Welcome to our annual Lakers season in review series, where we’ll be taking a look back at every player on the team’s roster this season, evaluating their play, and deciding if they should be a part of the organization’s future. Today, we take a closer look at Jared Dudley.
How did he play?
Not a lot. Dudley only played 81 total regular-season minutes for the defending champs, in part because of an MCL that tore “off the bone” in March. But Dudley chose not to opt for surgery that would have kept him out 4-6 months (and away from his teammates due to the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols). Instead, he lost 20 pounds and fought back, missing the next 33 games, but dunking so frequently in practice after his rehab that his teammates couldn’t stop laughing at the formerly ground-bound, then-35-year-old’s newfound burst.
Dudley didn’t get much of a chance to make an impact in the playoffs, playing less than five minutes total in two games of garbage-time mop-up duty, but considering that he was mostly expected to be an honorary player coach and locker room leadership presence, his playing time and the impact he did or didn’t make in it wasn’t really the important thing to evaluate Dudley on, anyway.
At his exit interview, while talking about how the competition for minutes pushed every Laker to be better, Dudley outlined the criteria he should really be judged by.
“There were no problems these last few years since I’ve been in the locker room. No beef, not any problems, just good chemistry. When we won the chip it was phenomenal chemistry,” Dudley said. “That’s part of my job to make sure that happens. And if it doesn’t happen, then it means I did a poor job.”
Dudley was right... At least until the offseason came around, and the aftermath of a first-round loss no one was happy about has seen both Andre Drummond and Montrezl Harrell criticize the Lakers’ coaching staff over their roles (or lack thereof). But that’s also hardly Dudley’s fault. If anything, it just further illustrates the value of having cooler heads in the locker room, because we didn’t hear about any of these frustrations while the team was still together.
What is his contract situation moving forward?
After publicly threatening to show up on general manager Rob Pelinka’s lawn and beg for a contract last summer, Dudz was spared from having to do so when the Lakers quickly re-signed him to a one-year, $2.6 million veteran’s minimum deal in free agency.
As a result, he will once again be an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
Should he be back?
According to Dudley, “1,000%” yes.
“Come on, man,” Dudley said at his exit interview. “They need me, man. They need me like I need them. Come on.”
The real answer is slightly more complicated. The Lakers only have 15 guaranteed roster spots, and while they only have LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, Marc Gasol and the non-guaranteed contract of Alfonzo McKinnie locked into those spots right now, that still leaves just 9-10 slots for them to re-sign their own free agents that they prioritize and/or add new pieces they think can make them better. Can they afford to use one of those spots on a guy that mostly won’t play?
I’d argue yes. I know that it’s become en vogue to just want Dudley to become an assistant coach, but the reality is that players like him just have a different level of influence in the locker room than any assistant could. As Dudley noted at his exit interview, the Lakers didn’t have any public fractures in the locker room... at least until the players weren’t around each other anymore, and everyone was looking to pass blame for this season’s failure. Using one roster spot on a guy to help the team maintain their previous level of cohesion and balance isn’t a bad idea, because no team is going to play all 15 guys anyway (or if they do, it’s a bad sign for how their season went).
Dudley is never going to ask for more playing time. He’s never going to grouse about his role. He’ll just be a good teammate, be enjoyable to be around, and help the team stay focused on what matters. And due to his IQ, familiarity with the team and fact that his game was never predicated on athleticism, he can also be relied upon to capably play spot minutes in a random February game when someone sits, and can help other players learn what the team wants from them on both ends of the floor.
Plus, he only wants to play one more year anyway, and he’s in LeBron’s inner circle. There is no real reason to not to keep Dudz around... As long as he’s the only Dudz on the team.
Essentially, the Lakers can’t afford to give too many more roster spots to guys who can’t — and don’t want to — play a ton. One Udonis Haslem Memorial™ locker room guy is fine, but the team can’t have multiple old dudes at the end of the bench who can’t really play with any consistency. If they keep Dudley, his job will be to lock that role down, help keep the young guys ready to play, and make sure everyone stays on the same page.
If he can handle that role and it’s his primary value, the front office needs to make sure that they try to add some other vets who are fine not playing when necessary and won’t whine about roles, but can also be relied upon for more frequent spot minutes than Dudley can at this point in his career. It’s a difficult balance to strike, but if Dudley is as good a locker room chemist as he claims, it also shouldn’t be a problem.