Why JJ Redick is the front-runner to coach Lakers — and why it’s not only about LeBron James


With the Los Angeles Lakers zeroing in on JJ Redick as the front-runner to become the next head coach, one of the franchise’s biggest remaining offseason questions should be answered relatively soon.

For weeks, Redick, 39, has garnered the most buzz for the Lakers’ vacant head coaching position in league circles. Though no final decision has been made, and the Lakers still have steps in their coaching search, all indications are Redick is the emphatic favorite. As The Athletic previously reported, the Lakers are infatuated with Redick’s potential and view him as a Pat Riley-like coaching prospect, according to league sources.

Redick checks many of the boxes on the Lakers’ extensive checklist for their next coach.

The franchise views Redick as the candidate who can maximize the short-term championship window with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but also drive the long-term culture and sustainability of the Lakers’ next era. He projects as a coach who will have the gravitas to command the locker room and also hold players accountable better than his two predecessors, Frank Vogel and Darvin Ham.

There are no doubts about Redick’s work ethic, particularly in comparison to Ham’s. One of the common internal complaints with Ham was his lack of preparation. Conversely, Redick is obsessively structured and organized, from dogmatically attempting 342 game-speed shots every day during the offseason as a player to swiftly developing into one of the game’s premier NBA analysts and podcasters after retiring in 2021.

Redick’s intelligence, maniacal competitiveness as a 15-year NBA veteran, attention to detail and overall attitude (he’s said he “loves” players who have “a little s— to them”) all are appealing traits for the Lakers. His media savvy doesn’t hurt, either, in a high-profile gig where the wrong answer in a press conference will go viral and lead social media and sports talk shows for days.

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If the Lakers hire Redick, it would be a decade-defining bet on his potential. It also would be a departure from the franchise’s recent coaching decisions. The lineage is full of hires with notable ties to the franchise, from former players like Byron Scott and Luke Walton, to former assistants like Ham.

Meanwhile, the exceptions — Mike Brown, Mike D’Antoni and Vogel — were experienced and accomplished coaches. All three were well-regarded leaguewide and went on to be hired elsewhere after being fired by the Lakers. They also had been a head coach for at least five seasons and made at least one conference finals appearance. D’Antoni was brought in partly because of his relationship with Steve Nash, whom the Lakers acquired ahead of the 2012-13 season.

Redick would enter the NBA coaching ranks green — he hasn’t coached above the youth level — and without any links to the Lakers franchise as a former player or coach. This brings us to the elephant in the room: It’s impossible to discern how much his professional relationship with James is factoring into the Lakers’ calculus. Klutch Sports CEO and James’ agent Rich Paul told The Athletic that James is not involved in the coaching search and hasn’t backed Redick as his preferred candidate.

At the same time, the chemistry between the two, who co-host the Mind The Game podcast, has been palpable, especially when analyzing basketball strategy and philosophy. It’s hard to believe the Lakers, if they decided on Redick, wouldn’t at least run the choice by their franchise player. At a minimum, the Lakers have to project the type of attributes James, who has a $51.4 million player option for next season, would want in a new hire. His input remains invaluable, especially with his ability to test free agency this summer.

Redick’s primary competition throughout the process, at least over the past couple of weeks, has been James Borrego. The New Orleans Pelicans associate coach and former Charlotte Hornets head man met with Lakers stakeholders last week at the team’s practice facility and was impressive during his meetings, league and team sources said. Davis and Borrego briefly overlapped in New Orleans before Davis’ rookie season, and the two have maintained a solid rapport. Both the Lakers and Paul acknowledge that the Lakers should make this hire with Davis in mind more than James, which is part of the reason why Borrego has been so strongly considered.

That also speaks to a larger point: This isn’t exactly a sought-after coaching pool. The most accomplished option was Mike Budenholzer, but he shared too many similarities with Ham. He also agreed to terms with his hometown Phoenix Suns. The Lakers’ pipe dream of hiring James’ former coach Tyronn Lue never materialized; he’s now the Los Angeles Clippers’ coach for the foreseeable future after signing a contract extension.

Borrego and Golden State Warriors assistant coach Kenny Atkinson are well-regarded assistants, but have sub-.500 records as head coaches and reportedly lost their respective locker rooms in their final seasons. There would be some measure of risk in elevating any of Boston Celtics assistant Sam Cassell, Denver Nuggets assistant David Adelman, Minnesota Timberwolves assistant Micah Nori or Miami Heat assistant Chris Quinn to a position they’ve never held, especially in a locker room that has been challenging to command the last few seasons.

Which isn’t to say hiring Redick is fail-proof. His shortcomings are obvious; he’s never coached before. Even Steve Kerr, a popular analog for Redick, at least had general manager experience in addition to his broadcasting and playing resume before taking over the Warriors’ job in the summer of 2014. Redick is a mystery box — but one the Lakers appear intrigued by and ready to open.

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Timeline of Lakers’ coaches over past 12 seasons

There are still several unanswered questions regarding the Lakers and Redick. The Lakers haven’t made an official decision yet, and they appear to be in no rush to do so. Redick is serving as a color commentator for ABC for the NBA Finals, which begin Thursday in Boston. There is a sense around the league that Redick, if hired, would have to join the Lakers after the finals conclude. A quick ramp-up before the NBA Draft isn’t ideal, but it appears to be the most likely outcome if Redick is indeed the choice.

Additionally, there is the matter of Redick’s coaching staff. Assistant coaching candidates will include Borrego, Cassell, former Laker Rajon Rondo, former Laker and current Dallas Mavericks assistant Jared Dudley and former head coach and assistant Scott Brooks, according to league sources. If the Lakers hire Redick, they’d prefer to have Borrego and Cassell on Redick’s staff as top assistants, according to those sources. The Los Angeles Times was first to report the assistant coaching candidate names.

Hiring Redick comes with significant risk given his inexperience. On paper, he has many of the bona fides of a solid coaching prospect. But it’s difficult to predict how much of that will translate from Day 1 in a win-now environment for the league’s marquee franchise and basketball’s most-scrutinized coaching seat.

Winning early in a coaching tenure doesn’t necessarily translate to job security in Los Angeles. Vogel won a championship in his first season and was fired after his third season. Ham led the Lakers to the Western Conference finals as a first-year head coach and was let go after his second season. Even if Redick crushes his coaching debut, the pressure and scrutiny carry over year-to-year. There is rarely time to exhale as the Lakers’ head coach.

Redick is aware of the challenges that come with both the Lakers’ position and being a first-time NBA head coach, but he is willing to embrace them and is preparing accordingly, according to league sources. That proactive approach, combined with his potential and personality, is why he’s the Lakers’ front-runner.


(Top photo: Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)





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