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Column: In foolishly hiring JJ Redick, Lakers continue down the road to nowhere

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So now it’s painfully clear that JJ doesn’t stand for Just Joking.

So now this is real.

Real unusual. Real unsettling. Real unfortunate.

An NBA team in most need of strong leadership just hired a head coach who has never been a head coach, assistant coach, or any kind of coach.

An NBA team desperate for a culture creator just hired a head coach who has never led a group of athletes at any level above youth basketball.

An NBA team that just lost its share of the record for most championships — the newly crowned Boston Celtics now have 18, dammit! — just hired a coach who has never been involved with an NBA champion.

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The Lakers choose to hire someone with no coaching experience to lead the team, agreeing to bring in former NBA guard JJ Redick.

June 20, 2024

An NBA team that needs a powerful voice to drown out the overwhelming and often misguided influence of LeBron James just hired LeBron James’ podcast partner.

Welcome to the Lakers, JJ Redick.

Buckle up, everybody else.

The Lakers and Redick agreed to a deal Thursday, according a person familiar with the situation who was not authorized to speak publicly. Redick becomes their seventh full-time coach in the 13 years since Phil Jackson retired and the fourth coach in six years with James.

What makes anyone think Redick’s tenure will renounce that sordid history?

Absolutely nothing.

For one, he’s not the Lakers’ first choice, and every player in that locker room will know that.

Remember, Rob Pelinka romanced Redick early in the search, but then suddenly changed direction and threw $70 million at Connecticut mastermind Dan Hurley. When Hurley surprisingly threw it back, the Lakers were back to square one, which was already populated by Redick, so, what the heck, boom, done. Really?

Steve Kerr and Doc Rivers discuss what it’s like to be a first-time NBA coach, something JJ Redick might find out very soon with the Lakers.

June 15, 2024

No other serious candidates? No James Borrego? No Sam Cassell? The Clippers just made a great assistant hire and you’re immediately thinking, wait, no Jeff Van Gundy?

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The players know the landscape. The players understand the options. The players can sense vulnerability, and few coaches have ever walked into a situation with more naked vulnerability than Redick, who, outside of LeBron, will probably be greeted with odd smiles and an unspoken question.

Who are you again?

Redick is an assertively brainy former Duke star who had a decent 15-year career as a three-point specialist for six teams, including the Clippers.

But that doesn’t mean he can walk right to the front of an NBA bench with no coaching or management experience.

You say Steve Kerr did it? No, when Kerr was hired as a rookie coach by the Golden State Warriors he had spent the previous three years as general manager of the Phoenix Suns.

Redick has recently been an outstanding television analyst, working the NBA Finals for ESPN, brilliantly displaying his deep knowledge of the intricacies of the game, sounding very much like a coach.

But that doesn’t mean those strategies can be sold to an unfamiliar bench, where sounding like a coach and actually leading like a coach are two entirely different things.

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You say Pat Riley did it? No, he was a Lakers assistant coach for parts of three seasons — including an NBA championship year — before becoming a head coach.

The Lakers reportedly like Redick because he reminds them of Riley, right down to the fancy haircuts and tailored suits.

Yet by the time he took the job, Riley already had built up credibility with the entire organization after serving a variety of roles while contributing to a ring.

Redick’s incoming claim to credibility is, well, he’s LeBron’s buddy. Anything else? Anybody?

LeBron James, left, and JJ Redick greet each at the end of Cavaliers-76ers game in 2017 in Cleveland.
LeBron James, left, and JJ Redick greet each other after a Cavaliers-76ers game in 2017 in Cleveland. The two now co-host a podcast, and Redick just agreed to be James’ coach.
(Jesse D. Garrabrant / NBAE via Getty Images)

And even this connection is frayed, as there are some in the league who believe that LeBron and Redick strangely began their podcast in March — who begins an NBA podcast in the last month of the season? — as a way to push Redick forward while pushing Darvin Ham out.

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Players will wonder. Players will question. And surely there will be players who will listen to Redick and ask, is that our coach talking or LeBron talking or Rich Paul talking? With LeBron and Redick essentially serving as co-coaches, it could mean the Lakers have no coach.

The idea that they need a coach who can maximize LeBron’s final two seasons here is flawed because the maximizing has already occurred. What you saw last season is probably as good as it’s going to get as long as LeBron is their leader and Anthony Davis is his sidekick.

Occasional historic nights from LeBron, infrequent dominant nights from AD, everyone else kind of disappears and it’s March and the Lakers are fighting to avoid play-in hell.

JJ Redick will become the 16th former NBA player to be a head coach without any previous coaching experience. Here’s how the other 15 fared.

June 20, 2024

Bottom line, whoever coaches the Lakers for the next two seasons is not really going to matter. For all kinds of salary cap reasons, they probably can’t improve their roster enough to improve their chances enough, no matter who is calling the plays.

That’s why they needed a coach who can build a new program instead of just curating the final fall of an old program. They didn’t need someone who was seemingly hired by LeBron, they needed someone to stand up to LeBron.

Sadly, that’s not happening here, as the entirety of Redick’s job description is to serve as the caretaker during the sundown of LeBron, much like Byron Scott was once hired to oversee the goodbye to Kobe Bryant.

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Scott did his job perfectly, and lasted all of two years. This seems to be the situation here. Set the over-under on Redick’s tenure at two seasons.

But, wait, Lakers fans, it gets worse.

The hiring of Redick, given his partnership with LeBron, seemingly ensures that the Lakers will take the eminently unqualified Bronny James with the 55th pick in next week’s NBA draft.

Somewhere Luke Walton is sighing, and Frank Vogel is scowling, and Darvin Ham is giggling.

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