ORLANDO, Fla. — There were opportunities for Jared Dudley to play more, to participate in a bigger on-court role for a team that likely had no chance of winning an NBA championship. Or there was a chance to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers.
The former Boston College standout accepted the latter offer and is on the verge of winning his first title. Dudley, 35, has played in the NBA for 13 years, but only once — with the 2009-10 Phoenix Suns — did he have a legitimate chance of reaching the Finals. That team lost in six games to the Kobe Bryant Lakers in the Western Conference finals.
Dudley has had playoff stints since, including with the Brooklyn Nets last season, but never quite this opportunity. And such a chance required sacrifice.
Dudley wasn’t going to play much. He was going to have to serve as veteran presence, cheerleader, and mentor in the locker room. Dudley knows the game, has his stripes, and has gained respect from his teammates for his advice and basketball acumen.
This season is the next step to Dudley’s goal of being an NBA head coach or general manager. He’s enjoying the run, being teammates with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, being part of a team that has one collective championship goal, blending with players from his era Dwight Howard, JaVale McGee, and Rajon Rondo.
“For me, it’s what I wanted. I envisioned it the last couple of years,” he said. “I wanted to get a taste for my future job of being a coach or GM, of how a championship team goes about it. Through dealing with egos, superstars, ups and downs, how coaches in-game adjust, how Bron and AD think, their mentality.”
The Lakers are stacked with talent and veterans at every position. The club added J.R. Smith and Dion Waiters for depth, and they have barely played here in the bubble. Dudley has played a total of 29 minutes in eight games, but his road to a potential championship is nothing new. A slew of veteran players on the back nine have accepted a chance to play with a title contender to cap their career with a ring.
For Dudley, it’s a means to an end. It’s year 13 of what he hopes is 15, before he swaps the uniform for a suit and tie.
“It’s an easy adjustment, because you have to know a sense of your worth and your role, and you have to evolve through time,” he said. “So being a starter, coming off the bench, and then my role the last four or five years, even when I was in Milwaukee, is mentoring young guys. One of the things I sold this team on is let LeBron and AD worry about basketball. I’ll worry about the locker room. I’ll worry about [Kyle] Kuzma. I’ll bring them along and when we’re going through drama or problems, I’m the guy to be able to talk to Rondo, Dwight Howard, etc.”
Dudley registered career lows in every category this season because he played just eight minutes per game, but that’s hardly been his focus. As perhaps the Celtics learned in their playoff disposal, elite teams need veteran leaders, even if they are little-used reserves. The Miami Heat have kept former starter Udonis Haslem on their roster for years because of his veteran presence and leadership.
There are still places in the league for the Jared Dudleys, even when injury has robbed their athleticism. General managers have become enamored with young talent, but many have disregarded the importance of mentors and aging veterans who can have a positive influence on young players. Dudley has embraced that role, officially an old head, an ’80s baby in a league filled with millennials.
“The Lakers, they had so many free agents, and you knew AD was coming, you wanted to have that exposure, and you see [Phoenix’s] James Jones and other guys who are general managers and potential head coaches. When you have those guys sign off on you, they just don’t sign off on everybody,” Dudley said. “I have a reputation of helping young guys, and LeBron and Anthony Davis will be the first to tell you I speak up in film sessions, I’m on their [tails] in timeouts. I believe in holding somebody accountable, and if you can break bread and hang with them off the floor, they know when you get on them during the game, it’s all love.”
On a side note, Dudley saw the cardboard cutout of his BC self in the bleachers of Alumni Stadium for Eagles football games. He thinks it’s neat.
“I don’t think people understand the whole BC thing. Even LeBron, he remembers when I had braids, so to be able to have my imprint is great,” he said. "People go to Kentucky and there’s so many guys. There’s not a lot of guys that have went to BC that have made it. For me to be able to have that, financially I’ve given back, I’ve helped with recruiting, I’ve gone back for All-Star breaks to watch games, when they beat Duke [in 2009]. I try to embody everything that BC embodies.
“You never know, maybe one day I could coach at BC. I’m close to the athletic director; I’m close to the team so, for me, I always want to have ties. My daughter was telling my wife the other day that she wants to get good grades so she can go to Boston College. I don’t know if she ever will, but it’s what I try to implement on her.”