Current track

Title

Artist

Current show

12:00 pm 6:00 pm

Current show

12:00 pm 6:00 pm


Winners and losers of Lakers’ JJ Redick hire: Why it’s good news for LeBron James, but not Anthony Davis

Written by on June 21, 2024

On Thursday, JJ Redick has agreed to a four-year contract and will become the next head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. On paper, it is one of the more surprising hires in recent NBA history. Redick has no coaching experience at the professional or collegiate level. He has never worked in a front office. While he had a lengthy and successful NBA playing career, he wasn’t a point guard like most no-experience hires.

No, Redick has been appointed to the highest-pressure coaching job in the entire sport based on 15 years as a 3-point marksman, eight years as a podcaster, and three as a television analyst. We’re years away from knowing whether or not that unconventional background will lead to his success or failure as a head coach, but the hire is going to have immediate ramifications for several key figures around the Lakers and around the league. So let’s take a look at the aftershocks here. Who are the winners and losers of the Redick hire?

Winner: JJ Redick

Let’s start with the obvious: for all of the problems that come with coaching the Lakers (and believe me, we’re going to cover several of them), you still, you know, get to coach the Lakers. The pressure that comes with this job is there for a reason. The entire basketball world is watching you. The entire player pool wants to play for you, and you usually have access to more talent than the rest of the league. Even now, at a relative down point in team history, leading the Lakers means deploying LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

That’s an incredible opportunity for any coach. It’s downright remarkable for a coach with no experience. Redick had interviewed for other head-coaching jobs in the past. He was never going to have the sort of win-now opportunity in Charlotte or Toronto that James and Davis give him right now. He was never going to have the sort of platform that comes with this job either. If Redick has won with the Hornets or Raptors, he’d just be any other winning coach. Win with the Lakers and suddenly a level of fame (and, despite their relative frugality, salary) that isn’t available with the rest of the league is suddenly on the table. This is a high-risk job, but it’s a high-reward job as well. If Redick weren’t prepared for the former he wouldn’t have taken the job. The latter is ultimately why he took it.

Loser: JJ Redick

When the Lakers were looking for a coach in 2022, Redick himself pointed out why this job isn’t necessarily desirable on ESPN’s Get Up. “Until they start building their team like every other team in the NBA does, in the modern NBA, I don’t think this is a good job.”

For better or, lately, for worse, the Lakers do not operate like a normal NBA team. They simultaneously have one of the smallest front offices in basketball in terms of manpower devoted to things like scouting and analytics and one of the largest front offices in basketball in terms of how many power brokers seemingly have a hand on the wheel when it comes to major basketball decisions. Rob Pelinka is nominally in charge. Linda Rambis is a longtime advisor of Jeanie Buss with more power than her “executive director of special projects” title suggests. Kurt Rambis holds a similarly vague and influential position within the franchise. Magic Johnson grumbled about how involved President of Business Operations Tim Harris was in basketball operations during his time as team president. Younger Buss siblings Joey and Jesse have gained renown in the G-League and scouting departments, respectively. When a major decision is made in this franchise, nobody quite knows who made it.

And lately, most of those major decisions have been wrong. The 2020 Lakers built a championship roster by surrounding James and Davis with 3-and-D wings. They have spent the four years since dismantling that concept. They’ve thrown asset after asset after asset into the “find a point guard that can ease LeBron’s ball-handling burden” wishing well and never found one. They’ve never found a long-term center that can shoot well enough to take pressure off of Davis, either. Wings have been few and far between. At times, it seems that the only principle guiding Lakers moves is fame. They add stars. They add former stars. They add highly drafted busts that we once believed would be stars. Sometimes it works. More often, it doesn’t. It’s pretty hard to win a championship when acquisitions are just so heavily on points per game.

The Lakers have had six head coaches since Phil Jackson retired in 2011. Redick will be No. 7. If this brain trust doesn’t improve, it won’t be long before someone else is No. 8. The Lakers fired Frank Vogel two years after a championship. They fired Darvin Ham one year after reaching the Western Conference finals. If things go wrong in Los Angeles, and recent history suggests they probably will, this front office has proven perfectly willing to use a coach as a blame shield before. And without a traditional coaching background to fall back on, failure in Los Angeles might doom Redick’s promising career before it really starts. Redick said it himself: for the Lakers to do a good job, they need to start acting like every other team. They have never, at any point in their history, shown any willingness to do so.

Winner: LeBron James

This is a two-pronged victory for James. We’ll start with the obvious: assuming James re-signs with the Lakers, he will now be playing for his (former???) podcast co-host in Redick. Obviously, it’s unclear just how deep the relationship between these two go. Redick and James never played together in the NBA. The Mind the Game podcast launched only in March. It’s not as though the Lakers hired Dwyane Wade as their coach. The two are professional. They are at least friendly. We don’t know quite how friendly, but the suits James fine.

He obviously wouldn’t have agreed to do a podcast with Redick if he hadn’t endorsed him as a basketball thinker. While understanding basketball tactics and being able to implement them within the structure of a professional team are two different things, it’s hard to imagine James vehemently disagreeing with Redick on strategic matters. They are going to be broadly aligned on the ways that the Lakers need to play in order to win. That sort of buy-in is never a guarantee where James is concerned. From that perspective, this is an obvious victory.

But James has successfully managed to keep his distance during the search. Rich Paul told Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes that James “is not involved” in the search to replace Ham. Virtually all of the reporting has echoed that sentiment, and it’s just smart PR from his perspective. Does the Redick hire work? James was an early adopter, just like he was for, say, Malik Monk or Migos. But if it doesn’t? James can argue that his hands are clean. That means quite a bit given his Machiavellian reputation. When the Russell Westbrook trade blew up a few years ago, James drew an inordinate amount of blame for its failure. This time, he’s done enough to ensure to protect himself this time around. It’s a win-win for an all-time great. 

Loser: Anthony Davis

In that same interview with Haynes, Paul said that, in his opinion, “the Lakers’ focus should probably be more so on Anthony Davis than LeBron at this point.” Well, according to Marc Stein, Redick probably wasn’t the preferred choice of Davis. That would have been James Borrego, who overlapped briefly with Davis in New Orleans more than a decade ago.

Is there a reason for that aside from that preexisting relationship? It’s hard to say. Redick’s coaching philosophy is still such a work in progress that it wouldn’t be fair to suggest that he will or won’t be able to maximize Davis. Borrego never had a big man like him when he was coaching the Hornets. Notably, though, Redick did not vote for Davis as an All-Defense player last season. That’s not a great start to their coexistence considering how hard Davis has lobbied for Defensive Player of the Year in the past.

Winner: Broadcasters everywhere

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst made a notable point about the unusual nature of Redick’s candidacy on a recent Get Up appearance. “Frankly, his interviews have been in those podcasts with LeBron James,” Windhorst said. “They’ve extensively broken down the Lakers’ offense, extensively broken down what they do. It’s been out there for the whole world to hear, including from the Lakers’ front office.”

Obviously, Redick didn’t get the job entirely on the basis of those podcasts, but there’s a broader point here. Redick successfully used his platform at ESPN to jump from no coaching experience to the single highest-profile coaching job in the entire sport. Is that going to be a model moving forward?

Well, Redick isn’t the first broadcaster to jump into coaching. Steve Kerr did it in 2014, though he had also worked in the front office for the Phoenix Suns. Others have tried, with TNT’s Kenny Smith notably interviewing for several jobs. But Redick is unique in the combination of his lack of experience and his immediate success, at least as a candidate. Not every broadcaster can emulate Redick’s rise. Success in media does ultimately come down to personality to some extent. But the broad strokes are replicable. Owners aren’t as entrenched in the day-to-day goings on around the league. They are likely to have stronger opinions about television analysts than anonymous assistant coaches.

That may not be enough to get jobs in itself, but it’s a foot in the door. If other analysts can use the platform that studio shows and game broadcasts give them to show off the creativity and likability that Redick did, they are going to be presented with coaching opportunities as well. If nothing else, they’ll be able to use those coaching opportunities to leverage higher broadcasting salaries. Redick’s hiring is, therefore, a win for the entire industry.

Loser: Rob Pelinka

Pelinka has now overseen three head-coaching searches. Two of them have been pretty publicly messy. The Lakers offered the job to Ty Lue in 2019. He turned it down because they only offered him a three-year deal and wanted input on his staff. This time around, Redick got the job only after Dan Hurley said no. The Lakers were widely ridiculed for their low-ball offer. Now, Pelinka has landed on Redick. In a perfect world, he’s found a gem and Redick can be the coach for the foreseeable future.

But it’s one thing to stick your neck out for Frank Vogel, a head coach that has won elsewhere, or Darvin Ham, a well-respected assistant. This hire, given Redick’s background, was a significant risk. If it doesn’t pay off, well, let’s just say it’s not exactly common for general managers to get to hire a fourth head coach. James has so aggressively and preemptively attempted to shield himself from blame on this hire that if it does fail, there just isn’t going to be anyone else for Pelinka to use as an excuse.

Does that mean he’s on the hot seat? Not necessarily. It’s frankly impossible to know where the Lakers are concerned. Somehow, Vogel was the scapegoat for a trade Pelinka made and James endorsed when the Westbrook deal cost him his job. Pelinka’s status as the closest ally to Kobe Bryant has, thus far, made him practically bulletproof within the organization. If he ever does lose ground, we might not even know. That confusing Lakers power structure might be able to take his power without taking his title.

But the pressure is on now. James is about to turn 40. Davis is firmly in his 30s. The sheen from the 2020 title has worn off. If this hire doesn’t work, it’s entirely possible that the Lakers are headed for a very dark half-decade or more. If such a down period comes, it seems almost impossible to imagine that the Lakers make it through that time without making any meaningful front-office changes. You don’t just get to keep firing coaches forever.

Looking for more NBA coverage? John Gonzalez, Bill Reiter, Ashley Nicole Moss and special guests dive deep into the league’s biggest storylines daily on the Beyond the Arc podcast.

The post Winners and losers of Lakers’ JJ Redick hire: Why it’s good news for LeBron James, but not Anthony Davis first appeared on CBS Sports.


Reader's opinions

Leave a Reply