A silence, thick and eerie as a fog, enveloped the empty interior of the Wells Fargo Center as JJ Redick emerged from an arena tunnel for Friday morning’s shootaround.
If the veteran guard who departed Philadelphia this offseason for a two-year, $26.5 million deal in New Orleans were inclined to self-reflection, the hush and the church-like setting were perfect.
As he stuck one relaxed jumper after another on a court where, as the 76ers’ relentless sniper the previous two years, he often ignited big crowds, Redick might have contemplated his decision to leave a popular young contender for a team that has lost 10 straight, 19 of 25 overall, and ranks 23rd in NBA attendance.
Just two days from the start of the league’s trading period, he also might have pondered rumors that have surfaced just 25 games into his first New Orleans season: According to speculation in Sports Illustrated and elsewhere, Redick might be the ideal fit if the 76ers decide to address their most obvious need: a reliable three-point shooter.
In about 29 minutes a game for the Pelicans, he’s averaging 15.7 points and making 44.8% of his threes, 78 of 174. Philadelphia’s three-point rate, meanwhile, is 37.1%, and its leader in threes, Josh Richardson, has made just 35 of 89 (39.3%).
“I don’t pay attention to that stuff,” Redick said of the early rumors. “I’m all-in on the Pelicans. I’m all-in on being here with this group. I think we can turn this around. That’s 100% my focus.”
New Orleans should improve, of course, when and if top overall pick Zion Williamson’s right knee heals following arthroscopic meniscus surgery. But do the Pelicans in any way remind Redick of the 2017-18 Sixers, a team that, like New Orleans, had injuries and a bad start but turned itself around?
Philadelphia was 15-19 at one point that season but found its stride and finished with a 52-30 mark and a playoff-series triumph over Miami.
“We built good habits throughout that season,” Redick said. “We made a big leap defensively. We ended up third or fourth in the league, depending on which metric you use. Turnovers were a big issue early on. Then, being able to pick up [Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli] down the stretch helped us.”
As for the current 76ers, Redick said he’d watched them play five or six times this season, including Thursday night’s win at Boston, and been impressed.
“I’m enjoying seeing what they’re doing,” the 35-year-old said. “It’s weird to say this, but I’m enjoying their success, I really am. I will always pull for any Brett Brown-coached team. And obviously I love … all those other guys I played with the last two years.”
Some of that love has been directed at Ben Simmons, who as a 76ers teammate was the anti-Redick, his willingness to shoot diminishing the farther he was from the basket.
“He’s shooting the ball a little more confidently now,” Redick noted. “I’ve been advocating for him to shoot the ball for a couple years, so it’s good to see him take those shots and knock them down. He’s become better defensively. He’s a problem on that end of the floor when he’s really engaged. He’s as good as there is defensively.”
Redick acknowledged hearing a little about the spark Joel Embiid had seemed to derive from the nationally televised criticisms of Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal. Thursday, in his first game after the Hall of Famers-turned-broadcasters questioned his approach, the 76ers center was dominant, scoring a season-high 38 points in the win at Boston.
“I think Joel has matured a lot,” Redick said. “As a young player, you have to go through some stuff. Obviously, you saw the emotion last year when we lost to Toronto. Him and I spoke at length this summer, prior to me going to the Pelicans. I know that it hurts. I know that it matters to him. I know that he cares. I know that he wants to be great.“
So, while he might not return here this season or ever, Redick was at least happy to be in Philadelphia for Friday night’s matchup with his old team.
“I’m excited to play every night,” Redick said. “But certainly when you play your former team in a place where you’ve built memories and relationships, it means a little bit more.”