Coaching LeBron James

It’s official. JJ Redick just got one of the most daunting jobs in the NBA.

Not coaching the Lakers, though that is a job that he accepted Thursday on a four-year deal. No, the job Redick will take on, that ranks as perhaps the league’s most difficult, is coaching LeBron James.

On the degree of difficulty scale, that responsibility ranks about as close toward “good luck” as you can get.

Yes, LeBron is still a stunning talent, and he, coupled with Anthony Davis, will provide a chance at success. Yes, LeBron’s a profile raiser and basketball savant, qualities any budding head coach would crave as they strive to burnish the beginning of a career on that side of the game. And, yes, coaching the Los Angeles Lakes is a big-time opportunity, the rarified air that comes with one of only 30 such jobs on earth but swathed in purple and gold and all that comes with those storied colors.

But there’s also the fact you better win. Today.

Strike that.


And the reality that LeBron, with those exacting standards, frenetic drive and ability — how to put this accurately but kindly — to love you one day and freeze you out until you’re fired the next can be as treacherous as he is remarkable to coach.

Take the coaching history that surrounded his all-time great career. LeBron has had eight full-time head coaches in his career. Only two — Erik Spoelstra and Ty Lue– weren’t let go on his watch (five coaches were fired and Luke Walton “mutually parted ways” with the Lakers in 2019 before taking the Kings job). And even those two cases require some caveats.

King James wanted Spo fired all the way back in 2010, the King’s first year in Miami, right around the time he realized not all basketball royalty can rule by royal decree. I covered that team, that saga, and can remember that buzz-beyond-belief Heat team starting 9-8 and all the angst it rained down, LeBron’s ire toward his might-have-been-former coach included.

That was a sign then not just of Pat Riley’s rare ability to tell LeBron no. It was a sign of the intangibles and troubles that can pop up when the promise and glitz of a LeBron James team hits smack into some kind of not-as-sexy reality.

With Lue, remember, he stepped into the fold after the guy he was the top assistant coach to, David Blatt, got fired despite having a 30-11 record — 30-11! — at the time of his dismissal in 2016.

That team then went on to win an NBA Championship.

It’s also worth noting that while Lue and Spo both won titles with LeBron, it’s not as if a ring inoculates one against later being dealt a bad hand and being fired.

Three years ago Frank Vogel coached the Lakers to an NBA championship. Two seasons later, he was gone.

To say coaching LeBron James is a poisoned chalice would be disingenuous, lacking nuance and ignorant of his greatness. But the job isn’t exactly a professional fountain of youth, either.

LeBron James can bring you glory. But he can also be… challenging. In the extreme.

I can remember, during the Blatt years, accidentally stumbling into a 2015 NBA Finals practice I wasn’t supposed to be at. Before hustling myself out of there — I’d had to retrieve a left-behind backpack — I caught a glimpse of LeBron coaching his team while Blatt, forlorn and alone, looked like the kid bullied so often in high school gym class he’d just decided to put himself in the corner.

Point being: LeBron has power, with front offices and locker rooms, and he’s not afraid to wield it. As with Jordan and Kobe, part of LeBron’s approach comes with some personality traits that would be flaws if not for the greatness they help produce. Such it is with stars. They shine incandescently, yes, but they can burn you up, too, if you don’t know how to navigate them.

There’s also the fact that the expectations around such greats are sometimes, and maybe especially right now, particularly unfair. The Lakers just aren’t that good. The LeBron-AD tandem is not enough. It’s two consecutive years that they’ve been roundly dominated and sent home during the playoffs by the Denver Nuggets. LeBron will be 40 years old later this year. And the Western Conference Redick will now be coaching in, with the pressure to succeed, looks unbelievably deep next season — maybe even 13 teams deep.

Los Angeles not making the playoffs in Redick’s first season is well within the realm of what’s possible.

Does his podcast partnership with LeBron James protect him from the slings and arrows that can follow coaching an underwhelming LeBron James team? Does he have the temperament — some might read here: humility and media-management skills — to ride out the bad and bitter times before things turn? Does having been on TV for 15 seconds make him a lock to successfully navigate the strange and wondrous terrain surrounding LeBron James’ teams?

Oh: And can he actually coach?

Maybe, to all of those, the answer will be an emphatic yes.

But Redick’s about to test those questions, the ones that may define this new stage of his career, under the most difficult of situations: The one where, in coaching LeBron James, you best understand that failure is not an option and that the problems that arise will almost certainly be laid at your feet.

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