ESPN Reportedly Pulled Jeff Van Gundy off Knicks Game with Woodson on Hot Seat

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 12, 2013

Nov 13, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; ESPN broadcaster Jeff Van Gundy during the NBA game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The blaze under New York Knicks coach Mike Woodson's seat has reached an uncontrollable level.

These flames are so devastating, they've now reportedly reached the broadcast booth.

Per Marc Berman of the New York Post, ESPN pulled former Knicks coach and current color commentator Jeff Van Gundy off its broadcast team for Wednesday's nationally televised Knicks-Chicago Bulls game.

Van Gundy was set to call the game alongside play-by-play announcer Mike Breen. But a last-minute change saw Jon Barry fill Van Gundy's seat.

ESPN spokesman Ben Cafardo told Berman that the company's assignments are "always subject to change."

According to USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt, this was a joint decision made by Van Gundy and ESPN executives.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - JUNE 12: ESPN Announcers Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Breen does pre-game during Game One of the 2012 NBA Finals at Chesapeake Energy Arena on June 12, 2012 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees th
Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

The problem, or perceived problem at least, is that Berman had previously mentioned Van Gundy as a possible replacement if Woodson is relieved of his coaching duties. As the Knicks (6-15) continue to struggle making ground in the depleted and deplorable Eastern Conference, Woodson has become a mainstay on owner James Dolan's chopping block.

Realizing the potential distractions, ESPN and Van Gundy, as Zillgitt wrote, "decided it was best if he was not the story of a game he was calling."

The conflict of interest was clearly apparent. The awkwardness was inevitable.

But you wonder if ESPN might have welcomed the drama given the way things played out. Any sort of emotion would have been better than watching the Knicks struggle their way to a brutal 83-78 win.

Still, dominating the coverage would not have fit Van Gundy's M.O. The role of New York's midseason savior might not either, as NBC Sports' Brett Pollakoff pointed out, "Van Gundy who hasn’t coached since the 2007 season isn’t about to jump into such a volatile situation mid-season."

So, for the time being at least, awkward will continue to rule the day whenever Van Gundy's tabbed to call a Knicks game.

And why shouldn't it? Awkwardness does have a way of hovering around this franchise, doesn't it?