James Worthy steeled himself, then offered a blunt assessment.
The Lakers, in the midst of a losing season, had reached their nadir with a 48-point loss to the Clippers. The Hall of Famer glared into the camera and did what many other analysts would have.
He blamed the coach.
“(Mike) D’Antoni’s got to get into these guys a little bit more,” said Worthy on that night nearly two years ago. “He’s got to make them really a little bit more responsible, maybe call guys out.”
Worthy, an analyst with Time Warner Cable SportsNet, said the Lakers’ problems could be traced to the locker room, that they should practice only defense and that an offense focused on pace of play and 3-pointers simply wasn’t working.
Such frank analysis was welcomed by fed-up fans begging for a change on the bench. It’s also the sort of criticism from which Byron Scott, a teammate of Worthy’s from 1983-93, has recently been spared during an 11-43 season.
Worthy is one of four former “Showtime”-era Lakers navigating the potentially murky waters of analyzing a team coached by a close friend.
While sports analysts frequently call games involving former teammates, coaches and rivals, the dynamic gets more complicated when the analysts are day-to-day observers of the team.
Former Kings guard-turned-analyst Bobby Jackson turned heads last week when he called for a coaching change in Sacramento.
Scott has been under a microscope since he was hired in 2014 after D’Antoni resigned at the conclusion of a 27-55 season.
In Scott’s tenure, the Lakers are 32-104.
Bashing Scott is fashionable among fans and he has been widely panned by national media. He appears at or near the top of any list of coaches on the hot seat.
The Lakers are not believed to be considering a mid-season coaching change, but it is a results-driven league. Five NBA coaches have been fired since the start of the season, including former Lakers guard Derek Fisher with the improving New York Knicks.
Worthy is aware of a perception that he has taken it easier on Scott than he did his predecessor
He even agrees.
“People have opinions based on Byron and I being close,” Worthy said after a recent Lakers practice, “but that has nothing to do with it.”
Instead, he argued, D’Antoni’s Lakers were built to win with Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and a healthy Kobe Bryant.
“I had an opportunity to be more critical then,” Worthy said. “But I see what Byron’s doing. I’m in the film room, I see the practices, I see the guys buying into it. They just haven’t been able to transfer it out to the court yet.”
When Scott made the unpopular decision to move D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle out of the starting lineup on Dec. 6, Worthy initially recoiled with surprise.
By the end of that night’s broadcast, he had come around.
“I think Byron’s right,” Worthy said. “Sometimes you have to allow younger players to watch from the bench.”
Video of the segment was posted on the network’s Facebook page. The first comment, from a user named Lynne No, said, “James Worthy was always so candid about D’Antoni. Where’s your truth now James regarding Byron?”
When Worthy has called out the Lakers this season, he has typically focused on players rather than the coaching.
“We expect effort and we criticize (the team) for that,” Worthy said. “We criticize them for points in the paint. But for decisions made by Byron right now, going through this experimental growth period, there’s nothing to be critical of.”
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ESPN Announces Opening Weekend Slate On Conference Networks
The season is approaching and ESPN took the occasion to announce the opening weeks schedules for their the ACC Network, ACC Network and Longhorn Network.
College football begins in less than 100 days so to celebrate, ESPN announced programming for the beginning of the season for their conference-affiliated networks and the Longhorn Network.
The SEC Network is set to begin it’s ninth season on the air. Just as the network did one year ago, the network will start in Knoxville, Tennessee. Ball State is Tennessee’s opponent on September 1st and the game features a 7 p.m. ET kickoff in Neyland Stadium. The SEC Network also announced a trio of tripleheaders to kickoff 2022. Alabama (v. Utah State), LSU (v. Southern) and Florida (v. South Florida) are the respective host teams in those week’s primetime games.
The ACC Network’s season begins even sooner. Starting on Saturday August 27th, the network will feature Week 0 games for the first time. Florida State will welcome Duquesne at 5 p.m. ET in the first game of an ACC Network doubleheader, followed by Florida A&M travelling to North Carolina which is scheduled to kickoff at 8:15 p.m. ET. The ACC Network will air 14 live football games over the first four weeks of the season. In Week 1, the ACC Network will begin it’s schedule of tripleheaders of 2022 culminating with Louisville and Syracuse battling in the season’s first installment of ACC Network Primetime Football at 8 p.m. on September 3rd.
ESPN’s Longhorn Network announced that Texas will open it’s season on Saturday, September 3rd against Louisiana-Monroe exclusively on LHN at 7 p.m. CT. In addition to the season-opener, the Longhorn Network will be the home of the September 17th game at home against Texas-San Antonio. LHN also mentioned Texas GameDay presented by St. David’s HealthCare will have pre and postgame coverage throughout the season beginning with the season-opener.
This could be the final season for the Longhorn Network as it is currently constructed. Texas’ move to the SEC could mean a large change to their media rights allocation. Texas has reportedly been open to the idea of scrapping the network if necessary.
Lee Fitting: We’re Lucky Bosses Threw Rules Out For ManningCast
“This was the next step in the evolution, and one that gained a lot of recognition because of the crew and Peyton and Eli.”
ESPN’s Lee Fitting made time to talk to Sports Video Group after the ManningCast took home the award for Best Live Series at the Sports Emmys on Tuesday night. He was holding the trophy, but said it took every person that worked on the show to make it worthy of that honor.
“This was the ultimate team effort, you know, for the Monday nights that we did it and, you know, like I said out there, we were just so spoiled to have Peyton and Eli at the center of it,” the network’s SVP of Production said.
He credited the quarterback mindset Peyton and Eli Manning brought to the project, saying that players have to be allowed to make plays. It wasn’t just important that the Manning brothers could do it. The network had to be willing to stay out of the way and let the ManningCast figure out what success looked like.
“We were just super lucky that our bosses just sort of threw the rules out the window with this one,” Fitting said.
While the alternate Monday Night Football broadcast received plenty of rave reviews, Fitting pointed out that he wasn’t really breaking new ground. He was taking a formula that had been proven to work and changing it up a bit.
“The Megacast has been around for a while now, and it continues to evolve. This was the next step in the evolution, and one that gained a lot of recognition because of the crew and Peyton and Eli.”
Peyton Manning’s Omaha Productions recently produced a similar alternate broadcast for the PGA Championship. It is contracted to build alternate, conversational broadcasts for UFC events and college football games next.
John Buccigross: Return Of NHL ‘Reenergized’ Me In ESPN Role
“I’m just grateful that I was able to get reenergized without leaving the company that I’ve worked for so long.”
John Buccigross is probably the most thankful out of anyone that the NHL returned to the ESPN airwaves this season.
Bucci has been at the network for 25 years and was a part of the coverage team the last time ESPN had NHL broadcast rights. He told Awful Announcing that the change after the 2003-04 season really helped change his focus at the network.
“It’s probably a good thing that it went away back in 2004, because I was able to focus on SportsCenter and kind of move up the ladder there, and maybe I never would have if hockey had stayed all these years,” he said. “Maybe that was good. And then I got involved with college hockey, I asked to do play-by-play a couple of years after we lost the NHL, so I’ve been doing college hockey for over 15 years with play-by-play, hoping we would get the NHL back and then I could do NHL play-by-play.”
Now the NHL is back, the Stanley Cup Final will air on ESPN and ABC, and John Buccigross will be a part of it in some fashion. He said having the chance to pick back up where he left off all those years ago gave him a second wind in his career.
“It’s been absolutely fantastic. It couldn’t have come at a better time for me in my career, being at ESPN over 25 years,” he said. “To kind of get reenergized, reinvigorated with your job after being in the same place for 25 years, that’s probably pretty rare. I’m just grateful that I was able to get reenergized without leaving the company that I’ve worked for so long. At this stage of my career, it was just perfect timing.”
ESPN and Turner Sports replaced NBC Sports as the U.S. broadcast rightsholders for the NHL this season.