, in my opinion, stood on the right side of history, and I think that’s going to pay major dividends for the league as it continues to grow in this global economy economic.
MARIA TAYLOR: Yeah, and I can add to that, too. I think obviously all of our viewing habits have changed. Everyone can sit on this call and probably say that, and so that was one of the contributing factors.
And we just saw it broadly. We like to bring up the NBA, but the NHL ratings were down, and people aren’t used to having the NBA on in the middle of their football season, so combatting that.
And then also if they really wanted to point to social justice kind of being the factor or why people weren’t tuning in, why were the WNBA ratings up. They were the one sport that was up and they were probably the most vocal individuals, athletes that we saw throughout the social justice movement.
I think that there’s — people want to point to that and they want to be divisive and we’re not here for that. We’re here to allow the players to tell their stories and that involves the person that they are off the court and the things that they are passionate about and that they bring all of that baggage, they bring all of that with them to every free-throw line, to every single game they play, so we’ll continue to cover those things, and I do think that our viewing habits will adjust.
Now everyone has to get used to seeing no fans, and there’s not a huge video board because they’re playing in Orlando and it was built for no fans being in the arena. There’s always going to be something that changes, and we’ll keep adjusting, and like Jay-Will said, it’s as popular as ever. If you get on Twitter when a game is on, it is by far the top-trending thing and people care about it, but their viewing habits change. They might watch the highlights. They might tune in on Instagram. They might want to tweet about it. They might just want to see the highlight and the dunk, and that’s okay, but that’s where we’re evolving, that’s where things are moving.
The NBA is always ahead of the curve, so I know they’ll be able to adjust as time goes and moves forward.
ADRIAN WOJNAROWSKI: Yeah, I think my colleagues here hit on every point. Having a teenage son, I see what his viewing habits are. He’s a big NBA fan, but he doesn’t necessarily sit in front of the TV and watch. He watches on his phone, he watches on his devices, and we have a generation of young people who are going to watch the games and consume sports in a different way, and I think as Maria said, the timing of it, there had been some talk in the past few years about maybe moving the NBA schedule and seeing what it looked like in the summer and going head to head with baseball.
I think people probably sent a pretty clear message that is not when — certainly not when they’re conditioned to watch the league, and the idea of having the Finals in early September, late August into the start of football, it’s just not ideal, and it’s certainly why I think the league pushed for the earlier start this year than many would have wanted to try to get the NBA Finals over before the Olympics and certainly not have to compete in that arena with the Olympics, the Summer Olympics and also of course allow players to go play for their countries.
But I think getting the league back on track calendar-wise is going to have an impact in people’s viewing habits, I think, in a positive way.
Jalen, what are your favorite holiday traditions during the holiday season, and who is your barber because I need him to revive my hairline up.
JALEN ROSE: A couple of things. My barber in Connecticut, his name is Andy Authentic; barber in Los Angeles, Shawn Porter Shizz; other barber in Atlanta, his name is Hawk. Got to give them their love. J-Will, you don’t have these problems, I’m sorry, sir.
JAY WILLIAMS: It’s all good, baby. I’m bald and beautiful, J-Rose. I’m all right.
JALEN ROSE: Holiday traditional for me? I’ve been — again, I alluded to this earlier is that I’ve literally worked the Finals every year since 2002, and I’ve worked Christmas every year since 2007. So Christmas games have become a tradition for me, how I move with my family a couple of days before and things of that nature, to always either be in Bristol on Christmas Eve night or Christmas morning. Opening up the gifts early was something that was happening.
You know what I really like to do and I hope we’re able to do this? A shout-out to Amina Hussein, who I love very much, and this is going to be her last show on Christmas Day. We both started the Countdown journey the same year, and I’m just so happy the things that she wanted to see happen reflected the things that were happening in the league, reflected our show, and we continue to do that, and it’s because of her leadership, her creativity, her style and her flavor that allowed that to happen.
So one of the traditions to actually put a bullet on your question, we knew it was going to be a long day, so we were like, when people start watching in the morning, they should see us change. Like in the morning maybe we should have on pajamas and robes and ascots and have bacon and eggs on the set. We should really do it, eggs, orange juices. So we did all of that. Like when I’m watching games, Sunday Night Football or whatever, and it goes to a commercial and they’re playing music, like I remember us playing the ABC Jukebox on NBA Countdown, and people didn’t realize that we were playing Jeru Da Damaja. This all became a part of our Christmas ritual, so wear something in the morning, change it up in the afternoon and have something Christmas night.
So for me, along with my family, obviously working these Christmas Day games has actually become a ritual for me, and I’m really fortunate I get a chance to work with the team I work with right now, my esteemed teammates, Maria and Jay and Woj, and I know Paul couldn’t join us today, but The Truth, as well.
I’m really excited about this year, really excited about our show, and things are going to keep getting better.