LOS ANGELES – When the Houston Rockets acquired Chris Paul to play beside James Harden or Oklahoma City added Carmelo Anthony and Paul George alongside Russell Westbrook, pundits doubted there would be enough basketballs to go around.
When the TNT Thursday studio crew moves to Monday night and calls the Timberwolves-Los Angeles Lakers game — the nightcap to the NBA’s Christmas quintuple-header — something similar applies:
Does Turner Sports have enough microphones to accommodate Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, Kenny Smith and ringmaster Ernie Johnson?
“We do, and that’s the problem,” Johnson said. “Everyone’s got one.”
Anything can happen when the four men broadcast their freewheeling and irreverent weekly pregame, halftime and postgame doubleheaders from an Atlanta studio — and it usually does.
On Christmas night, they will move to the play-by-play booth for the first time with all four together. Johnson, Barkley and Smith called an Atlanta Hawks game and an All-Star weekend rookie-sophomore game years ago, but this will be the first time all four squeeze together to call a game suited best for a two-man broadcast team.
“I’m sure there will be some times where, like it always does on our show, it will run off the rails a time or two,” Johnson said. “But that’s fine. I think people have come to expect that from our group. It’s why it’ll be interesting to see. It will definitely be your nontraditional broadcast.”
Weekly Thursday night contributor and former Wolves star Kevin Garnett isn’t scheduled to be part of this special Christmas edition.
TNT hasn’t broadcast a Christmas Day game since 2014. But when this year’s schedule called for it to carry the Wolves-Lakers 9:30 p.m. Central time nightcap, somebody suggested doing things a little differently.
Four men, four microphones and just one game qualifies.
“It’s nobody’s dream to spend Christmas Day on the road, but we’ll take one for the team here and it’ll be fun to watch,” Johnson said. “I have no idea how it’s going to play out because you’re going to have four guys talking and they all have opinions and it’s all going to come out.”
There’s often not enough open air space for all four to speak their piece from the relative calm and quiet of the studio.
Now add a game to call …
“Those guys make me laugh the whole time,” Wolves veteran forward Taj Gibson said. “They really act similar to how players act in the locker room. It’s always fun. You can relate to them. I just love watching them. That would be a fun broadcast to watch.”
Also expect opinion, particularly from Barkley’s mouth. He voiced his disappointment during a recent Thursday broadcast with a Wolves team that’s now 20-13 after Saturday’s victory at Phoenix but has lost twice to the Suns and once to Memphis.
“He thought they’d be better than this,” Johnson said. “Well, they were in the West’s No. 4 spot when we had that conversation, and they could have a much better record. They’ve played a lot of close games and let a couple get away. But when you look at the nucleus of that team, that’s a pretty good ballclub right there. Jimmy Butler has meant the world to them, and when you’ve got Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, you’re finding your place there.
“You can’t just flip a switch — especially in the West — and say OK, you should be No. 2 or No. 3 there. You can say maybe their record should be better, but if you’re sitting next in line right behind Golden State, Houston and San Antonio, you’re on the right track.”
Whatever the opinions, there will be plenty of them — probably starting with injured Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball as a subject — during a broadcast that will be as much about the chatter as the game action itself.
“If we were doing it on radio, people would wonder what just happened the last minute and a half while those guys were arguing,” Johnson said. “But that’s the good thing about being on TV.”
There will be no holiday or overtime pay for a broadcast team working overtime, but their halftime duties will be shortened while reporter Kristen Ledlow takes over.
“When you have Shaq and Chuck in the booth with you,” Johnson said, “you’re going to have to allow some time for nourishment.”