Hey, remember Jared Dudley? Sure you do: He’s the try-hard guy with the headband who for a period of a couple years carved out productive rotation jobs on a series of middling NBA teams, despite having the body type and athletic gifts of your average blogger. You know, the potato-shaped guy who did all the gesticulating, who by some curse became a 34-year-old man at least ten years before his 34th birthday? The self-horn-tooting slob-looking fellow who famously controls the defense with his communication and tells his point guards what plays to run by seeing the flow of the game and who needs shots, who is always atop the plus-minus of his team due to the little things: screen to get guys open boxing out?
Yeah, that guy! That guy retired this week, ending a playing career that in any meaningful sense actually ended back in 2019, the last time he was able to play anything even approaching rotation minutes. He collected two extra seasons of paychecks from the Lakers, rode some big-time coattails to a bubble championship in 2020, and despite trying very hard was unable to squeeze another playing contract out of general manager Rob Pelinka. With no other NBA team evidently all that interested in giving a valuable roster spot to an old guy with the lateral and vertical mobility of an antique credenza and even less muscle definition, Dudley formally ended his playing career and shifted immediately to a coaching job on the staff of new Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd.
This is all pretty much standard end-of-career business for veteran role players. It’s fine! There is nothing at all controversial about a washed-up 36-year-old failing to secure a roster spot after playing 81 total minutes of basketball across a difficult 72-game season for a team that at various points was desperate for healthy bodies, and having to call it a career, and shifting into coaching. Dudley is an affable guy and by all accounts a good teammate, and I’m sure his coworkers in Los Angeles will miss having him around. All fine!
That is, unless you are Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke, who has discovered that in fact Jared Dudley is an absolutely irreplaceable component of a championship basketball team, and that his loss will be devastating and perhaps unrecoverable for these Lakers.
On a veteran team of disparate personalities, he was the glue. Amid a laborious season filled with lulls, he was their muse.
He kept their two superstars aligned, he kept their role players from feeling neglected, and he eventually even helped them win a championship.
Helped them win a championship? Jared Dudley played 31 total minutes in the 2020 playoffs, all of them in garbage time. He’s a nice man but let’s not get carried away.
So, to a Lakers team he guided for two seasons from the shadows, what do you think a guy like Jared Dudley is worth?
Guided “from the shadows?” What? They had LeBron James!
And so a summer filled with headline acquisitions ends with a huge loss.
Dudley played a total of 81 minutes last season, but his impact was timeless. He scored a total of 74 points in two seasons, but his intangibles were countless.
That career should be continuing here. He should still be a Laker. Maybe James could have thrown around his weight a little more? Maybe Pelinka could have listened a little closer?
Explained Dudley, “When people say I’m a locker room presence, my job was way more than a locker room presence. You’re a guidance counselor, a relationship expert. … I’m the middleman that brings it all together.”
He hasn’t just done that for the last two years. He’s been like that for his entire 14-year career, which included stops in Milwaukee and Phoenix where he mentored both stars of this summer’s NBA Finals, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Devin Booker.
Come on. Seriously.
“I’ll never forget being on the court when we won it all,” he said.
And what did he do? What do you think he did?
This being Jared Dudley, he ran straight into the arms of other Lakers, losing himself in the championship fabric he created.
Part of what has always made Dudley fascinating as a character is that he has never been shy about publicly hyping up his value to anyone who’ll listen. This would not be particularly notable among NBA players except that Dudley’s vertical leap has been approximately one Planck length since like 2007, and so he’s had to confine his boasting to intangibles and analytics—”Even if a fan doesn’t know, those players, coaches, equipment guys, they know, they understand the value in what I do”—not generally the kind of thing you hear ringing out across the blacktops of America. But highlighting analytics will gain you a lot of affection from a certain class of cosmic-brained basketblogger, and highlighting intangibles will for sure get you in the good graces of crusty old fossils like Plaschke. Dudley therefore has always enjoyed disproportionate popularity with sports writers.
The Lakers were up 29 points at the start of the fourth quarter of their clinching Game 6 win of the 2020 Finals, and Dudley was inserted for the final three minutes. My infant child could’ve gotten onto the court for the final buzzer. Quinn damn Cook was on the floor. This was not the honor Dudley and Plaschke want to make it out to be! I am willing to grant that, for a certain class of fringe NBA player, self-promotion is an important skill, but I would like for our various sports columnists to keep things in something even remotely resembling proper perspective!
The Lakers need shooting, they need perimeter stoppers, they need 48 good minutes of interior defense, they need ball-handlers who can run a pick-and-roll without hijacking 30 percent of the team’s possessions. As the oldest team in the NBA by average age, they need some young guys who can sprint and leap and cover for a bunch of veterans who will otherwise carry the team following another shortened offseason. They do not need Jared Dudley! Settle down!