ESPN NBA Analyst JJ Redick and ESPN Vice President of Production Tim Corrigan answered questions on Wednesday to preview the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament and discuss ESPN’s coverage plans.
Redick, who is part of a newly established ESPN broadcast team along with Ryan Ruocco, Richard Jefferson and reporter Cassidy Hubbarth, will call NBA In-Season Tournament games throughout the event, starting this Friday, November 3. For more on ESPN’s NBA coverage, visit ESPN Press Room.
TIM CORRIGAN: To us, the In-Season Tournament, we just launched the season, and last Wednesday I think our ratings were up almost 80 percent from the year before.
Launching a season every year comes with the excitement of whatever it is this year, Victor Wembanyama, the fifth new champion of the NBA launching with us on Turner, and that’s always a big thing for us.
But a week later, to start something like the In-Season Tournament — you all have touched on over time Adam has really been interested in innovating and doing something new and trying something like this out, and for it to be here now — we’ve been talking about it for a long time, and I know, even going back to The Finals last year, what could it look like, what could it be, how would we cover it?
For it to be here now and for us to have these four Fridays in November to do doubleheaders each week — and every game in the window we’re doing the doubleheaders also being In-Season Tournament games — Turner to have three Tuesdays, and the same thing, all the games that night, it’s going to be fun and interesting and different and one more reason to love and care about the NBA, to be honest with you, because there’s another competition going on.
From our standpoint, and some of what the league has already released — I think people are seeing the courts. They’ve seen the uniforms that they’re going to drop. All those things, I think, are intended with, when you turn on these Fridays and Tuesdays, it’s going to look different. It’s going to feel different. We’re going to have different branding with our animations and music, graphics, all those things. It will feel a little bit different than the Wednesday games.
Ben [Cafardo] mentioned having J.J. [Redick] and [Richard Jefferson] and [Ryan] Ruocco doing games as well as having Mike Breen and Doris Burke and Doc Rivers do games. They will do the ten games we’re going to do. We have the four doubleheaders, and then when we get to Las Vegas, we have the two games there, a semifinal and a championship.
So we’re making that kind of commitment to this with our presentation and what we’re doing and having same voices on it. It will be so expanded, as you guys all know, on our networks, whether it’s in the morning shows or SportsCenter or just across the board.
Our number one thing, which, again, will land in folks like J.J.’s lap when we’re on air, is we’ve got to educate people. Just educate and educate and educate because it’s new. We learned this with the Play-In Tournament. This coming April will be our fourth Play-In Tournament, and the first year we did it, it was met with a lot of doubt and potential criticism of what is this? Then quickly turned into something that it wasn’t even about that game.
Well, the game was great, and the win or go home part of the game was great. The last month of the season became more important because those were more opportunities for teams to make the play-in. So it kind of changed a lot of our windows late in the season too. We’re really excited about what this can be, what this can mean.
Again, I think we start the season on a high note, and then we can tend to fade a little bit. Then Christmas becomes another high note as we look at the tent poles of the NBA season.
Hopefully, we’re just going to — we start high, and let’s keep it high, keep the interest high. Launching something new like this right in the windows that we are, we’re thrilled about it. We’re really excited about opportunities across the board. We’ve looked at a little bit more access.
I don’t know if folks have noticed or not, but Jason Kidd wearing an mic for the entire second half of our game last week, those are really good steps for us. Doing in-game interviews with coaches wearing headsets to start the third quarter, these are really good access points that are not recorded by live interviews that are more impactful.
And similarly with players who are potentially not playing in games, but will be on the bench and having IFP interviews. All new and all kinds of things we need to continue to do to advance this sport.
We’ve all seen what Major League Baseball is doing on Saturday Night Baseball and what we’re doing with tennis coverage, with outer court coverage, with announcers having live interviews on outer courts as players are warming up for big matches.
So the whole idea of getting closer and feeling more a part of it is important to us and to the NBA. I think we’re all working together to figure that out.
On the look and feel of it. I mentioned some of the animation and graphics and things like that. We’re also going to launch an LL Cool J and the Roots, shoot was last week, and elements that will come from that will surround this tournament beginning on Friday and playing all the way through the championship game on ABC on December 9th.
So a lot of thought, a lot of care, a lot of support across the board to make this not look and feel like everything else we do.
When they start playing, they play basketball, and we pride ourselves on the documentation of that, and that doesn’t change. But all the things around it and some of the conversations around it are where we really need to educate and kind of bring everybody in on what’s going on.
Q. Tim, you spoke about how it’s going to look and feel different. Specifically, how can you achieve that graphically and with the broadcasters? Obviously, the games are regular season games, at least to begin group play. But maybe the strategy is different. How do you incorporate specifically what you’re trying to make feel different?
TIM CORRIGAN: I think literally when you turn it on and you’re watching a game in Boston, there’s no parquet. When you look at the floors, it is going to inherently look different, and the City Edition uniforms are not new to the NBA, but there’s a purpose for what they’re doing with them to start the season with this.
Like I said, when J.J. and [Richard Jefferson] and [Ryan] Ruocco are calling games and [Mike] Breen and Doris [Burke] and Doc [Rivers], they’re calling basketball, they’re calling NBA games, their responsibility of the NBA game is still the same from the documentation, from the story telling, from analysis, all those other parts.
But J.J. and R.J., the number of years they’ve been involved in this league, playing in it, they’ll have opinions of what an In-Season Tournament is all about and how that may change the dynamics of teams, and Doc coaching in it, right? It’s going to have a different feel.
There’s money at stake, and there’s a championship of sorts at stake here too. I think a lot of what’s been learned from some of the international soccer really has been — really huge credit to the NBA in how they researched this and put this all together.
Q. Just one question for Tim and then one for J.J. I’ll start with Tim. What are the technical difficulties that you’re going to face with these courts? These are unlike anything we’ve ever seen in basketball. Completely colored, no wood texture at all. Is there going to be any difficulty calibrating the cameras around these courts?
TIM CORRIGAN: You sound like me when we heard this was happening, man. Yeah, virtual graphics and signage and things like that, we do, but we’re going to allow more time for calibration and trying to figure it out.
But credit to the tech side of the NBA in incorporating us and Turner and everybody in the planning of exactly that because, when we first were kind of brought in on that, that was our immediate concerns. So, we’ve been collaborating on them and figuring that out.
On the tech side, I know they’ve — you know, it’s not perfect right now when we have all 30 courts being what they are. I’m sure we’re going to have challenges, but having a little bit of runway to have people think about that and work on that has been advantageous to us.
Q. For J.J., obviously everybody knows that there is skepticism about this tournament. Tim mentioned there was skepticism about the Play-In Tournament a few years ago, but there’s extra skepticism about this tournament. As an analyst, do you feel any particular pressure to talk it up or to kind of — you know, if it’s not working, if people aren’t responding to it, if the players don’t like it, do you feel any pressure to kind of paint it a little bit more positively? Or are you going to go in Charles Barkley style and just say, hey, if it’s not working, it’s not working?
JJ REDICK: I’m likely just going to continue to be myself, to be honest with you.
I don’t quite get the skepticism, to be honest with you. I’ll tell you why. These games that we’re calling, number one, it’s an event. We’ve got different uniforms, different court. The games were going to be played anyways. These are regular season games. They actually count twice. So, they’re counting towards the In-Season Tournament, but they’re also counting toward your regular season record and playoff record. Those games are going to be played anyways.
Next thing, teams that make the quarterfinals, teams that go to Vegas, semifinals, finals, that’s another event. Events bring energy. Events bring nerves. Events bring excitement. Going to Vegas to play in the Final Four — like I just don’t get the skepticism.
If I’m in the NBA and I get a chance to go to Vegas in the middle of the season to play for some money and some pride and a trophy, I’m all in. I’m all in.
So, I don’t quite — this whole thing around this, we’re going to play these pool play games anyways. They count towards the regular season. You get to the quarterfinals, you get to the semifinals, finals, those are events. Those are going to feel like an actual playoff game. So, I don’t buy into the skepticism.
Look, if it doesn’t work, I’ll probably talk about it, but I’m a fan of what’s happening right now. As a player, I remember — Tim brought this up. We’ve been talking about this for years. I was still an active player — I think I was in New Orleans if my photographic memory remembers correctly. We were in the film room my first year there. We were talking about this with the PA. Guys had a bunch of questions. Guys probably were a little skeptical.
The Play-In Tournament has been, I think, one of the best things that has happened in recent years to the NBA, and I would expect this to be a success as well. I’m awfully excited to be calling these games.
Q. J.J., Tim, thanks for taking the time to do this. Question for both of you. Tim, number one, again with those technical difficulties with the court, it’s a different kind of presentation, obviously, and you’ll figure out the difficulties, I would assume, as you go. But how imperative is it to attract viewers with the first game and to come in with a good presentation with the different look, the different feel? Just how important is that presentation for establishing the identity of the In-Season Tournament?
TIM CORRIGAN: I think it’s really important, but also, I think the people we have doing this are the right people to be doing it in front of the camera and behind the camera. Our bar is our bar. We wouldn’t make excuses for anything we’re going to do. We’re coming out, and we’re trying to be great in the production of these events and the documentation of these events and everything else.
There’s no part of us that’s not coming out with high expectations of what our presentation is going to be.
Q. For J.J., you’re in this new secondary booth for the first time, something that Dave Roberts has called a succession plan to Mike Breen, Doris Burke, and Doc Rivers. What kind of testament do you view it as being able to do games for a new In-Season Tournament that will presumably be part of the NBA going forward? What kind of a litmus test could that be for you guys and the value in that?
JJ REDICK: Just to be clear, this is not the first game that Ryan and R.J. and I have called together and not the first game since we were — Tim, I don’t even know. Is it the number two? Is it the B squad? What are we? I don’t know the official title. But we called a bunch of games together last year. Very comfortable with this crew.
So, I don’t really look at Friday night for me, in terms of my approach or anything like that, I don’t look at it as any different because of something important that Tim just said in that I look at every game as a documentation of history, and in this case, I’m documenting the first ESPN broadcast of an In-Season Tournament game.
Last week I was documenting [Victor Wembanyama]’s debut. In the playoffs, you’re documenting a playoff game. So, I look at every game as a unique sort of opportunity to talk about and view something that I dearly love.
Q. This is my question for J.J. You brought up the intensity aspect of the In-Season Tournament, the excitement. Curious for some players, whether they’re rookies or whether they’ve been in the league for a little bit and haven’t had the experience in the NBA Playoffs, how you think this could be good preparation to get mentally prepared for those high-pressure moments like that?
JJ REDICK: It’s a good question. I think truthfully every player is a little bit different, and it’s actually hard to generalize about guys with experience, guys without experience. Everybody is wired a little different, man. Everybody is wired a little different.
I’ll repeat kind of my first answer in respect to the first four weeks, whatever, of these games, these games are — they count towards the regular season. So, I think in some ways it will be like a mini sort of preparation session for potential play-in games, the last month of the season.
Again, you go through an NBA season enough times, and you get a sense of the cycles of the season. In some ways, this next month will sort of replicate, I think, what March and April look like for a lot of times, who are battling for that 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 spot to either secure a playoff berth or secure a spot in the play-in round. So, I think there’s that component to it.
Then there’s also the Vegas component, which, again, I think, is a good representation of what a play-in game looks like, what a playoff game looks like, where you’re playing for a trophy, you’re playing for a prize. I think there’s certainly enough guys across the league who have an incredible amount of pride.
I was asked this earlier today. I was doing stuff this morning, some production stuff this morning. I was asked a similar question about this this morning. I said, I was like, whoever ends up winning the In-Season Tournament is probably the team with the most amount of sickos on their team. I mean that. Like you don’t need to give Chris Paul a reason to be competitive. He wakes up that way.
I go back to the bubble, and there were a lot of teams that — not necessarily teams, but there were a lot of players that there’s enough going on in the world that they didn’t necessarily want to be there. Right? Guys have talked about that. Then I watched the Miami Heat walk in every day. I watched the Memphis Grizzlies walk in every day. I watched the Phoenix Suns walk in every day. I watched LeBron and the Lakers. There’s a purpose to it. Some teams and some players are just wired that way. There’s a purpose to everything they do.
The NBA weeds out the non-competitive people very quickly. And I think this is another opportunity for the competitive people to rise to the top.
Q. J.J., first off, thanks for doing this. I really enjoy your insights on the game. I’m just wondering because you have Knicks-Bucks coming up. What are your thoughts on Quentin Grimes as he heads into his third year?
JJ REDICK: Yeah, I worked with Quentin this summer a few times. Really like him. He’s got a great spirit. Really outstanding work ethic.
I think about a lot of guys, young players that I’ve been around, especially towards the second half of my career — I tell people this all the time. You go into training camp, you go into preseason, you meet a rookie, you meet a second-year guy who’s coming in, looking for his place in the league, it’s very easy to figure out after two or three days what this person’s future looks like, and Quentin has a very bright future in the NBA.
It’s fun now to just watch him, now that we’re friends. It’s always fun for me — people always ask me who I’m rooting for, and I’m like I’m rooting for my friends. I have no vested interest in who wins the game. I’m just rooting for my friends. Now I have another friend to root for.
Really just enjoyed spending time with Quentin. Asked the right questions, wants to get better, all the good stuff you look for in a young player. Obviously, he’s got a lot of talent and a good physical makeup and truthfully a great mental makeup.
Q. I have two questions. One is for Tim. From a marketing perspective, what happens with some of the challenges that goes into bringing something new to viewers and get them excited about this tournament?
TIM CORRIGAN: In typical, old depth approach, not only was it the tech side, the production side, the marketing side, like everybody was all in on this. And I think, like anything new — we keep talking about the education of the event. It’s just so great to hear what J.J. says from a player’s standpoint about this and the value of it — is the marketing is part of the education too, which is just — probably, my guess is we’re probably going to put more of our marketing weight into this just because this is what’s new.
Especially when you’re going from the group play to the knockout round, the knockout rounds are one-and-done. So again, to have one-and-done NBA games in the first two months of the season is pretty amazing. So, there’s just a whole lot of good to wrap your arms around.
Then, oh, by the way, you have the Wemby story coming to the league; the LeBron story, 21st year; Steph back and looking better than ever; Denver, returning champion. You have so many other early season stories that you would have anyway, but to be able to tie that from a marketing standpoint to these games, I think it all kind of fits really nicely.
Q. J.J., in your opinion, what does Julius Randle need to do to improve his level of play to take it to the next level?
JJ REDICK: That mute/unmute button. What does Julius Randle have to — what level do you want him to go to, MVP?
JJ REDICK: Okay. For Julius Randle to be MVP, he’s probably got to lead the Knicks to a 60 to 65-win season. I don’t know that the Knicks are going to get there this year. I mean, he’s an All-NBA player.
Q. Tim, are there plans for more, additional cameras at all when you get towards the end, or is the camera complement going to raise rather specialty items? As far as just the beginning of the broadcast, obviously when it’s the NBA Finals, when you tune in from the very beginning, you know this is the NBA Finals. This could go both ways. This is a regular season game, but this is — are you really kind of amping it up from the very beginning so that when people tune in from the very beginning, they’ll know this is not just a regular season game, if you will?
TIM CORRIGAN: I would say that’s certainly the goal. That’s why having someone like LL and the Roots kind of be the narrators from a tease, welcome standpoint to it, look and feel. We’ll certainly be adding equipment as we add microphones and player mics and all that stuff for sure.
Then as we build towards Vegas, I think that’s going to have that real championship feel, just like J.J.’s talking about on the court from a presentation standpoint of additional equipment, maybe some new technology and things that we’re talking about offline, just because you know when you turn something on and it feels like a huge event, much like the World Series that’s going on right now, there’s certain events that you want to put a lot of money into, and we will do that on this.
Q. My question is for J.J. regarding the Mavericks and Nuggets game that will be Friday as far as the In-Season Tournament. I want to speak about the Mavericks specifically. Luka for the first couple of games has been on an absolute tear. Do you think there’s anything more that the Mavericks can do as far as unlocking some of the younger players to get to a better position than they were last season?
JJ REDICK: Which young players are you talking about?
Q. Guys like Dereck Lively, and I know Grant Williams was acquired from the Celtics this past off-season, but mostly the guys that they’ve drafted and acquired.
JJ REDICK: Yeah, I think with Dereck specifically, he’s kind of the perfect fit for what the Mavs need in terms of a center — lob threat, rim protector, can run the floor. There’s obviously going to be growing pains with rookies, as there are with every rookie. But so far, I’ve liked what I’ve seen.
I know he’s been in foul trouble the last couple games, but really like his energy, really like his spirit, and really likes the complementary skill set he brings to Luka. With great players, there’s no good answer to the problem, and Luka Dončić pick-and-roll, if you have a Dereck Lively as the screener and the roller, it creates additional problems in terms of where you’re putting your big and at the level.
So, I really like Dereck in that role right now. Expecting him to have a nice rookie season.
I think with Grant, I think some of it last year was just falling out of the rotation at times and having that inconsistency game to game. I think he’s another guy that I think really complements Luka and Kyrie [Irving] because of his ability to space the floor, his ability to guard multiple positions.
Josh Green is a guy that I played with, watched him his rookie year work tirelessly after every practice, before every practice, trying to get better as a shooter. Shot over 40 percent last year. Another guy that’s just got a great energy and a great spirit about him, wants to get better. Competes really hard. Plays really hard.
So, in terms of what Luka can do, I think all those guys, those young guys that I mentioned, they all just kind of fit, I think, with Luka and Kyrie and kind of their skill sets are very complementary.
Mark got mad at me because I brought up some questions about the Mavericks defense on my podcast, and Mark’s upset with me, whatever. I think that’s the concern there, just the point of attack defense for them, really outside of Josh Green, don’t necessarily — nobody on that team has a reputation as a point of attack defender, and Josh is undersized for some of the bigger players that — the Tatums and LeBrons and those guys.
But I like their team, and I like the group they’re putting together around Luka and Kyrie.
Q. With tournament nights being implemented into the NBA regular season, do you feel as though it’s a ploy to attract the more novice NBA-goers to regular season play?
JJ REDICK: I think we’ve been pretty open about that, that the In-Season Tournament is to get more interest in the regular season. It’s not a ploy. We’ve said it. We’re trying to create more interest. Look, it’s not just the In-Season Tournament. Of course, the play-in has done that. It’s incentivized those teams in that 11 to 12 spot. We changed the lottery odds so that you can’t just tank to get the top pick. We’ve done all sorts of things.
The new policies around resting players in nationally televised games, the new policies about end of season awards — look, we’ve done enough. I think in general we’re always going to have a competitive battle, I would call it, with the NFL this time of year.
Look, I’m somebody who played in the NBA for 15 years and watched the NBA for another 15 years before that. I’ve watched the NBA — this is my third season now retired. I’ve always loved the regular season. The league and its partners, I think we’ve done plenty to make the regular season matter.
It always mattered to me as a player, I can tell you that right now, and I think it matters even more now.
Q. Both of y’all kind of spoke on that story narrative that you guys were kind of touching on and the potential that this tournament has to enhance these guys’ stories. How do you hope this tournament helps and improves and enhances these guys’ stories?
JJ REDICK: I would think about anything with — if you’re talking about stories and referring to sort of legacies and journeys and stuff, I think, as this tournament happens in real time, I think it’s another talking point in terms of your performance within the group play, your performance in the quarterfinals, your performance in Vegas.
I follow enough — unfortunately, I have to live online because I want to know everything that’s happening in the NBA, but I follow enough accounts across the board. When you start talking about players’ career accomplishments, I spend an hour every day, it seems like, on Basketball Reference looking something up. It’s another sort of accomplishment to discuss.
I think — it goes back to what I said at the beginning. I think this notion about the regular season, I think — and R.J., I know, has talked about this a bunch, and a bunch of other former players have. The regular season has always mattered to the players. We are all sick. Like I don’t know how else to say it. We’re all sick. We’re sick.
Then like I’m retired now, and I’m sick now because I miss the sickness, I miss the juice. You don’t need me to — that National Anthem comes on, you’re getting ready to do the starting lineup, you’re ready to play. You’re ready to compete. If you’re not, you don’t play in the NBA. The regular season has always mattered.
Some of these directives — I don’t want to get into the management issue. This is not coming from the players. So, I’ll say that.
Now let’s talk about what the In-Season Tournament is. You’re giving someone another — you’re giving a sicko another reason, another incentive, another accomplishment, another trophy, like I can go get that? Okay.
Look, I think — I will say this. I’ve been out of the league three years. This is the most excited I’ve been for a regular season, period, an NBA season, period. Tim talked about some of these story lines across the board, like I’ve got the Knicks at Milwaukee Friday night. I’ve got a Dame-Giannis game my first time calling them. I’m so excited. Players are going to be too.
To that point, this is all part of everybody’s story. It’s part of the game. I love it.
TIM CORRIGAN: I would just add to that we love it too. If you work on this sport, this is what you — you can’t get away from it. Hubie Brown has been doing this for 50 years. When you sit down and talk to Hubie Brown about the NBA and what happens on a given night in the NBA, history is made all the time. The history will now be associated with this event when it happens on these nights because we don’t get to control when it happens or how it happens or who does it.
We just hope that we’re the ones covering those games on those nights, and when we’re not, I promise you we’re watching.
What’s been fun for me of all the sports I’ve ever done is just the workflow of the NBA is, like J.J.’s described, it’s overwhelming. If you’re not passionate about it and you work on this, you’re in trouble because those of us who are passionate about it, you’re embracing it every day anyways. It’s just part of your everyday life.
Again, for these things and these moments and all this to now be associated with this event, we can’t wait to be back here in five years talking about how it’s all worked out and, oh, my God, do you remember when that happened or when this happened or this happened, whether it was in a play-in game, group play, knockout round, championship, whatever, it’s going to create its own history.
Q. J.J., have you thought about how strategy might change during this tournament as opposed to the games that aren’t in the tournament? How coaches might either change minutes that they allot or substitution patterns? Do you think things will change at all from the coaching perspective during this tournament?
JJ REDICK: I haven’t thought about that, to be honest with you. Again, in terms of this run up to the quarter finals, these games count. So, I would assume the coaches are trying to win the game. So, whatever the best strategy for your team to win a regular season game, that also is an In-Season Tournament group play game, I think they would probably implement.
I haven’t thought about a strategy. I guess, if your team makes it all the way to Vegas and you start playing that semifinal, final, I think you’ve gone far enough that your strategy remains the same. How do we win a basketball game?
I haven’t really thought of a scenario, I guess, where your strategy would change around one of these games, no, I haven’t.