Magic Johnson's agent Lon Rosen on Thursday night refuted a report that the Basketball HOFer left ESPN's "NBA Countdown" show "because of colleague Bill Simmons' growing influence over the show and Michael Wilbon's diminished role in NBA coverage," according to Jeff Zillgitt of USA TODAY. Rosen in response to the Deadspin report said, "Magic and Bill Simmons got to be very close and continue to be close." Johnson in a statement said that he "loves ESPN but that his schedule and other commitments prevent him from continuing in his role" with the net (USATODAY.com, 10/10). In N.Y., Bob Raissman cites sources as saying that stepping down "was entirely Johnson's decision, adding ESPN brass was looking forward to him returning to the show" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 10/11). In Boston, Chad Finn writes Johnson's departure from the show's crew "might be exactly what is needed to make it better." Prior to Johnson's announcement, ESPN had "already begun its seemingly annual tinkering with the cast in its ongoing if unacknowledged quest to match the camaraderie and success" of TNT’s "Inside the NBA." The net on Wednesday announced that former 76ers coach Doug Collins would join "NBA Countdown," while Wilbon, the "de facto host, would no longer be a regular part of the program." SI.com reported Doris Burke also will be joining the show "on some Wednesdays during the season." Simmons and Jalen Rose, who "joined the show last season, have the kind of chemistry ESPN covets." Former NBA coach and player Avery Johnson also is "expected to be part of the program in some capacity," and former Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo "could also be in the mix for a role." Finn writes the recent moves "have been positive steps" for the show (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/11).
BURKE MAKES HISTORY: SI.com's Richard Deitsch noted Burke will become the "first woman to serve as a regularly-appearing analyst for a national NBA studio show" when she begins her "NBA Countdown" stint. She will make her debut on Nov. 13. Her new assignment is "timed with her signing a multiyear contract extension with ESPN." When Burke is on "NBA Countdown," she will "navigate most of the ins and outs from commercial breaks." ESPN Senior VP & Exec Producer Mark Gross said that Burke's role will be a "hybrid between analyst and host." Deitsch noted Burke will "continue to serve as an NBA game and studio analyst and sideline reporter, as well as an NCAA men's and women's basketball analyst" (SI.com, 10/10).