JJ Redick Won’t Help the Lakers Win a Title Even if He’s a Great Coach

Los Angeles needs an overhaul, but that will not happen as long as LeBron James is there and keeping the franchise relevant.
JJ Redick will become the Los Angeles Lakers’ next coach.
JJ Redick will become the Los Angeles Lakers’ next coach. / Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports
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I wouldn’t have hired JJ Redick. 

It’s nothing against Redick, who the Los Angeles Lakers agreed to a four-year deal with to coach the team on Thursday. He’s a decent guy, a good analyst and a terrific podcaster. Perhaps he follows in the footsteps of booth-to-bench success stories like Doc Rivers and Steve Kerr. Perhaps not. 

But I like coaches. Redick isn’t one. 

I like Sam Cassell. Cassell played 15 seasons. He won three championships. He made an All-Star team. When his career ended, instead of going into the media, he took low-profile positions on NBA benches. He learned the ropes from Flip Saunders and Rivers. Last season, he was a key member of Joe Mazzulla’s Boston Celtics staff.

I like Sean Sweeney, a longtime Jason Kidd lieutenant. 

I like David Adelman, who has earned rave reviews on Michael Malone’s staff in Denver. 

J.B. Bickerstaff, Micah Nori, James Borrego. Hell, Jeff Van Gundy was available. 

Whatever happened to being qualified for the job you are hired for?  

Really, though, it doesn’t matter. This isn’t about Redick. The Lakers could have hired Erik Spoelstra, paired him with Ty Lue, brought Tom Thibodeau on as defensive coordinator and it wouldn’t make an inch of difference. 

Because the Lakers are … not … very … good. 

In the aftermath of the Redick news breaking, my social media timeline was filled with predictable cable network takes. Redick will be good because he’s smart, can connect with players and has the respect of the biggest star on the roster—who happens to be his podcast partner. Redick will be bad because he is inexperienced and the coziness with LeBron James may lead to friction in the locker room. 

But that’s missing the point. It’s arguing about the rims on a jalopy. It’s discussing the driveway of a burning building. It’s not seeing the forest through the trees. Redick can’t help the Lakers. Nothing can help the Lakers. 

The Lakers are a good team in a great conference with no meaningful way to advance in it. They won 47 games last season, enough to qualify for the play-in tournament. They were booted out of the playoffs by the Denver Nuggets in five games. The teams above them will get better—the Oklahoma City Thunder added Alex Caruso on Thursday—while the teams that finished beneath them (the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs) are certain to improve. 

Injuries, Lakers fans will point out, and it’s true L.A.’s rotation last season took some hits. Gabe Vincent (11 games played), Jarred Vanderbilt (29) and Cam Reddish (48) were regulars on the inactive list. At the same time, Anthony Davis (76) and James (71) didn’t miss many. D’Angelo Russell played 69 games. Austin Reaves played all 82. 

Trades, Lakers faithful will point to, and no doubt the Rob Pelinka–led front office will be aggressive in the weeks ahead. L.A. has three first-round draft picks it can deal and moveable contracts (Reaves, Russell and Rui Hachimura) to trade with them. But does Dejounte Murray push the Lakers up the conference standings. Does Trae Young? Does Zach LaVine?

Does anyone?

Just look at what the Lakers are up against. The Thunder are the Western Conference Celtics: versatile, impossibly long with defenders at every position. They need help rebounding, sure, but don’t be surprised if general manager Sam Presti digs into his war chest of draft picks and pulls a Steven Adams–like deal out of his bucket hat by next year’s trade deadline. 

Denver still has Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon. The Minnesota Timberwolves have Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns and a fleet of long defenders. And wait until you see the Dallas Mavericks when human pogo stick Dereck Lively II develops a three-point shot.  

The Lakers are … average. They had the NBA’s 15th-ranked offense last season. They were 16th in defense. They finished eighth in the NBA in three-point percentage, per NBA.com. That’s good. They were 28th in attempts. That’s bad. They are an analog team in a digital basketball world.  

That’s fine if your expectations are to fight for a playoff spot. But this is Los Angeles. This is the Lakers. L.A. is preparing to make a long-term offer to James that will take him into his 40s. They are determined to build around Davis. They will go into next season expecting to compete for a championship. 

They won’t. And it won’t have a thing to do with Redick. 

I don’t know if Redick will be an effective NBA coach. He’s whip smart with 15 years of playing experience. But coaching is about more than breaking down film on a podcast. It’s about developing relationships with players. It’s about earning trust. On ESPN, Udonis Haslem, who played more than a decade for Spoelstra, detailed how Spoelstra earned it. 

“I know the Spo that we see now today, but the Spo that started was in the film room,” Haslem said. “The Spo that started was rebounding. The Spo that started was working us out. He came in there and me and Dwyane [Wade] remembered that Erik Spoelstra. He earned our respect. He earned the name ‘The Spoelstra Nostra.’ He worked for that. So JJ’s going to have to work and earn those guys’ respect.”

Still, it won’t matter. If this was the Orlando Lakers the course of action would be obvious. Part ways with James, put Davis on the market and start to rebuild with draft picks. Build a young roster, keep some financial flexibility and in a few years see if a max contract and the chance to live in Southern California is enough to lure a top free agent or two. 

But the Lakers won’t do that. James keeps them relevant and as long as he's around, so is the pressure to win. They will package a few draft picks, piece together a few contracts and bring in a veteran they hope can make a difference. 

The Lakers will be largely the same team next season. 

And it won’t have anything to do with JJ Redick.

Chris Mannix


Chris Mannix is a senior NBA and boxing writer at Sports Illustrated. He began his tenure at SI in 2003 and has covered the NBA Finals and major boxing matches since 2007. Mannix spent three years at "The Vertical" at Yahoo Sports before returning to SI in 2018. He hosts Sports Illustrated's Open Floor podcast. A nominee for the 2022 National Sportswriter of the Year, Mannix has won several writing awards from the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Pro Basketball Writers Association. He is a longtime member of both groups. Mannix graduated from Boston College in 2003.