By Matt Citak
When J.J. Redick decided to sign with the Philadelphia 76ers on a one-year deal this past offseason, it raised some eyebrows.
Of course, a one-year, $23 million deal would be tough for anyone to pass on. But at 33 years old, on the back nine of his NBA career, Redick had many wondering why the NBA veteran would want to sign with a team coming off a 28-54 season that saw them finish 14th out of 15 teams in the Eastern Conference. Add in the fact that teams such as the Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves, after completing their blockbuster trades, reportedly had interest in the sharpshooter, albeit at a much lower cost, and Redick’s decision seems even more puzzling.
And honestly, who could blame people for doubting his decision? The 76ers won 19 games in 2013-14, 18 games in 2014-15, 10 games in 2015-16, and 28 games in 2016-17.
But the 12-year veteran saw the potential in Philadelphia’s core of young players, enough so that he didn’t join one of the obvious contenders out West and instead signed with the up-and-coming 76ers.
Fast-forward nine and a half months, and the former Duke star looks like a genius for his decision.
Philadelphia is rolling at the most ideal time. Over the last six weeks, the Sixers have lost only one game. Yes, you read that correctly. Since suffering a 101-98 defeat to the Indiana Pacers on March 13, Philadelphia has won every single game they have played, except for Game 2 of their series against the Miami Heat.
>>MORE: NBA Coverage
Philadelphia advanced to the second round on their home court on Tuesday, beating the Heat, 130-103, to take the series, 4-1. But it’s how they took the series that makes this team such a threat for the rest of the Eastern Conference.
In Game 1, Philadelphia smacked Miami by 27 points, all while Joel Embiid watched from the sidelines. The Sixers seemed as if they could not buy a shot in Game 4, yet they outlasted the Heat to pick up the 106-102 win and regain home-court advantage. The team finished the postseason series with an average margin of victory of 16 points, quite an impressive feat for such a young squad.
Ben Simmons, appearing in his first postseason, looked like a seasoned vet against Miami, despite still being a rookie. The 21-year-old averaged a dazzling 18.2 points, 10.6 rebounds, 9.0 assists, and 2.4 steals, all while shooting 50 percent from the field. Those numbers would be amazing for any player, let alone a rookie.
Three of Philadelphia’s top-five scorers against Miami are part of the franchise’s young nucleus. Simmons (21), Embiid (24), and Dario Saric (24) each averaged over 16 points per game in the five contests against the Heat, and all played large roles in the Sixers advancing to the next round.
But the team’s leading scorer thus far in the postseason?
Well that would be none other than Mr. Redick himself.
In his first postseason with Philadelphia, Redick is averaging 20.0 points in 32.2 minutes per game while shooting 45.5 percent from the field. In the 76ers four victories, those numbers jump up to 22.3 points on 49.1 percent shooting from the field, in addition to shooting 40 percent from the three-point line.
While his performance on the court is obviously crucial to the Sixers success, his presence off the court could prove to be just as vital.
As the oldest player on the roster, Redick serves as one of the team’s leaders and mentors for the younger players. There’s no better example of this than during Tuesday morning’s shoot-around, when the 33-year-old talked to the team about seizing the moment when you are fortunate enough to find yourselves in it.
While just 24 years old, Redick made his first (and only) NBA Finals as a member of the Orlando Magic, in a series that Orlando would lose, 4-1, to the Los Angeles Lakers. With core players such as Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson, along with several others, signed with Orlando moving forward, a young Redick thought it would be no time before he was back in the Finals.
Nine years later, none of Redick’s teams have made it to the Finals.
The 33-year-old veteran has opened the eyes of the talented, young Sixers players. He has helped them to realize that the window to compete for a championship comes and goes rather quickly in the NBA, and that they can’t take this year’s opportunity for granted.
Who knows? With a seemingly wide-open race in the Eastern Conference, maybe it’s finally time for “The Process” to churn out a championship.
Matt Citak is a contributor for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter.