Jared Dudley has never groused about playing a bit role for the Los Angeles Lakers this season. He’ll go handfuls of games without seeing the floor for even a second of playing time, but steps up every time he’s called upon. Every time he speaks with reporters after the games he does play in, he’ll make a self-effacing joke about being old or tired, deflect any praise of his performance by publicly hoping whichever teammate he’s replacing comes back soon, and walks off into the night.
He never complains about such an unpredictable existence. Quite the opposite. He’s praised head coach Frank Vogel for always letting players (himself included) know when they won’t be playing so they can get extra hard workouts in to stay conditioned for when they are needed.
But Dudley can still play. Maybe not a major role on a good team, but he’s better than most of the guys in similarly sized roles to the one he’s playing now. So why take a veteran’s minimum deal from the Lakers? His candid walk-off interview after his heroics to help the Lakers beat the team he played for last year, the Brooklyn Nets, on Thursday night may provide some answers.
Drenched in sweat, Dudley admitted to Mike Trudell of Spectrum SportsNet that he may have had a little bit of extra motivation to pour it all out on the floor against the Nets:
“Every player has a lot of emotion when you play your former team, and this is a team that didn’t offer me right away in free agency. The Lakers got ahead. The Lakers did it, and so for me, I’m just trying to repay this team as much as I can, to be ready... This is my role. This is what I’m supposed to do.”
Dudley’s production from the Brooklyn game — 8 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals and 1 block — may not pop off the stat sheet, but he hit the most critical shot of the night, a buzzer-beating three that completely swung momentum back towards the Lakers while his whole team mobbed him in celebration.
Those guys celebrating? Those are the guys whose validation Dudley does this for. The chance to play for a contender boasting two of the best players in the world isn’t lost on the 13-year veteran. He seems to yearn for the approval of this team, to feel like he’s a part of something special:
“For me, playing with (James and Davis) is a dream come true. I wanted it, I never had it in my career, so it’s easy for me to be able to sacrifice and do that, but yet, I still want to contribute. I don’t want to just contribute on the bench and talking.”
This season, Dudley has gotten the chance to help in both ways. As a perpetually talkative member of the bench, and as an occasional spark of energy and joy off of it.
He also often serves as a somewhat unofficial team spokesman. The player equally willing to give a scathing assessment of the Lakers publicly — “Our defense has been kind of terrible the last three games” — as he is to offer an almost-too-honest roast of an opponent (“I know the Knicks are the Knicks so you can’t really tell, but Boston and then what [Brooklyn] did in the first half,” Dudley tells Trudell, making it clear that “what those teams did” offensively is unacceptable).
He also keeps the bigger picture in mind. On a team often defined by it’s commitment to each game being it’s own mountain to climb, Dudley’s the one guy for whom that veneer seems to crack. The solitary player willing to look ahead a few days, and to admit that yes, some of these games do mean more than others, as he did while talking about the win over the Nets:
“For us, this is just a stepping stone. These are games we’re supposed to win. We’re waiting for Philly. (That’s) a big game. Clippers, those are the ones where we’re going to see where we’re at heading into the All-Star break, and hopefully make a little run.”
Dudley may have helped kick off said run by coming through when the Lakers needed him once again, this time over the team that (apparently) made him feel like they didn’t want him. But he didn’t do it just for him. This wasn’t just revenge. It was for his teammates. It was for his coaches. But most of all...
“L.A., that’s for you,” Dudley said directly to the camera, just before turning and walking off down the tunnel to be with the roster he’s so treasuring the chance to be a part of.
All quotes transcribed via Spectrum SportsNet. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.