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NBA media roundtable: Challenges of reporting, tough interviews and more

What's life like on the NBA beat? Five respected reporters discuss the biggest challenges of covering the league.

With the NBA season tipping off this week, I paneled five respected NBA media voices this week for a roundtable discussion:

The panel:

• ​Frank Isola, NBA columnist, New York Daily News, SiriusXM NBA Radio host, Around The Horn panelist.
Jason Lloyd, Cavaliers beat reporter, Akron Beacon Journal and Ohio.com
• ​Michael Lee, senior NBA writer, Yahoo! Sports
• ​Brian Mahoney, national NBA writer, Associated Press
• ​Ramona Shelburne, senior writer, ESPN.com, ESPN LA 710 host.

(Editor's note: The panel was asked to go as long or as short as they wanted with their answers. They were free to skip any questions. Some of the answers have been edited for clarity.) 

What single player do you expect to report on the most this season and why?

Isola: Locally, it will be Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis for obvious reasons. One is the best player on the team coming back from knee surgery and the other is the Knicks' highest draft pick since Patrick Ewing. Fortunately, they are both very pleasant to deal with. I would say 70% of the coverage will focus on them while 20% will be spent on Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher. The rest of the team, many of whom I wouldn’t know if I tripped over them, get the other 10%. Nationally, LeBron James is always a story and Steph Curry is entering that realm as well. But Kevin Durant will be the flavor of the month because he’s heading into free agency.

Lee: Can I pick two? Kevin Durant is the easy choice. I don’t think that a year has been built up in which a player will be more the focal point of media scrutiny than LeBron James six years ago. In case you haven’t heard—and trust me, you’ll be reminded frequently all season—Durant will be a free agent next season and will arguably be the most coveted player to ever hit the open market because almost half the league will have the financial means to offer a maximum contract to a one-time league’s most valuable player. His visits to almost every city—New York, Los Angeles and his hometown of Washington, in particular—will be a huge event. The other storyline surrounding Durant involves his recovery from a foot injury and his attempts to regain his perch at, or near, the top of the league. Every step Kobe Bryant takes in possibly his final season will warrant excess attention and reflections on the great moments in his incredible career. Bryant’s refusal to commit to whether he’ll call it quits will also lead to speculation about his future with the Los Angeles Lakers or any other team. 

Lloyd: Since I cover the Cavs and do it for LeBron James’s hometown paper, this one is easy. James remains the biggest high-profile athlete in the sport and his brand extends far beyond basketball. He made a cameo in a Hollywood comedy over the summer and within the last week brought Michelle Obama to the University of Akron for an education event. Of course, if he is able to bring Cleveland its first championship in more than 50 years, it will cement his legacy as one of the game’s most transcendent players.

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Mahoney: Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant might have the most topics that need to be covered (health, futures after this season, etc.), but it's still probably LeBron James. His team will be playing well into June, he talks as often as any superstar and he talks about important topics beyond just the NBA, so he's always giving us something to write.

Shelburne: Being as how I'm in Los Angeles and have a longstanding relationship with him, I'm guessing I'll spend a lot of time covering Kobe Bryant in what is likely his final season. I'm not sure what to make of this Lakers team. They've got a bunch of young players who they're hoping will grow up quickly, but there are also veterans who were brought in to help the team win in the short-term, too. I don't know that the young players can develop quickly enough to help Kobe go out on a high note, which could make for some real frustration as the season goes on, but also an existential test for Kobe as his career winds down. The player in the NBA who will get the most coverage this year is Kevin Durant, whose free agency this summer will shape the league for the next five years. 

If you could implement one change to media access for the regular season, what would you do and why?

Isola: How about just enforcing the current rules? For example, opening the locker room after the game at the designated time. That would be nice change. From a logistics standpoint, it would be helpful if the players conducted their interviews before showering and dressing, which depending on the player may take 45 minutes after the final buzzer. It’s a deadline killer. Carmelo is as guilty as anyone. Of course, after a preseason game in Baltimore a few years ago Carmelo’s mother sat patiently outside the locker room waiting for Carmelo to shower and dress. So if she can wait, we can wait.

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Lee: With more organizations building practice facilities and more obstacles to interactions with players, it would be great if teams actually adhered to the league-mandated rules. Over the years, teams have taken liberty with the rules and some have flat-out abused them to the disservice of the discerning public. Reporters are supposed to be able to speak to players before they leave the practice court, with the player having the ability to accept or deny the request before heading to the locker room. As it is now, a number of teams bring a player to speak and it might not even be the player you need or want on that particular day. You might never see the player you need once practice opens.

Lloyd: It’s a losing battle, but I’d love to return to courtside seating in all arenas. I understand owners are trying to make as much money as possible, and the floor seats generate barrels of revenue. That’s certainly their right. But for the handful of news outlets that spend the money to travel all season, seats near the court in every arena would be helpful. There is so much more we can bring fans from courtside, whether it’s conversations with officials, what coaches are shouting, what players are saying… If our job is to bring the game closer to the fans, the best place to do that is courtside. As of last season, about half the league still provided courtside seats. But that number seems to dwindle a little more every year.

Mahoney: The one I've really been pushing for the last couple years is a minimum length of time (something like six minutes) before team officials can cut off a postgame interview. Fewer players are talking pregame now, and I understand they're preparing for work. But then we need some time after the game with them, and I've seen too many cases lately where somebody talks for 3-4 minutes and a member of the PR staff then says the player is done. By the time the team's TV person has asked the first couple of questions and there's been some questions about the game, that's not leaving enough time for much else.

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