Stop judging J.J. Redick by his Duke days if you haven’t already

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BOSTON – J.J. Redick is excited Duke reached the Final Four.

But if Duke had been upset earlier, he wouldn’t have even watched the rest of the NCAA Tournament.

“I’m an NBA fan, man,” Redick said. “I’d rather watch the Kings and the Hornets on a Tuesday night in Sacramento than Syracuse-Georgetown.”

It’s just another way Redick is distancing himself from the college game.

After dominating at Duke and – winning national player of the year awards and setting the program’s all-time scoring record – and earning national name recognition, Redick has reinvented himself in the NBA.

He’s no longer a brash, trash-talking, head-bobbing, easily hateable, high-volume chucker. He’s a 3-and-D role player who quietly gets the job done for the Clippers.

To many observes who saw his big numbers and oversized presence at Duke, Redick entered the NBA with sky-high expectations despite being just the No. 11 pick in the 2006 draft by the Magic. When Redick barely played his first two years, many of those same people declared him a bust.

Redick was obviously frustrated, describing “a sense that regardless of how I played, there wasn’t going to be an opportunity.” He even requested a trade.

Really, Redick wanted a chance to prove he could adapt to a smaller role.

“I never expected to be LeBron James,” Redick said.

The Magic kept him, and he blossomed under Stan Van Gundy. After a half season with the Bucks, Redick landed with the Clippers. He suffered through an injury-plagued first season in Los Angeles last year. This year, he’s finally showing what he can do.

Redick is averaging 16.1 points while shooting 47.7 percent from the field and 43.5 percent from 3-point range – all career highs. In fact, his scoring average has increased each season since his second year:

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Derek Harper is the only other player in NBA history to increase his scoring average seven straight seasons.

Now, Redick is arguably better than ever.

He’s a great fit with the Clippers, getting open looks as defenses sag to defend DeAndre Jordan inside and account for Blake Griffin in the high post. Symbiotically, Redick pulls defenders to the perimeter, helping Jordan and Griffin. Chris Paul delivers the right pass to whomever has a bigger advantage.

Lately, that’s been Redick.

In his last seven games, he’s averaging 22.7 points on 58.7 percent field-goal shooting and 52.2 percent 3-point shooting. The Clippers are 7-0 in that span.

All season, Redick has been a clear positive influence. The Clippers score 112.9 points per 100 possessions (equivalent of first in the NBA) when Redick plays and 104.4 (11th) when he sits. He’s also a plus defender.

Doc Rivers has even compared Redick to Ray Allen.

“This has been a great situation for me,” said Redick, whose Clippers host the first-place Warriors tonight.

Rivers downplayed his work with Redick. Given the guard’s track record of improvement before coming to Los Angeles, Redick definitely deserves credit for his own growth.

Entering the league knowing his size and athleticism would limit him, Redick knew he’d have to get smarter. Now, he recognizes how much more cerebral he has become.

“Thirty-year-old me would destroy my 21-year-old me,” Redick said.

But not everything has changed since Duke.

Redick’s trash-talk reduction might be due more to ability than willingness.

After making his fifth 3-pointer of the game, Redick looked to the Celtics bench for former Duke teammate Shavlik Randolph, who’d been joking with Redick earlier in the game:

But Randolph had switched seats, throwing off Redick’s expectation for quick trash talk.

“I had to give it a second look,” Redick said.

Rumor: Al Horford thinks 4-year, $100 million contract awaits him in free agency

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Things have already gone sideways for the Boston Celtics. Kyrie Irving is set to leave, reportedly for the Brooklyn Nets. Al Horford opted out of his contract with the team this week, and reports have it that the integral big man is looking to go elsewhere.

Horford had $30 million left on his contract at age 33, so there had to be some belief that he would get a job elsewhere for more money than the Celtics would be willing to pay. Now, according to a new report, that is exactly the case.

It was floated on Tuesday night that Horford already knew that somebody was looking to sign him to another long-term deal. New York Times writer Marc Stein tweeted as much late Tuesday night, saying that Horford and his camp believe there is a deal around $100 million waiting for him in free agency.

Via Twitter:

It is — and we can’t stress this enough — freaking June. It’s literally and figuratively too early for this.

We all laughed last season about the arbitrary deadlines of free agency creeping forward. Deals were already done well before it was permitted to actually sign free agents in July. But this… is getting ridiculous.

Horford is a leader, the glue that apparently kept the Celtics from breaking apart last season. Reports surfaced this week that Brad Stevens’ dedication to former Butler Bulldog Gordon Hayward was at least one reason for the team chemistry starting to unfurl.

Whichever team grabs Horford will be getting a player who still has much left to give, and who can help guide a team into the playoffs. Whether he’s heading to a contender or an overpaying bottom-feeder, we don’t yet know.

This league just keeps getting weirder and weirder.

Daryl Morey denies that Chris Paul requested trade in James Harden dispute

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Things are not all that great for the Houston Rockets. They were bounced in the second round by the Golden State Warriors, and Chris Paul and James Harden appear to be at each other’s throats.

There been reports that Paul and Harden have each issued ultimatums to team management asking the executive branch to instigate a trade. This of course essentially means that the Rockets need to look for a trade partner for Paul.

The problem is that Paul has a massive $125 million left on his deal. It was an insane sum when Paul signed it, but the thought was that even a declining CP3 would be able to help the Rockets as they went all-out expecting a Warriors decline.

But Rockets GM Daryl Morey has refuted the idea that either player has issued an ultimatum. Morey told Marc Stein of the New York Times as much, and reiterated this stance on ESPN radio on Tuesday.

Morey is a veteran general manager, and openly noting that a player has requested a trade cuts his leverage. It has been widely reported that Morey has been looking for trades for Paul and his gargantuan contract for some time, with no apparent taker as of yet.

Now is the time to jump on things in the West. The Warriors are weak, particularly with injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Who knows what that roster will look like next season (and beyond)?

Houston has been the perennial contender against Golden State in the playoffs, but now they appear to be bursting apart at the seams. Morey is one of the best general managers in the NBA, and he has a history of taking big risks and turning wheat into gold. But until he can offload Paul’s contract, things will be tenuous in Texas.

Report: Brad Stevens’ dedication to Gordon Hayward caused chemistry issues with Celtics

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Things are not all well in Boston. The Celtics are already in a free fall when it comes to free agency, and it’s not yet July. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are reportedly poised not to return to TD Garden next year. Now, a team that was aiming for the NBA Finals next year could be in serious trouble.

Things have quickly fallen apart for Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens, who are left with a team that also has an apparent enemy in one of the biggest agencies in Klutch Sports. Boston reportedly backed out of serious offers in trade negotiations with the New Orleans Pelicans in part because they felt as though Klutch client Anthony Davis would not re-sign after one year.

Basketball is a game of chemistry, and the Celtics seemed to lose theirs over the course of the year. At least externally, it appeared Boston was disintegrating. Now, according to a report from Jackie MacMullan, we have some confirmation of this rift.

Via NBC Sports Boston:

“You hate to pick on Gordon Hayward because he was coming back from injury and he was doing the best he could, but I really think that’s where it started,” she said. “They were force feeding him on his teammates, Brad [Stevens] knew Gordon well, he wanted to get his confidence back.

“I would contend that Brad Stevens would have done that for any player on that roster that had a catastrophic injury, he would want to fill him with that same confidence, but that’s not what happened,” MacMullan continued. “He gave the benefit of the doubt over and over to a player that wasn’t ready, to a guy who had history with him, and it rankled that locker room, and it bothered that locker room.”

The Celtics have a roster on paper that should have been good enough to get them deep into the playoffs. But Hayward returned and never really looked like himself, and Stevens devoting his faith to his former Butler Bulldog was obviously misplaced.

Chemistry issues for Boston we’re not all to blame on Stevens and Hayward. Irving is perennially mercurial. Given a situation where he got his own team (whatever that means) he didn’t lead the way folks were expecting.

Unless something drastic can be done — and don’t put it past Danny Ainge to get wild — Boston could be taking a step back next season.

Their saving grace, ironically, could be a fully healthy Hayward who has more reign to do what he wants and an unrestricted role on offense. We’ll see how that goes.

Report: Kawhi Leonard focusing on Clippers in free agency

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Kawhi Leonard might not be with the Toronto Raptors next season. That much has been apparent ever since the Raptors traded for Leonard last year, but the team did just win the 2019 NBA Finals. You know what they say: winning fixes everything.

But we are now into the thick of the NBA offseason, and that means crazy rumors and a wild game of Free agency musical chairs. Leonard could end up in many places, including Toronto. But the talk all along has been how Leonard prefers to land in Los Angeles.

The only problem for fans in L.A. county? His landing spot is unlikely to be the Los Angeles Lakers.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Leonard’s focused on Los Angeles but only with the Clippers. In Wojnarowski’s opinion, Leonard is not interested in joining LeBron James and Anthony Davis as a third wheel on a superstar, big three type of Team. Instead, Leonard wants to have his own team match the way he does in Toronto. That could easily be the case with the Clippers.

Via ESPN:

The Lakers are trying to open up enough cap space for a third max-level player, which Leonard obviously is. But if things stand how they are now, Rob Pelinka and the Lakers will need to go elsewhere to find a third star to play alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Obviously the Lakers would be better suited by using their cap space to fill out their roster around their two superstars, but they probably won’t do that. In the end, Leonard focusing on the Clippers seems like the right choice.