J.J. Redick, who has become a desired player in advance of the upcoming trade deadline, remembers interviewing with Celtics president Danny Ainge before the 2006 draft. Both had been All-America shooting guards -- Ainge at BYU in 1980-81, Redick more recently at Duke.
"One of the things he said to me -- and it stuck with me -- was, 'You'll have fun with the mental aspect of the game,' " Redick said of his chat with Ainge. "That's been something I've learned, as I've gotten older and more comfortable and more confident, is figuring out how can I win a possession with little edges, little things you pick up from other players. I'm always observing. I'm a junkie. That part has been fun for me over the years."
Seven years into his NBA career, Redick has played out Ainge's vision. He has turned himself into more than a one-dimensional shooter. As he approaches the Feb. 21 deadline for Orlando to move him before he reaches free agency this summer, he stands as a 6-foot-4 shooting guard who can help the better teams win.
Redick had missed three games with a sore right shoulder before returning Sunday to lead Orlando with 22 points, ending the team's 12-game losing streak with a win at Portland. Redick, 28, is averaging career bests of 15.5 points, 4.5 assists and 45.7 percent shooting from the field for the Magic, his lone NBA franchise for seven seasons. Would he like to re-sign with Orlando?
"I definitely would consider staying," he said. "This is the one chance to be unrestricted in my prime. It is a business decision for sure, but I've let Rob [Hennigan, Orlando's first-year general manager] know that I'm open to it for sure."
The market is going to decide whether Redick stays or goes. It is hard to gauge his value as a free agent, because on a championship team he must serve as the fourth- or fifth-best player. What will be the starting salary for a shooter approaching his prime at a current salary of $6.2 million?
"I can't figure that part out," admitted a rival GM of Redick's value on the open market this summer. "That's why I think if Orlando can get something good for him -- a young player, a pick -- they'll trade him."
The priority in Orlando will be to invest in a new (preferably young) franchise player, but Hennigan may need a year or more to find that star. Wouldn't it make sense to add complementary players after he has discovered the star -- rather than the other way around? On the other hand, Redick is one of those versatile shooters who could play for any team.
"I don't ever feel comfortable playing as a spot-up shooter," he said. "I like playing on the move, I like playing out of pick-and-roll, I like playing out of catch-and-shoot, I like playing in transition -- that, to me, is more comfortable than just sitting in the corner and waiting for a pass.''
In their meeting years ago, Ainge referred to the stereotype faced by all white shooters -- that they're expected to be one-dimensional specialists. Like Ainge, Redick has never thought of himself in such limited terms.
"When you get identified as doing something well, then you get put in a box," Redick said. "I've been 'just a shooter' since I was in high school. Obviously I've gotten better in other areas, and there's other ways that I can help. But I don't think I'll ever be labeled as anything but [a shooter]. And I'm OK with that. It doesn't keep me up at night."
Asked about dealing with the stereotype of being a white shooter, Redick said: "There's just not many guys that are 6-4 and under that are white in this league. I don't think about that. It's hard for me to answer that question, to be honest with you."
It does him no good to dwell on how others view him.
"That's part of it," he said. "The other thing, too, is that I've got a terrible wingspan. This is the way God made me. I've got to accept it. It's a fact there's not many white guards in this league. I don't know why it is. I know that in my situation, I have a skill and then I've worked at developing other aspects of myself as a player, and that's helped."
Early in his career, he was wondering if he had a future in the NBA. Redick's minutes regressed to 8.1 per game in his second year and he was held out of more games than he played. He was wondering whether he would wind up making his career in Europe.
He made a long-term investment in strengthening and slimming his body in order to meet the demanding standards of coach Stan Van Gundy, who insisted that Redick improve defensively.
"You get LeBron James in an iso, there's literally a handful of guys that can do a decent job on that -- it's hard to stop," Redick said. "So part of it is understanding defensive concepts. The second part of it is working on my body and my strength and my quickness, and that's something I've done every offseason since my second year in the league.
"It's funny because I played four years for Coach [which is how Redick and other Duke alums refer to Mike Krzyzewski] and five years for Stan, so I played nine years for coaches that, frankly, were brutally honest. At any point in time, there was an accountability that was there 24/7. It obviously makes you a better player and it makes you a better person."
Redick has been acclaimed nationally as a shooter since high school. It is the most impressive gift this side of above-the-rim athleticism. The great shooters make the game look easy. But he has found the NBA to be anything but easy.
"It is humbling," Redick said. "My first two years in this league were frustrating and I was humbled. I was knocked in the mouth, I had expectations and I came far short of those expectations, and I felt after my second year that there was a choice to be made. Did I want to be a 15th guy? Did I want to go overseas? I had all these questions -- was I ever going to make it past my rookie deal? So there was a lot of work and focus that went into, not resurrecting my career, but just getting me on the path to being a rotational player. And once I broke into the rotation my third year, ever since then I've earned more and more trust from whatever coach I played for."
Even though he was a two-time All-America and the National Player of the Year as a senior, he never viewed himself as a potential NBA star.
"I'm my own harshest critic," he said. "If I play bad, if our team loses, I look at myself first. I've always been that way. That's one thing I loved about playing for Stan -- he was like that, and Jacque [Vaughn, the first-year coach of the Magic] has been like that, too. What can I do to help us get better? It wasn't something where I thought I'm going to come into the NBA and I'm going to score 27 a game. I didn't think that."
So now he finds himself remembering that conversation with Ainge, who was able to look back on his own career to see where Redick might be headed.
"I'm always thinking about the game, I'm always analyzing things I can do better after a game," Redick said. "There's that aspect to it, visualizing beforehand, coming out of a timeout. Say a play is drawn up: I'm thinking about my counters. Where are my looks if we're in a pick-and-roll? If the defense does this, then what do I do? I'm visualizing all that stuff beforehand."
There ought to be a strong market for that kind of player. As Redick is about to find out.