LOS ANGELES — NBA careers are, for obvious reasons, completely incongruous with the vast majority of those held by common folk. Not only does the money, fame, and pressure dwarf that of other jobs, NBA athletes exist in a playing capacity for much shorter than any typical professional career.
While one might be a doctor, lawyer, craftsman, or artisan for a half-century or longer, NBA players scarcely reach even a decade, as evidenced by the average career length of just 4.5 years.
Heading into his fifth season, Cam Reddish looked like he might end up being just excellent enough at his craft to end up just average — per NBA standards. The Lakers are already his fourth team and he hasn’t played more than 50 games for a franchise since his rookie season as the Hawks’ No. 10 overall pick in 2019.
And, from the outside, after a missed three at the end of regulation at Miami — a shot that would have gotten the Lakers their first road win of the season but instead led to a second straight loss — it looked as though, for Cam’s NBA life, the end was nigh.
However, from inside the locker room, the other Lakers stressed to Cam that his reality was anything but. As retold by Reddish, Austin Reaves and LeBron himself, the elder statesman and team leader, approached Cam in the locker room immediately after his miss, saying, “That’s a good shot. Make [or] miss, regardless, we want you taking that shot again and again.”
While the supportive words might have been especially meaningful in that low moment in Miami, it certainly hasn’t been the only time the Lakers have outwardly expressed their faith in his talents.
“I don’t think it’s just [LeBron],” Reddish said. “I feel like all of my teammates have done a great job of just pouring into me and telling me how much they believe in me. I haven’t had an atmosphere like this I don’t think in my entire NBA career.”
Cam continued, addressing his locker-mate, D’Angelo Russell, “He just continues to push me and believe in me. It goes a long way because I’ve been through hell and back, so it feels good. I feel great. It’s just been great. It’s been great.”
Austin too, shared public praise for Reddish.
“I think a lot of times people forget how good Cam is,” Reaves said. “The talent that he has, it doesn’t just disappear.”
“[Something] Bron and AD, D’Lo, have done really good [sic] with him is keeping his energy high.”
Head coach Darvin Ham shared a similar idea in his presser, discussing his supportive and transparent approach with Reddish during their first interaction.
“I just told him to take things one day at a time,” Ham said, “and I told him straight up, ‘I’ll always be clear with you, you’re always gonna know where you stand,’ when we signed him. He and I had some beautiful conversations and it’s been great throughout, our rapport with one another. I just think the biggest thing he needed was stability and opportunity.”
Not every player needs this kind of bolstering, but Cam’s riches-to-rags journey from top high school recruit to the NBA’s fringe left him feeling dejected. He admitted to feeling like he was at the end of his rope in his comments after Sunday’s win, “I almost was like ‘I’m cool. I don’t have enough fight left in me.’”
Instead, he feels reinvigorated by the Lakers’ championship aspirations and supportive atmosphere, “These guys have been keeping me going. I’ve been dialed in on my faith. And just continue to work. Being resilient. Just pushing through it all. It’s not the end of the world, one missed shot isn’t the end of the world. Just get out of my head, get out of my own way.”
That support, though effusive, comes with the directive that Cam buy into the Lakers’ mission and play the way they want him to. In the past, the biggest knocks on the swingman were his offensive efficiency, driven down by poor shot selection, and inconsistent defensive intensity, especially away from the ball. This season, the Lakers have given him a roadmap that seems designed to iron out those kinks.
“The one thing we wanted to provide for him here was just some really good coaching,” Ham said, “player development-wise, and high IQ guys around him.”
Despite the early struggles, the staff was committed to showing Cam that they believed in him, “Just trying to give him an opportunity and just let him know, no matter what, we love him.”
Still, the instruction remained, “Compete at a high level and don’t worry about the rest.” Ham boiled down his coaching into a pair of rules, “I told [Cam] the only two mistakes he can make with me is not play hard and not have fun.”
Instead of looking over his shoulder for fear a miscue might spoil his final chance at finding a home, the Lakers have asked Cam to let go of the results, promising their support regardless of whether he clanks the game-winner or sinks it. In his final remarks on his new teammate, Austin put Ham’s directive differently and soliloquized Reddish thusly.
“You’re Cam Reddish. Be who you are.”
With 35 points across his past two games, featuring highlight-reel rack attacks and pick-sixes, Reddish is playing his headiest, most consistent ball in recent memory.
If this is who he is, the Lakers should be ecstatic.
Reddish’s offensive decision-making has been unselfish, yet decisive, and he’s helped shore up the Lakers’ perimeter defense that has sorely missed the point-of-attack defense they got from those gone to greener pastures (Dennis Schroder) and others still on the team’s injury report (Gabe Vincent and Jarred Vanderbilt).
Cam Reddish is playing good hoops pic.twitter.com/pNwxnRastn— Brett Usher (@UsherNBA) November 13, 2023
While it remains to be seen if Reddish can maintain his current level of play, or his position in the pecking order as a starter in four games so far this season (especially as players get healthy), the Lakers have his back.
By not just betting on Cam but, more importantly, asking him to bet on himself, the Lakers are getting Reddish’s best yet.