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JJ Redick is a great signing for the Lakers

Stan Van Gundy isn't the least bit surprised that his former Orlando Magic guard JJ Redick is the new coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, but says he would be stunned if Redick turns out to be a bad fit for the Lakers.

Van Gundy remembers a player who prepared like a coach when Redick played for Stan's Magic back in Dwight Howard's day: He watched videos, studied the game and looked for weaknesses in his opponent that he could exploit.

JJ Redick found ways to get free and became one of the NBA's most effective 3-point shooters while playing for the Orlando Magic. (Gary W. Green/Orlando Sentinel) ORG XMIT: 00109684A

“Even as a player, he had an intellectual, analytical approach to the game,” recalls Stan, who watched Redick go from a disgruntled bench warmer to one of the Magic's most reliable and popular players during his seven seasons in Orlando. “He knew the game inside and out because he had to. He wasn't a particularly athletic guy, so he really had to know the game and work hard. You could tell just by listening to him how much he knew about the game. I didn't know, but maybe he was preparing himself during his playing days to be a head coach one day.”

While Stan is confident that Redick will be an excellent coach, he also acknowledged that leading the Lakers is a “challenging first job.” In my opinion, “challenging” is a nice way of putting it.

Impossible would perhaps be more accurate.

As rich in history as the franchise is and as many championship banners as they hang from the rafters, the Lakers are a delusional franchise that still lives in the past. They still think they're Showtime when they're really Slowtime. Frankly, they're like a bicycle horn that thinks it's the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

The Lakers keep firing coaches in their search for the right coach, even though the real problem is their roster. Redick is the Lakers' eighth head coach since Phil Jackson's final season in 2011 and the fourth coach since LeBron James arrived in 2018.

The Lakers had a hapless run to the NBA championship in the Orlando bubble during the 2020 COVID season and another hapless run to the Western Conference Finals two years ago when they were swept by the Denver Nuggets. Although LeBron is still a factor at 39 and Anthony Davis is still elite when healthy, the Lakers have missed the playoffs once in the last three seasons and have been a play-in team twice.

“Their expectations were unrealistic based on their rosters over the last few years,” says Stan, now one of the NBA's top television analysts. “From what I've seen, they're just not a really good team. Based on their current roster, I think their max next year is probably No. 6, maybe even No. 5 if they stay healthy and some other teams have injuries. But in reality, I think they're a play-in contender again.”

“I hope JJ is judged based on what I think is a fair expectation. If that's the case, I think he'll be at his best. If he's judged based on people thinking, 'Hey, we have LeBron and Anthony Davis and we should be competing for championships,' then that's a whole different story.”

Stan also thinks it's complete nonsense to think Redick will fail just because he's never coached at any level. In fact, some of today's most respected NBA coaches – Steve Kerr, Jason Kidd, Doc Rivers – were never assistant or college head coaches when they got their first pro head coaching job.

Let's face it, some of the greatest coaching success stories came out of nowhere. Stan only became the greatest coach in Magic history after Billy Donovan changed his mind and returned to the University of Florida after originally taking the Magic job.

Pat Riley was a sportscaster for the Lakers in 1979 when Paul Westhead took over as head coach after Jack McKinney nearly died in a bicycle accident. Westhead hired Riley as an assistant with no coaching experience, and Riley became head coach of the Lakers less than two years later when Magic Johnson essentially engineered Westhead's firing.

Joe Mazzulla, the head coach of the world champion Boston Celtics, is only 35 years old (four years younger than Redick) and was a little-known assistant two years ago who was named interim coach and then permanent head coach after Ime Udoka was fired for having an inappropriate intimate relationship with a female staff member.

“There's no one-size-fits-all formula for getting a head coaching job in the NBA,” Stan says. “There are a lot of different paths you can take. I think JJ will do a great job as long as the Lakers' expectations are somewhat reasonable – which they haven't been for a long time.”

It will be interesting to see if Redick's first job as head coach will be a fairytale or a warning.

To succeed amidst all the drama surrounding the Lakers, JJ must pull off his best magic trick yet.

Email me at mbianchi@orlandosentinel.com, contact me via X (formerly Twitter) @BianchiWrites and listen to my Open Mike radio show every weekday from 6-9:30am on FM 96.9, AM 740 and 969TheGame.com/listen.

Anna Harden

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