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Saturday Sports: NBA All-Star weekend; sports broadcasters' financial trouble

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: NBA All-Star Weekend, Major League Baseball suits up and financial troubles for regional sports networks. Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media joins us. Howard, thanks for being with us, my man.

HOWARD BRYANT, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: I'm fine, thank you. I hope you're well.

BRYANT: (Laughter).

SIMON: Let's begin with All-Star Weekend at the NBA. Who looks like real title contenders in the middle of the season?

BRYANT: Well, this has been a really...

SIMON: (Shouting) Fear the deer.

BRYANT: ...Tumultuous year and a lot of good teams. The Boston Celtics have been the best team all season, but of course, there's Giannis. There's the Milwaukee Bucks, on a fantastic win streak. Those two teams are great. Philadelphia is a really good team. The 76ers haven't been to the NBA Finals since 2001. And I think that you've got a really good bunch of teams in the Eastern Conference, except the super team that never was...

SIMON: Oh.

BRYANT: ...Which is the Brooklyn Nets, which got blown up by Kyrie Irving's trade demand. He's in Dallas. Kevin Durant is now in Phoenix, which really changes the way things look in the Western Conference. The defending champion, Golden State Warriors, pretty mediocre team this year, not - surprisingly, not a really good team.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: Denver is considered the best team in that conference. Phoenix, you know, we'll see. If the Durant trade turns into what it's supposed to be, they could suddenly be the best team in the West. So really looking forward to seeing what happens, but the good news is, is that the NBA has some really good teams. It's not like...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...It's a bunch of mediocre teams. There are some really good teams. I think the second half of the season is going to be a lot of fun.

SIMON: Baseball spring training begins with pitchers and catchers on Friday. I want to ask you about all these new rules.

BRYANT: (Laughter) Yes, we've got new rules, Scott. We've got new rules. We've got a pitch clock. You know, baseball...

SIMON: Yep.

BRYANT: ...The game that doesn't have a clock now actually has a clock. And so you've got...

SIMON: Fifteen seconds - right? - to get settled and throw the new pitch.

BRYANT: Yeah, that's it. Throw it or it's a ball. You've got no more shifts. So you - we're not playing slow-pitch softball anymore. There's nobody out there in short field and right field to take away base hits from the big left-handed hitters anymore. You're - you've got bigger bases now, which are supposedly supposed to encourage more athleticism, more stolen bases. Alex Cora, the manager of the Boston Red Sox, looked at the bigger bases and said they look like pizza boxes so...

SIMON: I thought he had a point when I saw those pictures, as a matter of fact.

BRYANT: (Laughter) Exactly. But still, Scott, count me as one of those people who doesn't lament the end of football season. Like, what am I going to do? It's baseball season. That's - I get excited when the trucks go down to Florida and Arizona, and so that's almost here. And the other thing about baseball that I think is going to be very, very interesting to see as well is Dusty Baker got his World Series ring as a manager, the elusive championship, and the Houston Astros are a really good team again. The San Diego Padres are a good team. There's a lot of good stuff happening. I'm really looking forward to seeing which teams emerge, including the long-lost Boston Red Sox, who either win the World Series or come in last place out of - you know, it's going to be interesting to see what they do. So I'm excited.

SIMON: But who will be watching? Diamond Sports Group, which broadcasts the games for 14 major league teams, is in financial trouble, right?

BRYANT: In financial trouble, and that comes off of a year where Major League Baseball threw its hat into crypto. We were watching the umpires last year with FTX logos on their uniforms last year, the regional sports networks, the - Bally missed a $140 million interest-only payment. This is not good for them two years in a row where you're wondering about their finances.

SIMON: Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media, thanks so much.

BRYANT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.

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