Jared Dudley departed the Lakers this week to join Jason Kidd’s Dallas Mavericks coaching staff, and somewhat lost in the heated online debates over just how much value he had for the Lakers has been the team’s reasoning for wanting to go away from him: A completely defensible desire to get slightly younger on the fringes.
This is not conjecture, rumors, or heresy, either. Dudley himself told Bill Plaschke of the L.A. Times that part of the reason the Lakers opted to move on from his services was due to them wanting to decrease their average age a bit (emphasis mine):
“No one owed me anything, Rob and Kurt were honest and upfront, nothing but respect and gratitude to them and Jeanie [Buss], I will be forever thankful for the opportunity they gave me,” Dudley said. “But I did want to come back. I did think I could help the team, especially having so many new players, but I understand they wanted to get younger.”
The Lakers reportedly want to leave one of their final three roster spots open for the buyout market, but also want to add a wing and point guard with their two other openings. The free agent small forward they were most recently connected to, Svi Mykhailiuk, is just 24 years old, a full 12 years younger than Dudley, who just turned 36. And them wanting someone like Mykhailiuk — or a few other younger guys — to help carry the load when their veterans sit is completely understandable.
That desire to get a few more young players on a roster chock full of veterans who actually still play basketball is probably a big part of why Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka and senior basketball advisor Kurt Rambis reportedly ignored LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis’ desire to keep Dudley — or at the very least were fine providing cover for that choice — and didn’t even offer him a non-guaranteed deal. They also did not offer him a coaching job, although even if they had, they didn’t have a front-of-the-bench position available like the Mavericks offered, so this is all probably a moot point.
Dudley told Plaschke that he disagreed with the Lakers’ approach, and reiterated that his understanding is that it came out of a goal from the front office to get younger:
“I talked to Rob and Kurt, I thanked them, but I told them, you’re valuing youth more than a locker room presence guy,” Dudley said. “I said, ‘I respect you for doing that, but I think you’re wrong,’”
Dudley is totally entitled to that opinion, but passive-aggressive LeBron tweets aside, it’s not hard to understand where the Lakers are coming from. This team is filled with veterans who understand their role and will have big voices in the locker room, and they may have (understandably) felt like maybe they don’t need a guy like Dudley as much to keep things in line. This is a motivated group who understands the end goal, and has talked openly about their willingness to sacrifice to win.
Could Dudley have helped maintain and balance that chemistry throughout the year? Almost certainly, but losing him is also by no means a death blow to it, and it’s fairly easy to see why the front office may have felt his services weren’t as necessary for a group filled with so many veterans already. These Lakers should have enough motivation and maturity to keep this team together, with or without Dudley’s unique affability and skill at building connections.
And also, it has to be mentioned — as Anthony Irwin did in our latest Lakers Lowdown — that it’s fair to question if Dudley’s presence is some magical elixir to avoid any turbulence. After all, the Lakers’ chemistry was a disaster last season. That’s not Dudley’s fault, but it also would seem to imply that his presence isn’t some one-step cure-all for locker room issues, his and Plaschke’s own self-serving marketing of his resume aside. If the Lakers sink or swim this season, it’s going to be on the strength of their stars, both with their skills on the court, and with their leadership off of it.
Maybe Dudz could have helped with some of the latter duties, but if 2021 Jared Dudley is seen as the sole difference between a title and failure, this group wasn’t actually built to win anyway.