JJ Redick has been in the playoffs every year of his career, but the one thing he wants, a championship, has eluded him.
Drafted 11th overall in 2006, Redick joined the Orlando Magic after four years at Duke, where as a sophomore he was on a Final Four team that lost to Connecticut. The other three years his Blue Devils team made it to the Sweet 16, but never any farther.
“I set a bunch of records at Duke, but I often think about not winning a championship there and it bothers me,” Redick said.
Not every team is good enough to make it all the way, and Redick is a realist when he reflects on his career. He said that he’s had four legitimate shots at an NBA title — 2009 and 2010 with the Orlando Magic, and 2014 and 2015 with the Los Angeles Clippers.
The 2009 playoffs brought Redick as close to a championship as he’s ever been. The Magic lost, four games to one, to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. The following year the Magic lost the Eastern Conference finals, 4-2, against the Boston Celtics.
“I think we were as good as anyone in basketball,” Redick said of that Orlando team. “Even in 2010, when we lost in the Eastern Conference finals, I think we were the best team in basketball that year.”
In 2014 and 2015 Redick was on a Clippers squad that made it to the Western Conference semifinals both years. They ultimately lost to Oklahoma City and then Houston.
“In ’14 we beat the Warriors in the first round. We had a chance to go up, 3-2, with a Game 6 at home against OKC in the second round. The next year we’re up, 3-1, against Houston,” Redick said, trailing off, the memories still stinging.
Injuries and other setbacks kept the Clippers out of the conversation the next two years, but the real thing that changed was the way basketball was being played.
“The league had changed,” Redick said. “The Warriors and the Rockets. It was different. Their firepower was just different.”
The change in the league meant Redick needed a change, and joining the Sixers has been as fun for him as it has been surprising.
Nobody, including the Sixers, the front office, the fans, and Redick thought that the team would be where it is now — tied for third in the Eastern Conference, with a home-court advantage in a playoff series potentially around the corner, and growing expectations.
“If you had told anybody in the organization that we’ll get the eighth seed, at 42-40, five months ago, they would have taken that,” Redick said.
It’s that surprise factor and untapped potential of this Sixers team that has Redick thinking this could be another year in which a championship is within reach. Even being the realist that he is, Redick thinks the Sixers could make a run at a championship this year.
“I don’t want to put a ceiling on our team this year,” he said. “I think this group has the potential to win the Eastern Conference. Whether that’s this year or three years from now, having guys like Ben [Simmons] and Jo [Embiid], you have a chance. Those guys are that good.”
But everything has to be clicking just right. The Sixers would need their best player, Joel Embiid, back on the court; they would have to be playing right and firing on all cylinders; and the matchups would have to fall in their favor. But if (and that’s a big if) everything fell into place, Redick said, the Sixers have a shot.
The possibility of a deep playoff run is exciting for Redick, but it doesn’t change the fact that he is 33. He has fewer years left to play basketball than most of the guys on the Sixers.
“It’s disappointing. I think about it on a daily basis,” he said of not winning a championship. “If it ends up that I don’t win one in the NBA it’s something I’ll think about the rest of my life. It’s just the truth. I’m bothered by it.”
If it doesn’t happen this year, Redick is hoping that he can stick around long enough to win one, even if it means being just a veteran voice on a team.
“At this point, at the end of my career, whether it’s starting on a team, or coming off the bench, or being the 15th guy, it really doesn’t matter to me because I just want to have that feeling,” he said.
In less than 10 days, the NBA playoffs begin, and with tempered expectations, Redick will be chasing that feeling.