Two months ago, the rumors began: Bill Simmons wants off NBA Countdown. Have you read his columns or listened to his podcasts? He’s dropping hints left and right.
But come on, he’s only in Year One. These things take time, right? You get in a rhythm, a routine, develop chemistry with the co-hosts. It’ll be all good. Right?
Well, that depends who you ask. Two people close to NBA Countdown have told me that just one year after shaking up the show – adding Simmons and Jalen Rose – there could more change coming this summer. Both people believe there’s a 50/50 chance Simmons could walk away, and ESPN could add a host. ESPN higher ups are happy with the product – it certainly is better than last year – and perhaps the chatter is just that, rumors/gossip/scuttlebutt.
The name that keeps popping up: Stephen A. Smith. One source tells me that Smith is begging to join the show, and wants to go back to his roots as an NBA Insider. Another source tells me Smith would welcome a move that meant less First Take.
Last month, I was told Smith was not thrilled with the constant beating First Take receives on the internet, he was unhappy, and he feared the show’s backlash could be damaging his brand. Smith has separated himself from the clownish act of Skip Bayless in recent months – back in March, Smith landed a National McDonald’s TV ad. In May, he was in a Star Trek ad.
I went to ESPN last month for comment on Smith being unhappy on First Take. Smith confirmed he was unhappy – but he said it was only for one day, when First Take was taping in the afternoon, because it made life difficult on him since he has an ESPN radio show. He added he was otherwise thrilled with the show and loved being on it.
Smith has told more than a few people at the network that he’d like to have his own TV show again, but a source says ESPN appears reluctant to go down that road right now.
Smith’s manager, Lou Oppenheim, CEO of Headline Media Management, had no comment.
Let’s say, hypothetically, that Simmons were to walk away, and ESPN moved Smith onto the show. Could Smith, a noted workaholic, handle First Take in the morning, a radio show mid-day, and a basketball show at night?
The other big rumor – again, just a rumor – about the show’s potential shakeup is that Mike Wilbon could be replaced by someone who would fill the role of a traditional host. One of the big knocks on the show is that it doesn’t have a host, like, say, TNT’s Ernie Johnson. Countdown seems to shift the “host” duties each time it airs.