76ers

For Sixers' JJ Redick, leadership is a covert operation

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AP Images/ USA Today Images

For Sixers' JJ Redick, leadership is a covert operation

You might remember JJ Redick as the obligatory Duke villain, the 3-making, tongue-wagging, crowd-baiting so-and-so who in Mike Krzyzewski’s eyes drew more flak from opposing fans than any player he has ever coached (including Christian Laettner).

Or maybe you don’t remember. It was a long time ago.

Nor do you likely recall that Redick spent his first two NBA seasons chained to Orlando’s bench, seemingly well on his way to fulfilling another cliché — that of the failed Duke pro (and nevermind the careers of Grant Hill, Elton Brand, Kyrie Irving, et al.).

More likely you see Redick as he is normally seen. As a coveted shooter and consummate pro. As a guy who is supremely fit and supremely confident. As a guy who follows through on his everyday obligations as surely as he does that lovely jumper. 

He’s with the Sixers now, of course, having signed a one-year, $23 million contract shortly after free agency opened in July. And even as he approaches his 12th season at age 33, his reinvention continues.

He is now JJ Redick, leader.

A bit of an oversimplification? Sure. The team has other guys to serve in that capacity, notably Amir Johnson and Jerryd Bayless  — and perhaps Emeka Okafor or Kris Humphries, should one of them stick (see story). But surely Redick will be among those providing ballast for a flighty young team. He will be the example Brett Brown can point to and say: This is how you take care of your body. Or: This is how you practice. Or: This is how you treat locker-room attendants or (fingers crossed) reporters.

The point being that leadership doesn’t have to be verbal; it can be a covert operation. Showing, not saying, is often as good a method as any.

“I don’t think you just show up,” Redick said Monday, “and just start talking to people — barking out orders and giving advice.”

Rather, he will pull guys off to the side, if the situation requires. And surely he understands others are more likely to listen if he continues to shoot the you-know-what out of the ball. He is 40th on the NBA’s all-time list in made 3-pointers (1,271) and 14th in 3-point percentage (.415) — sixth among active players — while averaging 11.9 points in his career, including 15.8 over the last four years with the Clippers.

Not only that, but he’s a good passer, and a better defender than most of us realize — not Kawhi Leonard, certainly, but not James Harden, either.

And should anybody really want to know, Redick does have an interesting story to tell, having gone from National Player of the Year his final season at Duke (2005-06) to deep sub his first two years with the Magic, to complementary piece on some strong Clippers' clubs.

Takes a pretty steady hand on the wheel to negotiate that many twists and turns.

“The thing about JJ,” Krzyzewski told CSNPhilly.com last month, “is that he has a mantra of always becoming — in other words, whatever he’s done, there’s the next step: 'I need to get better. I need to prove myself again.' ”

Redick has no idea why he is wired that way, only that he was never satisfied as different accolades came his way while he was growing up — as he was named a McDonald’s All-American, for instance, or was accorded one ranking or another by one recruiting service or another.

“I don’t know if it’s out of fear of failure or just that I enjoy new things,” he said, “but I’ve always sort of looked: What’s next, what’s next, what’s next?”

If ever he were tempted to rest on his laurels, he said, “I’ve had good enough people in my life to tell me, ‘Hey, you’re being a brat.’ … ‘Hey, you’re being an (idiot). Stop it.’ ” 

It is safe to say that Krzyzewski has been among those people. He and Redick are close — “amazingly close,” Coach K said — their relationship having taken root in 2000, when the legendary coach began recruiting Redick out of Cave Spring High School in Roanoke, Va.

That Redick spent four years playing for the Blue Devils seems a rather quaint notion these days, but his body of work speaks for itself: He set the Atlantic Coast Conference scoring record (2,769 points) and made more 3-pointers than anyone else in NCAA history (457) — marks that have since been eclipsed — and had his No. 4 jersey retired.

Opposing fans were not impressed, showering upon him the sort of invective often reserved for high-profile Dookies. Think not only Laettner but Steve Wojciechowski. Or Greg Paulus. Or, currently, Grayson Allen.

“As a 33-year-old, there’s nothing that any human can say to me that hasn’t already been said,” Redick said. “There’s some sick (stuff) that’s been said to me. I’ve heard it all.”

He chose to fight ire with ire, adopting a strutting, smirking persona that only inflamed opposing fans that much more.

“You can either react (to the abuse) in one of two ways,” he said. “You can sort of go into a shell and be fearful, and I had teammates that did that, or you can sort of just embrace it and be like, ‘(Bleep) it. You say I’m that? I’ll be that.’ That’s what I did.”

The more a player like Redick uses the crowd as fuel, Krzyzewski said, the better — “because,” he said, “you’re not only singing your song at home, in front of a friendly crowd, you can sing your song in front of a very vocal crowd on the road. The main thing is that you have a great song to sing, and JJ did.”

Redick, drafted 11th overall by Orlando in 2006, received a comeuppance of sorts his first two NBA seasons, averaging 14.8 minutes in 42 games as a rookie and 8.1 in 34 his second year. 

“It was very humbling,” he said. “But it was also necessary. It was helpful.”

He admittedly didn’t always handle it well, especially that second season, when he played what he calls “the victim card.” Finally, though, it dawned on him that he wasn’t doing enough. While he had gone from round to ripped in college, he still wasn’t as fit as he needed to be.

Enter Joe Rogowski, then the Magic’s conditioning coach. He has vouched so often for Redick over the years that he jokingly refers to himself as the “JJ Whisperer,” but he whipped him into shape, redirected his career, changed his thinking to the point where he became “OCD about everything,” as Redick put it.

In his third season, he was a rotational piece for a team that reached the Finals. That was also the first of seven straight years that he improved upon his scoring average. 

In all, Redick spent six-plus years with the Magic, then part of a season with Milwaukee, before landing with the Clippers. He called his time in Los Angeles “basically the four best years of (his) career” on his podcast, “The Chronicles of Redick,” but the Clippers elected to move on after last season.

That led to a free-agent odyssey he chronicled in a short documentary, ironically entitled “The Process.” Toward the end, he was shown agonizing over a three-year offer from Houston, as well as the deal with the Sixers. Ultimately he decided Philly was a better fit, after being cajoled into a workout by Brown in the team’s facility.

In a blazer and slacks.

In the wee hours of July 1.

As Redick told Business Insider, Joel Embiid happened to be there, so they ran through some of the ways the two of them could complement each other. Brown said the other day the symbiosis between a shooter like Redick and a post threat like Embiid will be “an offense, all unto itself.” Redick did not disagree, and said he and Embiid have “a budding bromance” to boot.

But he’s not just here for on-court reasons. He’s also here to steady a young team. And to that end, he was asked what his 33-year-old self would say to the 21-year-old version.

“‘Shut up and listen, ’” Redick said.

He would never say that to anyone now. Rather, he would want his teammates to listen when he’s saying nothing at all.

It’s as good a way as any to lead.

NBA stars taking notice of Sixers' rise

NBA stars taking notice of Sixers' rise

The Sixers have been rising steadily in the standings and players around the league are taking notice. 

The young squad improved to 31-25 with a victory over the Bulls Thursday. They have won six straight and have not lost at the Wells Fargo Center in 2018. That totals up to the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, only two games behind the Wizards for the fourth spot and two games ahead of the Heat for the eighth. 

"I like them," Timberwolves guard Jimmy Butler said at the All-Star break. "They've got a lot of great young talent. We do as well. But I think the way that they're going and how they play so hard and play so together, that's how you win basketball games. They're going to be really, really good for a long time."

The Sixers turned heads with a statement win over the Rockets in only their seventh game of the season. From there, they have defeated playoff teams, including a rare sweep of the Spurs, while struggling against sub.-500 opponents. 

They have 26 games remaining to make a postseason push. Of their upcoming opponents, only 10 games are against current top-eight teams in their conferences. Brett Brown has emphasized they can't take any team lightly. This is the time for the Sixers to maximize their schedule and show they learned from previous letdowns.

"They look good," Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard said. "Obviously as a young team, it takes time to learn how to win. ... The mature, really high-level teams, they find a way to get it done. I think for them, that's what their record shows. You play against them and it's hard to play against them. 

"They're really talented, they play hard, they play for a great coach. It's just those nights where you might not have it, having that understanding and that experience that'll lead you to more wins. I think once they get to that point, that's when maybe nine or 10 games that they've let slip, maybe they win those games."

The Sixers wrapped up the majority of their Western Conference schedule prior to the All-Star break. They have only the Timberwolves, Nuggets and Mavericks left to play. Those in the conference still are keeping an eye on the Sixers' progress, even if they may not face off again for months. 

"Everyone definitely sees the talent there," Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. "Any time you've got Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid to build around, they've got a very bright future. I think everyone had very high expectations, but it's hard to have high expectations with a team that's got a lot of first-, second-year guys that have never been in the playoffs. 

"But you can tell that they're going to be in the playoffs for, shoot, the next decade or so, probably be upper echelon pretty soon."

Leave the NBA playoffs alone

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USA Today Images

Leave the NBA playoffs alone

You can't kill NBA commissioner Adam Silver for trying.

Last week, Silver announced to the media during All-Star weekend in Los Angeles that he's considering a change to the playoffs, where rather than the top eight seeds in each conference competing to determine a conference champ, playoff teams will be seeded 1 through 16.

More recently, ESPN reported that the league is kicking around a "play-in tournament" to determine the final two seeds in each conference.

Let's take these ideas one at a time:

Re-seeding the postseason may sound fun, and even kind of fair, but it completely dissolves conference rivalries that the league has celebrated for decades. Looking for the Warriors and Rockets in the Western Conference Finals? Sorry. Under the new format, there would be no more West Finals. Right now, those are the two best teams in the NBA. So you might see them in the Finals in that format — if they both get that far.

I could understand this argument in years when the disparity in balance of power is egregious. That's not the case this season. If the NBA season ended today, one team would reap the benefits of a 1-16 playoff format: the 9-seed in the West, the Clippers, who are a half-game better than Eastern Conference 8-seed Miami.

(Psst, right now the 5-12 matchup in a 1-16 format would be Sixers-Cavaliers. But let's stay on topic.)

As for the play-in tournament, this completely contradicts the re-seeding idea. The NBA wants the best teams in the playoffs, right? Is a Pistons-Hornets play-in game must-see TV? Or what's left of the Clippers vs. the Jazz?

And how long do you want the postseason to be? Last season, the playoffs lasted nearly nine weeks. It was only that "brief" because the Finals didn't go the full seven games. Adding another round could extend the NBA season into July (unless it corresponds with a shortening of the schedule). We have seen what happens in Olympic years when players don't get enough offseason rest and it ain't pretty.

I'm guessing this is a backhanded way for Silver to keep more teams from tanking for better draft picks. "Hey, you may be 11th in the conference, but you're one 3-game win streak away from a shot at the postseason!!"

I'm all for change, but in the case of the NBA playoffs, commish, I think we're good for now.