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As new Lakers coach, JJ Redick just signed up for one of the most combustible positions

As new Lakers coach, JJ Redick just signed up for one of the most combustible positions

LeBron James turns 40 years old on Dec. 30. He can become a free agent between now and then.

This is the context in which longtime NBA sharpshooter JJ Redick is reportedly joining the Los Angeles Lakers as a first-time head coach on a four-year deal worth about $8 million annually. Apparently the lure of L.A. was enough for the 39-year-old to push pause on his podcasts.

Who can blame him? It is a prestigious job. I will not pretend to know how quality of a coach he will be.

As a basketball situation, the Lakers leave plenty to be desired. I am not saying James will sign elsewhere in July. Redick surely has some level of understanding that James will be sporting purple and gold when the NBA's 2024-25 campaign begins, but even then the rookie coach is assuming a combustible position.

For the second straight season, the Lakers required a play-in tournament victory to qualify for the playoffs, where they were worked by Nikola Jokić's Denver Nuggets, most recently in the first round. Over the past three seasons, spanning coaches Frank Vogel and Darvin Ham, the Lakers are 123-123.

They are a good basketball team. Not a great team. And there is not a whole lot of room to get better.

This is the reality when your team is built on a 40-year-old foundation. As great as James still is — he made the All-NBA third team this season — there are limitations to the load he can carry, particularly on defense, and those limitations lower the team's ceiling. They just do. Prime LeBron James is not scrapping to make the playoffs, even in a loaded Western Conference. We all know this. We just do not say it out loud.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis have yet another new coach. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The Lakers still feature Anthony Davis, a monster on their 2020 NBA championship run. He is 31 years old and just enjoyed the healthiest season of his career, good for the All-NBA second team and All-Defensive first team. That is a premium building block, and Redick will hope his defensive anchor can stay healthy.

That anchor is still tied to more than $50 million for a 40-year-old. Again: I am not saying that James is weighing down the Lakers, but he is no longer elevating them into contention as their primary option.

The Lakers finally have some wiggle room to improve their roster. They have a number of mid-tier contracts, including Austin Reaves, along with a trio of first-round draft picks that can get their foot in the door for the next available star. But who is that player? Trae Young? Zach LaVine? Brandon Ingram? Jimmy Butler or DeMar DeRozan, both of whom turn 35 years old over the summer? Anyone better — Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell, for example — would cost more than the Lakers can offer.

Do any of those names move the Lakers into serious contention? Not in a West that boasts Jokić, Luka Dončić, Anthony Edwards and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. It does not matter how good of a coach Redick is.

A third star also severely restricts the Lakers' ability to build out the roster. They relied heavily on D'Angelo Russell, Rui Hachimura, Taurean Prince and Spencer Dinwiddie. After witnessing the depth of the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals, does anyone feel good about the Lakers' lineup? Remember, some of them might need to be dealt for said third star, too, if not Reaves. Good luck rounding out the roster when your three stars are eating the entire salary cap and the cupboard of tradable assets has run dry.

This is what happens with LeBron-led teams. They rightfully exhaust every available option to build a champion around him, and the Lakers did — four years ago. They are still paying for it. They cleared their cache of prospects, including Ingram and Josh Hart, and a handful of draft picks, including their 2025 first-round selection, to acquire Davis. It worked, but there is no rising talent to contribute on fixed salaries. Chasing Russell Westbrook also cost them their 2027 first-round pick, just to shed his salary.

This system has always been a short-term one. Once the well ran dry on the Cleveland Cavaliers, James bolted in 2010 and 2018. He did the same to the Miami Heat in 2014. It was his right. It also left those franchises in years-long rebuilding processes, which is where Redick will find himself if LeBron leaves.

If he stays, we might discover what trouble he could have run into by remaining in Cleveland or Miami. Next season, remarkably, will be James' seventh in Los Angeles. The short term is even shorter term, now that he will be 40 years old, and there are few avenues to improve. They are counting on Redick as one.

And we know the expectations that come with these short-term windows. Ask Vogel, who won a championship in L.A. Seven of James' nine previous coaches have been fired. The other two? James tried to get Erik Spoelstra replaced, and he left Tyronn Lue in Cleveland. This is what Redick is walking into.

The checks will cash, though. But his podcast partnership with James may have an expiration date.

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