J.J. Redick opens up on Clippers' championship window, future free agency

Ask Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick about his team's 2016 season, and two words come to mind: "challenging" and "weird." He's not wrong.

Currently fifth in the Western Conference with a 46-31 record, the Clippers have dealt with injuries to Chris Paul (thumb), Blake Griffin (knee) and most recently Redick(ankle), who missed Sunday's game against the Kings before returning to score 31 points Wednesday against the Wizards and 14 points Thursday against the Suns.

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The Clippers started off the season on a 14-2 tear, playing in sync and showcasing an elevated defensive intensity not seen in years past. They have stumbled since that hot start due to those key injuries and a drop in defensive efficiency, something coach Doc Rivers and his players have certainly noticed throughout the season.

The core of Paul, Griffin, Redick and DeAndre Jordan continues to accumulate wins, but a titleremains elusive. How much longer is the Clippers' championship window open? With unrestricted free agency coming after the 2016-17 season, will Redickstick with the starsin LA?

Sporting News asked Redickabout the Clippers' season, his future with the team and his Final Four picks (keep in mind he's a Duke guy) in a Q&A session.

Redick spoke to Sporting News in association with the Dove Men+Care "Real StrengthManifesto." Redick and other basketball greats joined the cause to celebrate the passion of fans and recognize the impact they have on the game. The goal is for fans to embrace the manifesto and realize their energy can affect on players and fellow fans.

SN: You’ve dealt with injuries, lineup changes and inconsistent rotations for a good part of the season. Has this been the most difficult year of your pro career?

Redick: It’s been very challenging. It’s been a weird year. We got off to such a great start at 14-2. Our defense was defending at an historic level, relative to points per 100 possessions. We had Chris get hurt. Blake got hurt. I still think middle of January we were still playing really good basketball. I think we had a seven-game winning streak earlier in that month. Defensively, we just haven’t been as good. To be a good team in the NBA, you’ve gotta be a top-10 defense, and we just haven’t been consistent there. The injuries, of course, having guys in and out of the lineup hasn’t helped. If you look around the NBA, and you took any team and had their two best players miss significant portions of the season, I think a lot of teams would sort of be in the same circumstances in terms of inconsistency. It’s not an excuse, but more our reality.

SN: In the middle of March, you said,"I don’t know what to expect from this team anymore. We’rein a bad place right now."How do you get back to a "good place"as a team and playing at that level as the regular season winds down?

Redick: What I said was sort of in response to a pretty direct question about expectation going into that specific game against Denver where we had gotten in at 4 a.m. and Blake and DJ (DeAndre Jordan) had stayed behind. But my response was definitely indicative of how I was feeling about our inconsistencies over the past couple months. I think we have to get back to what our identity is, and that’s being a defensive basketball team and being an execution basketball team on the offensive end. This team has had a lot of success together, and we’ve won a lot of games. We’ve been in a lot of playoff battles. I don’t think it takes much to sort of right the ship. It can be one game. It can be two games. We need to get back to our identity and play good basketball going into the playoffs.

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SN: You’re still top 10 in offensive efficiency (sixth in the NBA at 109.8), but in the bottom half in defensive efficiency(17th at 106.2). You guys have talked throughout the year about help-side defense,guarding the 3-point line and whyit'sso important on that end. Are those still two of the main concerns you see on defense?

Redick: So much of the NBA is help-side defense and just being alert and being active on the help side. Offensive players are great and tough to guard, so any time there’s an action that requires a second defender, you’re going to be in scramble mode. That requires an alert help side. That’s any defense in the NBA. That’s gotta be your concern. I think the other concern for us, and it has been for a couple years, is our transition defense. Our numbers there aren’t great. That would probably be the other concern. I think if we can defend the 3-point line and defend in transition, make people play in the halfcourt, I like our chances.

SN: The West has been so dominant at the top the past few years. You have the Warriors, Spurs and now with how James Harden has been playing, the Rockets. You’ve had your solid core for a few years. How do you guys view the championship window with all that competition in the conference?

Redick: We view it as open. Any championship window, no matter how small that window is, I think if you recognize it, you have to go for it. We think, as long as we have this roster, we are capable and have the potential to do it. Last year, we had injuries in the playoffs. The year before, we blew a 3-1 lead, but nobody talks about the fact that Chris missed the first two games of that series because of a hamstring injury. We had to deal with the (former Clippers owner Donald) Sterling mess the year before. I don’t know if it’s the Clippers’ curse or whatever, but we’ve had to deal with a lot at a bad time. For our group, we look at this postseason as another potential championship. That’s how we’re looking at it. First thing’s first: we need to get out of the first round.

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SN: You have a contract situation coming up. Have you discussed a long-term contract or staying with the Clippers with Doc or the team yet?

Redick: No, I haven’t had any talks with Doc or the team about staying or going. That’s something we’ll deal with after the season and as free agency approaches. Once July 1 hits, we’ll get into the details of everything. Any guy will tell you, and I’m no different, you’re obviously worried about the future a little bit and you think about it. But my focus right now is on this team and just trying to play good basketball.

SN: How much does Doc Rivers’ role both as a coach and decision-maker in the front office impact your relationship with him?

Redick: To be honest with you, I just view Doc as my coach. From a GM perspective, I don’t really have any input there. Him and I can talk strategy, we can go over film together or talk about different things in terms of what he sees on the court or what I see on the court. My relationship with him is just player and coach. I don’t really view him as that. That role is sort of separate. It’s just not something I deal with day to day. I’m on the court with him, and we’re going to battle every night as a player and a coach.

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SN: Taking a step back from where you are now, did you envision after your first couple years in Orlando that you could become a starter and key contributor on a potential championship team?

Redick: I did. My third year, I got to start seven games in the playoffs against the defending world champion Boston Celtics. Got to start a Game 7 in Boston. As a 23 or 24 year old, that gave me a lot of confidence. My fourth year, I was a key contributor on a conference finals team. My fifth, sixth and seventh year, I got to spot start depending on injuries. I knew I could start in this league, and start on a good team, because we were damn good in Orlando. I wouldn’t say I’m surprised. I think it was more just getting to a situation or playing for a coach that viewed me as a full-time starter. When I hit free agency after my seventh year, that was really important to me. I had and have, to this day, a fantastic relationship with Stan Van Gundy. He’s a very close friend and someone that I respect as much as anyone in this league. He just, at the time, didn’t see me as a starter.

SN: Before I let you go, who do we see in the NCAA championship game, and who wins it all?

Redick: Before the Elite Eight games, I said whoever wins the UNC-Kentucky game and Gonzaga. That’s who’s gonna be in the championship game. So I’m sticking with that. I think it’s gonna be UNC and Gonzaga in the championship game.

SN: I wanted to see if the head or the heart triumphed on that one.

Redick: Go Zags!

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