We’re with you live (sort of) at 11 a.m. EST for an ESPN phone press conference with Bob Rauscher, VP of production, and, more importantly, analysts and former coaches Jeff Van Gundy and Hubie Brown. The biggest question is whether Van Gundy and Rauscher will have any time to get a word in edgewise.

It’s 11:01 and the groovy hold music is still going. This is what they play in elevators in hell. I guess it’s not technically elevator music—it’s not Muzak—but I don’t know what else to call it. It’s instrumental, it’s swirling, and it’s…it’s not good.

Been thinking about possible questions to throw at Hubie and JVG (I have no idea what you’d ask a VP of Production except “uh, so what exactly is it that you do?). The best I’ve come up with is, “as former coaches, if you see an obvious coaching blunder, do you report on it or is there some sort of unspoken rule?”

11:04, and here we go. Mark Mandel from ESPN plugs Dallas at Cleveland, Seattle at Denver for the first doubleheader, then another.

And here’s Bob Rauscher, who will in fact be emceeing and not actually taking questions. Whew. To paraphrase: Very exciting for us to be starting the season. Hubie brings us a historic perspective, and Jeff brings us a current perspective. (I’m sure Hubie is happy to hear that.)

Gonna go right to questions.

(Please keep in mind that I didn’t tape any of this, and instead just typed along. Seeing that I’ve never been a Secretarial School All-Star, the answers are not complete. However, I don’t believe any of them are flat-out misleading or anything. So just don’t use them as direct quotes anywhere. OK? I don’t want to see the Knicks stuff on the back page of the Post tomorrow unless you get it from somewhere else.)

TV Guide. Question for Jeff. How does it feel to be a full-time analyst again? I just think being part of the NBA is a good thing. I don’t think anyone likes being fired. (Such a perfect Van Gundy answer.) ESPN and ABC threw me a lifeline, one door closes, another opens…It’s always about the people you work with. (Mentions Mike Breen.)

SI. Why ESPN, not TNT. Jeff: I enjoyed my year on TNT very much, but ESPN and ABC gave me the opportunity to finish last year’s playoffs, and I was very happy to be able to come back. Things slowed down in the summer so it took a while for a formal announcement. Follow-up: Do you take this year to year? No I don’t. My dad said something good to me right when I left college. Got a high school job, coaching, no teaching, $1,500 a year. He said don’t worry about the next job, just do your job well. I don’t spend a lot of time looking back, and I try not to look forward very much. I’m just going to work at this craft like I did at coaching.

DIME. With this being the first time Spurs have their top 10 players back, is that a big leg up? Hubie! Yes. Mainly because you have a group of people—on the negative side they’ll talk about their age. But it is a team, the best-coached team in the League. They can play halfcourt basketball and get their three best scorers shots…OK, Hubie lost me. Anyway, he goes on to say they can fast break, they can shoot threes—as long as they stay out of injuries to the big three, when we get to the playoffs and when we get to the third or fourth round, hopefully they can get it done this year. (Hopefully? Bias!)

Palm Beach. Ricky Davis trade. What does Ricky add? Title favorites (haha), title contenders, second tier in the East… Hubie. To me, the Miami and the Cleveland situations are the big questions in the East. Cleveland as to signing their players, Miami as to how many games Shaq can play (especially factoring in Wade’s health). Those two things take priority to me. You cannot take away the contributions at playoff time of Kapono and Posey and Gary Payton. Also Doleac has left (!!!!!), and when he played he was a contributor. Addition of Ricky Davis is a must, you need a guy at the two guard who can score. (Hubie lost me again—he’s better at talking than I am at typing.) Need a three-man rotation at least.

Jeff: For me it was a great trade for Miami and Minnesota. Minnesota wanted to remove perceived bad locker room influences, and Miami is getting a new lease on life. Can’t lose what they did and not replace it with valid NBA scoring. It also shows they don’t have full confidence in Dorell Wright as an NBA starter right now. I also think Mark Blount is an underrated player—more length up front, can score from 18 feet.

Additional Q from Florida. Is Alonzo Mourning a Hall of Famer? Hubie: Go back to numbers in Charlotte and the early days in Miami, he should be nominated. Them you go to the committee of 24. So he’s gonna come in with a heavy resume. But it comes to who you’re competing with or who the 24 people think you should put in.

Jeff: He’s a Hall of Fame competitor. But as to his being a Hall of Fame player, there’s no set criteria. The process has been hard on players, a higher percentage of players need to be evaluated and put in.

Bob from Milwaukee. Wondered if you considered the Central one of the better conferences, how can Milwaukee compete. Hubie: The division is going to be excellent. Chicago, if Cleveland can get it together, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Indiana is a team that everyone should look out for. They’re in the mid-range group of teams that can jump out at you (look out!) because they’re gonna be healthy this year (they are?). If healthy (about Milwaukee), they’re gonna compete and make a lot of noise.

Jeff: I agree with Hubie. The West has the top-tier teams, but only nine teams can make the playoffs. But in the East, 12-13 teams can make the playoffs. As far as Milwaukee, I think Bobby Simmons coming back from injury, obviously Yi, we’ll see how he progresses, if Villanueva and Bogut is healthy, they’ll have a great front line. Michael Redd, Mo Williams. I don’t even pay attention to the divisions—I don’t even know what the heck they all mean. You just have to be in the top eight teams (in the conference).

L.A. Kobe! Of course. (Damn, I was gonna ask that maybe.) Hubie. Unless you’re in the locker room and on that practice floor, a lot gets carried away by the fans and the media. If you’re the coach you have control of that team. If you take a player of that quality away for any length of time, the results are gonna drop off. I know if I’m the coach of the team I do not want to trade that player. He’s the premier player in this league, he’s a fierce competitor. If I were them, I would not trade him. The younger players are getting better there, and they have a lot of potential. They have to become a better defensive and rebounding team, and they have size, so I don’t see what the problem is.

Jeff. If I’m Mitch Kupchak, I’m not going down with my epitaph as having traded Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. Best thing about Kobe is his competitiveness. When he goes on the floor, he’s going on the floor to dominate. A key is how Lamar comes back from injury. Lamar is an underrated ballhandler and defender. All this Kobe talk and rhetoric hides that they’re a tremendous offensive team. But now they have to defend. Phil has been known for his triangle offense, but what I thought made his Bulls team great was defense.

Someone from OKC asks about the Sonics, their prospects and where they might wind up. Hubie. First of all, I live in Atlanta, and I’m out of the loop on the team suing the city, the city suing the team. That’s sidebar stuff. What’s important is the season. As far as this team, they have a lot of veteran guys on this team. Then they have a lot of young guys with potential. This is a team that probably will not make the playoffs, but they’re going to be an extremely difficult team to beat in Seattle. They have three young centers, will the centers be able to do the job. Let’s see how well you play from the All-Star break to the end of the year, that’ll dictate how you play next year.

Jeff: I loved going into Seattle as a coach to Key Arena, felt the same way about Hornet games in Oklahoma City—it was like a college atmosphere. Can P.J. get a young team to defend well enough to win on the road? Probably not. The key, as Hubie said, is figuring out how to win at home. If they can get to 30 wins? That’ll be big for them.

It’s my turn (last!), and I skip the announcing theory question and ask about the Knicks. Heck, both guys coached there (even if Hubie’s stint was over 20 years ago) Is this the year they finally put it together? Hubie: From a talent situation, they have enough talent to make it in the East. They only won 30 games last year, but they don’t have to make a major jump. But you have to get Curry and Randolph on the same page, whether it’s the high low or how you do it. Randolph is a tremendous rebounder—and you have David Lee. The key for them is can they rebound the ball on a consistent basis, and can they improve their assists. If they improve their assists, the chemistry will develop…And then their halfcourt defense has been suspect for several years. And you do not have shotblocking which is a major minus. It’s about consistency in defending and rebounding.

Jeff: Think the hardest thing to analyze is health. Look at the Blazers this offseason, or the Clippers with Brand. And last year the Knicks were playing very good when Lee went out. I think they’d be better served starting Curry OR Randolph with David Lee. He should lead the team in minutes played. Think that role definitely is critical. You want Marbury and Jamal to play assertively. And they have a lot of glue-type players. Lee and Q are glue type players, hard playing. Balkman, Nate—even though he’s a little nutty—are glue-type guys. That needs to transfer to the starters. Health and finding the right rotation are the biggest things. I’m just not sure whether Curry and Randolph together give enough rebounding and defense.

Hubie: Through the preseason, they were better with one of those guys off the floor. When Curry was out of the games, I thought they had better production.

Out of time! 34 minutes. Reminder of the upcoming games, press release later today about all the NBA is doing on ESPN (and apparently, it’s a lot).

*cue music*