Jared Dudley On How He Builds The Lakers' Chemistry Behind The Scenes
Jared Dudley pulled LeBron James aside during a game this season.
It was halftime and Dudley, a reserve who averages single-digit minutes, took it upon himself to give the team's superstar some advice.
"Look to score now, stop passing the ball," Dudley recalled telling James during a video conference call on Friday. "...Who is it for me to give him advice? But it’s what I see on the floor."
Dudley, a 13-year veteran, commands the respect of every player on the Lakers. And he made it his responsibility to regularly check in with each of his teammates over the last four months to keep the team's chemistry strong.
"One of the reasons we’ve had success in our season to this point is because not only do we have two megastars in LeBron and Anthony (Davis), but we’ve had several guys who have starred in their roles, whether you’re talking about perimeter defensive type of guys or our centers contributing by committee," Lakers coach Frank Vogel said in a video conference call Friday. "And I would put Jared Dudley in that boat of being a star in his role. He has really impacted our team’s togetherness and chemistry and, quite frankly, brought a great deal of leadership to make sure that we’re all going about our business the right way and having the right attitude and doing things together."
Ever since the NBA was suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic on March 11, Dudley has been one of the most active participants in the team's group text message chat alongside James.
He checked in on guys' workouts, poked fun at their pandemic beards and even cheered Kyle Kuzma on as he did a fashion show.
"I would say Dudley and 'Bron have been the two most vocal," Alex Caruso said. "That’s pretty normal for them as far as being outgoing, outspoken, making sure we’re all on the same page. Those are two guys that have been in the league many, many years so they kind of understand what it takes to have a chemistry of a tight-knit group."
Dudley, 34, played for Charlotte, Phoenix, the Clippers, Milwaukee, Washington and Brooklyn before signing a one-year, $2.6 million deal with the Lakers in 2019. He averages 1.5 points, 1.1 rebounds and 0.5 assists in 7.8 minutes a game -- but his contribution to the team extends far beyond his stat-line.
Dudley has a way of getting through to every player.
"LeBron’s obviously a leader, AD leads in his own way," Dudley said. "But I would just say I’m a little more vocal on talking to 1 through 15. That’s my job. I’ve been in this league for a long time and I’ve mentored a lot of young players in (Devin) Booker and John Wall and Giannis (Antetokounmpo) ... I’m one of the rare vets that can speak to 1 through 15, because I’ve been around guys like Shaq (O'Neal) and I’ve been around guys who DNP [did not play], so I’ve been through it all."
Dudley says he's especially focused on helping Kyle Kuzma this season.
They first met when Kuzma was playing for the University of Utah from 2014-2017, and they'd workout together over the summer at the same gym.
Dudley was impressed by Kuzma and immediately took an interest in him.
"I actually called my agent to recruit Kuzma," Dudley said. "I was like, ‘Yo, who is this kid killing these pros?’ And so he actually signed with my agency Mark Bartelstein at Priority [Sports and Entertainment]."
Throughout the season, Dudley has often advised Kuzma on how he could best contribute to the team, make a name for himself and eventually get a max contract. He tells him not to waste possessions. And not to look at stats.
"He’s the one I thought I could help the most," Dudley said. "He’s the one I thought had the most potential to take us over the top. And so for me, it’s trying to balance for me, 'Hey, how do you develop your game while still (helping) a championship team?' Very tough."
Dudley has also been advising Markieff Morris, whom the Lakers signed in February after waiving DeMarcus Cousins.
They played together for three seasons in Phoenix from 2011-2014, and Dudley knows he could help the Lakers when the season resumes near Orlando on July 30, especially if Dwight Howard opts out of because of personal reasons.
"Keef is an interesting nugget just because of the uncertainty of Dwight [Howard] right now -- not really knowing [if he's going to play] and hopefully he does show up -- but someone who can play some stretch five, someone who’s physical."
Dudley acknowledged that a lot of people don't want to play the stretch-five position, and he's often talked to Morris about the benefits of that role.
"People look at that and people don’t understand there’s huge advantages at the 5," Dudley said. "I made my money becoming a stretch-4... Someone can’t guard 'Keef on the outside, he can shoot the 3-ball, so that’s my whole thing is trying to bring perspective to both sides."
Dudley has also reached out to Rajon Rondo over the break, checking in with the backup guard who the team hopes will be huge for them during the postseason.
"I was one of the few guys who kept in contact with Rondo," Dudley said. "Rondo, he goes to Louisville, he’s out of sight, out of mind. So, for me, it was just contacting him and [saying] we’re going to need playoff Rondo."
Dudley thinks Davis is especially key to the Lakers' chances of winning their first championship since 2010. He wants Davis to be more assertive on the offensive end.
"It’s the first time in his career since maybe Kentucky where on any given night he doesn’t have to be the main scorer," Dudley said. "...I think he’s so efficient, so unselfish that sometimes he tends to be too passive. We need him to be more aggressive. We need him to be on that block and even though he can make the same amount of shots from the outside, well, you gain one or two of those fouls (and it) gets us into the bonus, a la Shaq back in the day with how good they were. We need to get into the bonus."
Dudley said James and Davis were playing a game of cat and mouse for much of the season on the offensive end, but toward the later part of the season they started naturally letting whomever had it going on a particular night take over. He said Davis needs to remember not to defer to James.
"AD is going to be the most critical part of us on this quest for a championship in the bubble," Dudley added.
Dudley acknowledged that there's a bit of trepidation around the league about heading into the bubble with COVID-19 numbers on the rise, but he thinks the league is doing everything possible to make it safe.
"I would be lying to you if I told you everybody was completely comfortable and had no ill feelings toward how it’s gonna be," Dudley said. "I think we all know it’s a risk. We’re all watching all the news and we keep seeing the corona cases in L.A. and California, Arizona, Miami, Florida. So we see what’s going on."
Dudley added that no one thinks they're putting their lives in danger.
"At the end of the day, I don’t think anyone fears death," he said. "I think they fear they could potentially get it. And I think they think that it sucks that they could be quarantined for seven days in a little house they don’t know nothing about."
He said he feels safe with all of the league's protocols -- but acknowledged it's going to be a tough road emotionally.
"I’m comfortable going there," he said. "I think it’s a little bit sad that you’re going to potentially miss your family for six-to-eight (weeks) to three months depending on situations, so I think that’s been the difficult part more than anything. But I’m also excited to get (closer) to winning a championship. This is where it’s gonna be in history."