Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Redick finally playing for Magic

He's playing! Hallelujah, he's actually playing!

Look at the box scores: There's his name, right next to Dwight Howard's, Hedo Turkoglu's and Jameer Nelson's. They don't put you in the NBA box score if you don't play, do they? You've got to at least log some time to get there.

But check it out: Former Cave Spring star J.J. Redick is doing more than just playing lately.

He's shooting.


Contributing to the success of one of the best teams in the NBA.

About dang time.

On Tuesday night, in Orlando's 139-107 victory over Sacramento, Redick logged 26 minutes. He took nine shots and made five, scoring 15 points. It was the fourth straight game in which he'd reached double digits in points.

But even more importantly, it was the third consecutive game in which he buried four 3-pointers. His specialty. His get-off-the-bench-free card.

After struggling with his jumper early in the season, Redick is suddenly looking like the guy who dominated the ACC at Duke from 2002-06. He's connected on 17 of his past 26 attempts from beyond the arc, a ridiculous 65-percent clip.

His hometown isn't the only place excited to see this happen. Before the season, Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi called Redick "perhaps the most beloved benchwarmer in the history of sports."

The third-year pro, who was the preferred target of many opposing fans during his record-setting college days, has developed a loyal following in Florida despite averaging just 6 points and 4.1 points his first two seasons, respectively. He averaged just a shade more than eight minutes a game last season.

"You get a little tired of it and it wears on you a little bit," Redick told Bianchi in October. "Everywhere I go in town, I always see somebody -- whether it's a waiter in a restaurant or a teller at a bank -- who says, 'I sure hope you play more this year.' "

Just imagine what it's like when he comes home.

But now the fans -- and Redick -- are getting their wish.


Recent injuries to guards Mickael Pietrus and Keith Bogans have forced coach Stan Van Gundy to try some different rotations, and Redick has responded splendidly.

During his hot streak, which began Jan. 4 against Toronto, Redick has logged at least 18 minutes in each of the Magic's six games. Meanwhile, the team has been torrid. Orlando has won five straight. The club's 31-8 record ranks second in the Eastern Conference and third in the NBA, trailing only the Lakers and Cavaliers.

And now come the rumors. Reports out of Boston this week said the Celtics wanted to deal for Redick. Magic officials said no, that's false, there were never any talks. Can you blame Orlando for wanting to hold on to the guy now?

Most of Redick's pro career has been frustrating. Taken with the 11th overall pick in the 2006 draft, he joined a team already loaded with guards and sat much of his rookie season. Last year was supposed to provide more opportunity, but Redick actually saw fewer minutes as the team won the Southeast Division title.

At this time a year ago, Redick and his agent were exploring trade possibilities, looking for a team that actually needed him.

More discouraging news arrived this offseason, when the Magic drafted a shooting guard in the first round (Courtney Lee) and signed another one as a free agent (Pietrus).

Just another bad sign for folks around here who'd followed Redick's career and wanted to see him have a chance to succeed. Most J.J. supporters have been of the same reasonable mindset: If Redick was going to be an NBA bust, at least somebody could let him prove it on the court.

But those worries seem distant now. The team is winning, and Redick is a part of it.

Best of all, he's playing. That's all most of us have ever wanted to see.

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