Dudley’s fears, however, went far beyond that. He thought his playing days were over.
“I had a Grade 3 tear, MCL, off the bone, and so when I had second, third opinions, there were doctors saying that I had to get surgery, I was going to be out 4-6 months,” Dudley said. “That would have been my career.”
Dudley opted against having surgery in March in large part because he wanted to be around the team and continue to mentor the Lakers’ younger players, but it turns out that the benefits of not having surgery were even greater than he ever could have imagined.
“I wanted to be a part of the team and if I had gotten surgery I would have been away from the team for 6-8 weeks and having to heal,” Dudley said after his return to the lineup on Sunday. “Not being there as a veteran and a leader, and not helping during the time that we were going through our rocky times.
“So for me to get some shots in my knee, do some PRP, let it heal, change my diet, lose 20 pounds to get lighter to get the inflammation out to build my knee up, (the) strength, where now I’m 100%, I have no pain, I don’t even need to wear a brace, but I just do it just because for this year. But for me it’s just about all the hard work I put in, all the different doctors that I trained with to get this right,” Dudley continued. “To be able to come back and play this game, it’s huge for me, and huge for what I stand for as a vet.”
Dudley’s biggest impact will still likely come on the sidelines because of how much depth the Lakers have at the power forward position, but it was important to Dudley that he ended his career on his terms, something he doesn’t believe he would have been able to do if he went under the knife.
“When I first tore my MCL, I definitely thought it could’ve been it, especially when you’re hearing 4-6 months,” Dudley said. “The staff, Rob Pelinka, Kurt Rambis, players see where I’m at in practice and how I’m moving and people basically were shocked at how well I’m responding. I had no inflammation, no pain in my knee.
“Just being able to come back and show that means a lot to me,” Dudley continued. “You always know it could be your last game, so it was special for me to be able to get back. You never want to end your career off an injury... For me to be able to come back and step on that floor, I don’t care how many minutes it was, one minute, 10 minutes, I’m just glad.”