The Bucks have won four of five games since trading for J.J. Redick . (USA Today Sports)
MILWAUKEE – On his way out of Orlando, the general manager's words stayed with J.J. Redick: It's nothing personal, Rob Hennigan told him.
"But it is personal," Redick says now.
Perhaps this is a blessing and curse, because professional sports can break a ballplayer's heart this way. Redick's loyal this way. He immerses himself in the franchise's fabric, invests in the community. His two old coaches – Mike Krzyzewski and Stan Van Gundy – still get calls and texts on a regular basis.
"My wife Chelsea and I built a life in Orlando," Redick told Yahoo! Sports. "Listen, there was no anger [over the trade], but there was a little bit of disappointment.
"Part of me wishes I could've been there my whole career and been part of the rebuilding, part of the turnaround, and gotten back to the finals in my 11th or 12th year. That's the romantic in me, the idealist."
And the pragmatist stood on the Bradley Center floor on Monday night – delivering two immense baskets in the final minutes of regulation and eight straight points to start overtime in a 109-108 victory over Utah – as the winning, the chase for the playoffs, felt like a warm blanket.
With Redick, the Bucks have won four of five games. With the Bucks, Redick is relevant again.
"There's been a number of moments since I've been here – in the fourth quarter, in overtime – where I've thought, 'Man, I missed this,' " Redick says. "And I did.
"Even in Orlando, in a close game, coming down to the wire, you still think to yourself: 'We're 15-37 or whatever.' "
So far, the vision of Bucks general manager John Hammond has been validated. Redick will be a free agent this summer, and Hammond gambled with the trade for him. As hard as the Bucks tried to get Josh Smith, Redick was the player whom they believed could become their starting shooting guard for years. Brandon Jennings is a restricted free agent, Monta Ellis can opt out of his contract and, almost assuredly, only one of them returns next season.
Milwaukee can't afford to pay the three of them, so Jennings or Ellis will stay, and Milwaukee is prepared to pay Redick as a starting shooting guard. Redick will be in great demand, but make no mistake: To leave the Bucks, he'll have to take less money – probably a lot.
So far, "this has been fun," Redick says. "A lot of fun."
Interim coach Jim Boylan – who has a real and deserved chance to keep this job – has spread the floor with Jennings, Ellis and Redick together, using Larry Sanders to protect the rim. Boylan is a Jersey City guy who is trying to finish reading the new Springsteen biography this season. Redick has given him a shooter to sell Jennings on playing the part of distributor, and the result has been a staggering 36 assists in the past two games.
Hammond and his assistant GM, Jeff Weltman, have the Bucks positioned to be an Eastern Conference playoff team for years to come. For them, Redick has arrived to make shots, yes, but also bring professionalism to the workplace.
For Redick, it was over in Orlando. The Magic disassembled into a total rebuild. Part of him will always live with the regret of how everything fell apart, how they fired Van Gundy and traded Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers.
In Redick's mind, the best thing that ever happened was getting drafted into Orlando with a coach who refused to insert him into the rotation. For two years, Van Gundy challenged him to become a more complete player and Redick thinks "a lot about what kind of career trajectory I would've had without Stan, and I'm grateful for what he did for me."
"Those years in Orlando humbled me," Redick said, "and gave me perspective on basketball and life."
Here's the thing, too: Van Gundy was the best thing to ever happen to Howard's career, too. Unlike Redick, Howard probably had to leave to understand that. All of the Magic understood, though, they were merely moons orbiting Howard. Redick will always wonder what could've been there, and maybe Howard will someday, too.
"I'm sure the scrutiny on him in a bigger market has been tough," he says. "Whether he was prepared for that, or expected that, I don't know. He was a hero in Orlando. L.A. already had a hero."
Yes, Orlando will always be personal for J.J. Redick, but this is no business for romantics, and he understands it. Milwaukee desperately wanted him, traded good young players to get him, and this has meant the world to Redick. His furniture arrived from Orlando on Monday, his wife and he found a place, and they can see themselves staying here a long time.
"To be wanted here – to be wanted anywhere in the league – is something I'll never take for granted," Redick says.
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