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The Lakers’ Pursuit Of JJ Redick Keeps Getting Funnier

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 27: JJ Redick #17 of the Philadelphia 76ers drives to the basket against LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Wells Fargo Center on November 27, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Workers are busy affixing the final segment of the podcaster-to-coach pipeline, preparing the way for this JJ Redick-to-the-Lakers thing to actually happen. Per a report from award-winning reporter Shams Charania, the Lakers are "zeroing in on JJ Redick as the frontrunner" to become the Lakers' fourth coach of the LeBron James era. The slipperiness of this language matters less than its provenance. Charania has pretty obviously been stage-managing Redick's inevitable hiring since the Lakers fired Darvin Ham, which is both very funny and indicative of the tough job Redick might be walking into.

Hours after the Lakers lost their first-round series against the Nuggets in five games, it was clear that Ham was headed towards the firing squad. ESPN's Lakers beat guy, Dave McMenamin, and three Athletic writers (including Charania) dropped long, detail-rich stories on the Lakers' "season gone wrong," firmly establishing Ham as the fall guy. It wasn't going to be general manager Rob Pelinka, who squirmed out from under a Russell Westbrook-sized problem of his own making by building a 2023 Western Conference finalist and was halfway through a four-year extension, and it was definitely not going to be either of the team's superstars, who each played the most minutes of their Lakers' careers. So it would be Ham who would pay for the Lakers winning two fewer playoff series this year than during their improbable 2023 run, or, in the pre-translated original text: "There were strong signs within the organization that Ham would be deemed most responsible."

Ham was fired days later, on May 3, though not before Redick's name first came up in connection with the still-occupied job. McMenamin went on The Dan Patrick Show on May 2, and said not only that Redick would be a "real candidate" for the job, but also that he'd earned that perch expressly because he was James's guy. McMenamin preceded the "real candidate" quote by offering a clarification: "LeBron’s opinion is certainly weighed by Rob Pelinka when he goes about doing his business. He calls him a stakeholder. It’s not just because LeBron puts a rubber stamp on a guy that the Lakers are automatically going to ink them to become the new guy running the sidelines. But certainly his influence matters." At that point, Redick had interviewed with multiple NBA franchises for their head coaching gigs, including the Raptors in 2023 and the Hornets this current offseason.

Speaking of interviews, Redick has spent the last few weeks having a public, ongoing conversation about basketball strategy with James on their podcast, Mind The Game. The pair quickly cut through the player-pod clutter and distinguished their show as the best of a crowded field. Meanwhile, Redick has now worked at ESPN for three NBA seasons, burnishing his image as the most wised-up of the recently retired player cohort looking to stay working in basketball.

Two weeks and one Mind The Game episode later, on May 18, reasonably sourced-up Lakers reporter Anthony Irwin reported that the Lakers had "zeroed in" (yes, the same exact words) on Redick as their next head coach, and that the hire would be made as a favor to James. None of the camps involved, not James's, not Redick's, not the Lakers', would have put the quasi-official word out through someone like Irwin, and he broke the news before Redick had even interviewed.

Enter Charania. On May 20, he went out of his way to make clear that James was not involved in the coaching search, contradicting both McMenamin and Irwin. Charania reported that James hadn't even spoken with Redick about the possibility of him coaching the Lakers, which is totally preposterous—these guys are friends and talk about basketball for hours every week—but in service of James's interests. Sure enough, the next day Charania reported the list of people the Lakers were talking to, singling the podcaster out by writing the Lakers were "infatuated with Redick’s potential, according to league sources, viewing him as a Pat Riley-like coaching prospect." Charania also made sure to follow that up with assurances that this would not be James's hire. "LeBron James and JJ Redick, they do a podcast together," James's agent Rich Paul told The Athletic. "That does not mean that (James) wants Redick as his head coach."

(For what it's worth, Charania's arch rival, Adrian Wojnarowski hasn't touched this story, which makes some sense given its intra-ESPN awkwardness. He has instead spent his time breaking Bronny James news, which makes sense given ESPN's deal to broadcast the draft.)

It is not ridiculous that Redick would be seen as an enticing head coaching candidate, nor is something like this unprecedented. Players without prior coaching experience (Steve Kerr) have been immediately successful in the NBA, and former players working in the booth (Pat Riley) have moved straight to the bench. Jason Kidd retired nine days before taking the Brooklyn Nets gig and Derek Fisher spent less than a week as a retired player before taking the Knicks job, though they were both bad at first. Those two joined Paul Silas and Mike Dunleavy Sr. on the list of players who took a coaching job the season after retiring as players, and though Fisher never got better, Kidd will make his Finals coaching debut tomorrow. The thing is, none of those guys got the job because they befriended and hosted a podcast with the best player on the team they agreed to coach.

As head coaching jobs go, the Lakers gig is not the easiest situation out there. There will be immediate pressure, and as Udonis Haslem put it, cynicism. The Western Conference is replete with hungry, deep teams who are all younger and nastier than the Lakers. James is 39 years old, already far out into the uncharted territory of geriatric hyper-performance. Whatever the Lakers are now is not a championship contender, and the only way that changes involves the team leveraging their future (they are only out one future first-round pick) to acquire more star power. That, of course, brings even more pressure.

In Charania's latest, his Lakers sources stress Redick's Pat Riley-like potential, and note that it's Mike Krzyzewski, not LeBron James, who's been a helpful resource, as his "deep knowledge of candidates, such as Redick and others, provides a lens into the culture the organization wants and the characteristics of a potential staff around the next head coach." That's a characteristically empty sentence that is simultaneously setting Redick up to fail. Perhaps the reality of the situation—that all these reports and all this public maneuvering are going to put an untenable amount of pressure on him if and when he takes the job—is starting to dawn on Redick. That might explain why he did an interview with the rowdy Golic fellas today, made a face like he'd been sucking a lemon all morning, and issued what could be interpreted as a vague threat towards Charania.

Charania might want to be more careful about getting on the wrong side of these podcasters. One day he could come home to find Tommy Alter sitting at his dinner table, holding a pair of mics and wearing a customary blank stare on his face, and by then it will be too late.

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