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T.J. McConnell receives high praise from JJ Redick and shares the lesson he stored away for when he becomes a coach
The two are close and Redick called him one of the best teammates he's ever had.
T.J. McConnell is one of the most likable guys in the NBA. Watching him before and after games, he’s always having a conversation with an opponent, whether it be a coach, player or staff member.
But when he takes the floor, his Pacers teammates agree that he’s the most intense player on the roster. That, his hard work and contributions inside the locker room are why he’s lasted six seasons and is about to earn the highest salary of his career following a career year in Indy.
He led the league in total steals … off the bench, and posted the first triple-double of his career in a win in Cleveland.
That’s in addition to averaging 8.6 points and 6.6 assists per game, and shooting a team-high 55.9 percent from the field.
McConnell was a guest on JJ Redick’s “The Old Man & The Three” podcast. Those two are tight, dating back to their time together with the Philadelphia 76ers. They dined together many times inside the Orlando bubble a year ago and he was McConnell’s gateway into the world of wine.
“T.J. is one of my closest friends in the world, one of my closest friends in the NBA,” he said. “… He’s the man, like this guy is just incredibly lovable.”
If you haven’t listened to Redick’s show, I cannot recommend it enough. He has so many experiences, plus great stories and even better guests.
He also called McConnell “a top five biggest shit-talker that he’s been around.”
Among the items discussed was their time in Philly and around Ben Simmons, McConnell’s career season and the Pacers’ coaching situation. Before getting into all of that, Redick gushed about his friend and shared insight that teams looking sign McConnell, a free agent in August, will want to read.
“His value on the court is super high, his value in the locker room is even higher,” Redick started. “One of the best teammates I've ever had and the reason is — he is so happy for other people's success. And there's a lot of guys in the NBA like that, but not to the level he is, and there’s a lot of guys in the NBA that aren't happy with their teammate's success. That's just a reality. We're in a very competitive environment. T.J. is somehow able to be an absolute killer, highly competitive, while simultaneously being thrilled for every one of his teammate's success. I love the guy.”
McConnell, who received four votes for the All-Defensive Team, was surprised he didn’t get more after his production. “That would have been a nice thing to accomplish throughout my career, especially coming off the bench and stuff,” he said.
The most interesting part came halfway into their conversation when Redick asked what lesson McConnell — who is the son of a coach and likely will be a coach when his playing career is over — learned about how to be a head coach.
No Pacer has publicly backed Nate Bjorkgren, who was fired on June 9th after just eight months on the job. There hasn’t been one tweet or Instagram post, and it’s also fair to believe they didn’t get to know him well considering the circumstances of the season.
With that said, McConnell didn’t think Bjorkgren was bad as reported and referenced the troublesome schedule and plethora as injuries as to why they didn’t succeed. The Pacers didn’t reach the postseason for the first time since 2015.
“From sitting back and watching, and if I’m ever a head coach in the NBA, I am going to tell myself that it is literally impossible for everyone to like you,” McConnell said. “You are not going to be liked by everyone in your locker room and you just have to accept that. You have to be who you are and hold everyone accountable and just realize not everyone is going to like you and you can’t please everybody.”
Redick, who has played for six different NBA franchises, agreed and highlighted two key attributes required: basketball acumen and interpersonal skills. The latter is where Bjorkgren failed and by the time he realized it, it was too late.
Redick asked him about having the best season of his career during a challenging and unique season, especially when factoring in becoming a dad and dealing with turmoil inside the locker room.
“It was simple for me,” said McConnell. “You’ve been around me in Philly. It was just to come in and do my job, affect the locker room in a positive way. I think you can speak for me in that light. I do a pretty good job of that. I did that in Philly and just being a good teammate and bringing good energy on and off the court.
“To me, just controlling what I can control, come in and do my job, get my work in and be a good teammate, be a good person, keep my head down and work my butt off. And that’s what I did on a daily basis.
This year, to me, it wasn’t difficult. Yeah, the schedule was tough and all the testing. That stuff was difficult, but our coach, Nate Bjorkgren, he instilled like this confidence in me and believed in me and gave me so much confidence to go out there and play at a high level. I owe him. On the court stuff wasn’t difficult for me.”
Redick followed up about Bjorkgren and mentioned how he’s been in locker rooms where some liked the coach and others didn’t.
The Pacers have 12 players under contract for the 2021-21 season, including their top six players. But McConnell and Doug McDermott, both of whom excelled and due raises, are free agents.
You can listen to the podcast, or watch it below. The discussion on coaching starts around the 20-minute mark.