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Mike Bianchi: Stan Van Gundy not surprised JJ Redick has gone from Magic player to Lakers coach

Mike Bianchi, Orlando Sentinel on

Published in Basketball

Stan Van Gundy is not at all surprised that his former Orlando Magic guard JJ Redick is the new coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, but he said he will be astounded if Redick turns out to be bad for the Lakers.

When Redick played for Stan’s Magic back in the Dwight Howard days, Van Gundy remembers a player who prepared like a coach: who watched tape, studied the game and looked for any weakness he could exploit in his opponent.

“He took a cerebral, analytical approach to the game even as a player,” recalled Stan, who watched Redick work his way from disgruntled benchwarmer 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 an overly big athletic guy, so he really had to know the game and apply himself. It was clear how much he knew about the game just by listening to him talk. I didn’t know it, but even back in his playing days maybe he was preparing himself to be a head coach someday.”

While Stan believes Redick will be an excellent coach, he also acknowledges that running the Lakers is a “challenging first job.” If you ask me, “challenging” is a nice way of putting it.

Impossible might be more accurate.

As storied as the franchise is and as many championship banners as they have hanging in the rafters, the Lakers are a delusional franchise still living in the past. They still think they’re Showtime when really they’re Slowtime. Quite frankly, they are like a bicycle horn that thinks it is the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

The Lakers keep firing coaches in search of the right one when really it’s their roster that’s the problem. Redick is the Lakers’ eighth head coach since Phil Jackson’s final season in 2011 and the fourth coach since LeBron James’ arrival in 2018.

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

“Their expectations have been unrealistic based on their rosters over the last few years,” said Stan, now one of the NBA’s top television analysts. “They’re just not a real good team based on what I’ve seen. Based on their roster right now, I think their ceiling next year would probably be a 6 seed, maybe a 5, if they stay healthy and some other teams have injuries. But, in reality, I think they slot in as a play-in team again.

“I hope JJ is judged based on what I think is a fair expectation. If he is, I think he’ll be in great shape. If he’s judged on people thinking like ‘Hey, we’ve got LeBron and Anthony Davis and should be competing for championships,’ then that’s a whole different story.”

 

Stan also thinks it’s sheer folly to believe Redick will fail simply because he’s never been a coach at any level. The fact of the matter is that some of today’s most respected NBA coaches — Steve Kerr, Jason Kidd, Doc Rivers — had never been an assistant or a college head coach when they got their first pro head-coaching job.

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

Pat Riley was a broadcaster for the Lakers in 1979 when Paul Westhead took over as their head coach after Jack McKinney nearly died in a bicycle accident. Westhead hired Riley as an assistant without coaching experience, and Riley became the Lakers’ head coach not even two years later when Magic Johnson essentially got Westhead fired.

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

“There’s no tried-and-true formula for getting a head-coaching job in the NBA,” Stan said. “There are many different paths you can take. I think JJ will do a great job as long as the Lakers’ expectations are somewhat reasonable — something they haven’t been in a long time.”

It’s going to be fascinating to see whether Redick’s first head-coaching job is going to be a fairy tale or a cautionary tale.

For him to succeed amid the high drama of the Lakers, JJ is going to have to pull off his best Magic trick yet.

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©2024 Orlando Sentinel. Visit orlandosentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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