When the Lakers decided not to retain Jared Dudley, it was not 100% clear where the decision came from. It clearly wasn’t LeBron James, who — despite teammates calling him the GM of the team — made it plain that the choice to let go of Dudley was not his call when he tweeted “congrats to my guy if this true, which it probably is! But man!! FUCK... Excuse my language but still one hurt!! For many reasons that you wouldn’t understand” in the aftermath of reports that Dudley was heading to the Dallas Mavericks as an assistant coach.
It also obviously wasn’t Anthony Davis’ choice either, as he, along with James, reportedly wanted Dudley back, and Dudley reportedly even would have played on a non-guaranteed deal. Dudley himself said on the record that it was “crazy” that he wasn’t back with the team, and The Los Angeles Times reported that the Lakers never offered him a coaching staff position.
So who was the driving force behind Dudley’s exit? It was apparently Lakers governor Jeanie Buss, who The Athletic reports only wanted players who would actually play on the roster this season (emphasis mine):
In the midst of this flurry of changes, the Lakers also declined to retain another constant: Dudley, who had been a presence in the Lakers recruiting efforts.
He was not offered a contract to be a part of the team and the move had everything to do with the pressure applied to the front office by Buss. Each and every roster spot needed to be filled by players who could help on the floor, especially during another season impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Every personnel choice, it seemed, would be made with the shared goal of surrounding James, Davis and Westbrook with talent that could truly help with the latest title contention. And not only was Dudley 36, but also he had been unable to help when it mattered most last season after tearing his medial collateral ligament in mid-March.
At the end of the season, sources said, the Lakers did have conversations with Dudley about other potential roles in the organization, including broadcasting, but ultimately he opted for a front-of-the-bench coaching position with Jason Kidd and the Dallas Mavericks.
This is yet the latest sign that money has been a concern for the team in building out this year’s roster. Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka admitted last week that the luxury tax is a factor in the team leaving a 15th roster spot open for the buyout market — the tax bill will be cheaper if the Lakers only sign that player for half a season instead of a full one — and it’s also been clear for a while that the team in part chose to let Alex Caruso go for tax reasons.
In the case of Dudley, the reasoning actually kind of makes sense. Not only is it — as the report says — sound to fill this older roster during a pandemic season with guys who can actually be relied on to play if called upon, but if the team can get the same sort of locker room leadership from Rajon Rondo (as they expect to) then giving him the mentorship roster spot probably makes more sense than filling it with Dudley, who it would appear did not have similar roster spot offers from other teams either, given that he immediately retired and went into the less lucrative job of coaching when the Lakers declined to retain him.
“But the Lakers still had a 14th roster spot after signing Rondo and DeAndre Jordan,” I can hear some bringing up, and while that is true, it’s also hard to argue that giving it to a rookie like Austin Reaves with some theoretical upside doesn’t make more sense with so many veterans already on the roster. There is also the reality that Reaves, a player with zero years of NBA experience, costs approximately $1.5 million less to sign than a 14-year vet like Dudley (per Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ), and that’s before factoring in the Lakers’ already-oppressive tax bill, which goes higher for every dollar they spend over the cap.
In short, there are areas to criticize the team for not spending. This does not appear to be one of them, especially when factoring in Buss other reported reasoning of wanting NBA players she’s paying to be on her roster to be able to, you know, actually play.
This is also not as simple as criticizing the Lakers for not offering him a coaching spot, either. For one thing, the Athletic reports that the team did talk to Dudley about other roles with the organization, but the reality is that they did not have a front-of-the-bench spot to offer him like the Mavs did. Each team can only have three coaches there, and the Lakers already have Phil Handy, David Fizdale and Mike Penberthy filling those spots next to Frank Vogel. Dudley got a better opportunity elsewhere, and it’s hard to begrudge him for taking it.
So while money so clearly being a concern for the second-most valuable franchise in the NBA is something to continue to monitor, it’s not really that big of a deal in this specific situation, especially when considering the circumstances of how much revenue was lost around the NBA (and world) due to the pandemic, how much the Lakers are already spending, and that this ownership group does not have significant revenue sources outside of their family-owned team. It’s notable that Buss is wielding her power over basketball operations more openly than ever, but beyond that, this is mostly just clarity on why Dudley is gone. Best of luck to him in Dallas, but at least this offseason saga is over now. Because at this point, only hindsight will tell us if this was the right decision or not.