It’s one super-sized leap for the Clippers to bring in All-Star forwards Kawhi Leonard and Paul George this summer. But it could be argued that for the franchise’s long-term success, the more impactful decisions to be made this off-season focused on how to go forward with the broadcasting roster following the retirement of Ralph Lawler.
Fasten your seatbelts. As the process for the latter was a bit of a roller-coaster ride for all involved, it also may be more indicative of how modern-day broadcasters seek more flexibility than perceived stability with a franchise.
Just two weeks from training camp in Hawaii, the Clippers are finally able to officially announce Monday that Brian Sieman will move from radio to TV play by play on Prime Ticket, paired with Chauncey Billups. Since Billups still has ESPN work and can only commit to about two-thirds of the regular-season schedule, Corey Maggette and Mike Fratello will rotate in for 20-something games.
Recent Syracuse grad Noah Eagle lands in the radio role for games broadcast on KLAC-AM (570), and Armando Garcia returns for his ninth season on the Spanish language ESPN Deportes’ KWKW-AM (1330).
Did the Clippers get it right? All things considered, it could have gone sideways if one starts connecting the dots.
It’s not just a matter of Sieman cashing in loyalty rewards points to force an upgrade from radio row to TV first-class seating. In his 12 seasons as a highly entertaining solo act as a hybrid play-by-play, analysis and sports-talk host, the 44-year-old Sieman revealed himself as smart and creative with a rapid-fire delivery the city hasn’t enjoyed since the days of Chick Hearn. Now maybe the secret is out.
Sieman was ripe for another NBA franchise to lure him away. There were no guarantees that those who make decisions within the Clippers’ management, working somewhat in concert with the Prime Ticket/Fox Sports West executives, would understand his value when weighing the applications, resumes and referrals from other national star-power talent as well as considering other local up-and-comers.
Thankfully, Sieman stays in the picture, as confirmed by the Times in July. The objective is TV won’t temper the skill set he has created from his radio days.
One outcome of the Clippers’ process in vetting possible replacements for Lawler, who less than two weeks ago was honored by the Basketball Hall of Fame for his 40-year run with the team, was a reach-out to Ian Eagle, who has been with the Brooklyn Nets TV package for 25 seasons. It ended up producing the recommendation of his 22-year-old son, Noah, who has been working on NBATV’s summer league. It’s a low-risk, high-reward opportunity for both parties that could cultivate another franchise voice in the coming decade.
More problematic was securing a TV analyst. Looking outside again, the Clippers pursued Richard Jefferson and Sarah Kustok, both of whom worked with Ian Eagle on the Nets’ YES network telecasts. After coming in for interviews and auditions with the Clippers, each of them declined. Kustok in particular could have been a statement-making hire for the franchise. The Clippers also considered Ann Meyers, the Basketball Hall of Famer out of UCLA living in Huntington Beach who has more than 25 years in the basketball broadcasting business and was recently doing games for the Phoenix Suns.
Eventually, they banked on Billups, a Clippers player near the end of his 17-year NBA career trying to gain traction in the ESPN talent pool as a studio and game analyst. But when Billups confirmed his hiring to the Times in August, the understanding was he wasn’t keen on relinquishing his ties with ESPN and could not to commit to the full schedule. But this world of the modern, nimble broadcaster, this is something the Clippers and Prime Ticket have been navigating the last three seasons.
Don MacLean, another former Clippers player living locally who has been part of the Prime Ticket pre- and-post-game shows for years, also has a full schedule of college basketball games for the Pac-12 Network. He ended up as Lawler’s final TV partner last season and remains the team’s best option, but his choice to stay aligned with the Pac-12 and its closer-to-home travel opens preclude his full-time status, according to people with knowledge of the hiring process.
Instead, the Clippers decided tto fill holes in Billups’ schedule split with the 72-year-old Fratello, the former team head coach and TV analyst with Lawler in the early 1990s, and Maggette, a Clippers player from 2000-08 part of the TV analyst rotation last season until he was taken off the package last February to clear up some personal legal matters.
With the jigsaw dust settled, how does the puzzle fit together for Clippers followers?
“It’s challenging anytime to find the perfect fit, especially with the analyst,” said Sieman, who will launch this TV role with the exhibition season opener in Hawaii on Oct. 3. “It’s a tough process to find the person who understands the team, can deliver thought-provoking ideas, bring up stories that the casual fan wants to hear but also knows about advanced analytics.
“I think the Clippers nailed it with these three (analysts). They all come from different eras with their connections. Even if I say a third or less of what I did before, I’m great with that because I want people to learn from all of us.”