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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.