Jared Dudley thought he would be wearing a Lakers jersey right now. When the Lakers made their way to Dallas in December, Dudley was on the court, but in a completely different role than he imagined–a coach for the Dallas Mavericks.
When Dudley took off his Lakers jersey in early June 2021 after a series-ending loss to the Suns in the first round, he fully expected to put it back on a few months later. But free agency passed and he was preparing for the season when a zoom call with the Lakers took him by surprise.
“I had a Zoom meeting with them,” Dudley said. “They were looking to go younger. That was their whole message. I talked with Bron, AD, and Russ and they all wanted me back. But the organization wanted to go a different way and all you can do is respect it.”
If Dudley knew of the Lakers’ desire to go younger earlier in the summer when free agency was just getting underway, he might still be wearing a jersey right now. “If I would have known beforehand, I might have gone to the Clippers with T-Lue or with Chauncey in Portland. There were so many people I had resources to.”
Dudley obviously didn’t get that chance and had to change course. The next step: to become an NBA general manager. His plan was to live in Los Angeles and commute back-and-forth to New York for Adam Silver’s GM program.
All of this unfolded as Dudley was in Las Vegas training for the season, something he has done throughout his career. Training alongside Kyle Lowry, Josh Green, and other NBA players, Dudley received a call from a friend – former Lakers assistant and current Mavericks assistant, Greg St. Jean.
“We might have an opportunity for you,” St. Jean said over the phone.
Over the next few days, everything fell into place. Once Jason Kidd and Nico Harrison came calling, registering Dudley’s interest in joining Kidd’s coaching staff in a front-of-the-bench role, it was an opportunity Dudley couldn’t pass up. So, what was the pitch from Kidd to Dudley on why he should hang up the jersey to join his coaching staff?
Kidd talked about the combination of Harrison, Luka Doncic, and an owner that wants to win. How they were building something in Dallas and wanted a player’s perspective with the influence of Dudley. “I think they were thinking about Rasheed Wallace as a candidate. They had different candidates. I think they both knew that I dealt with other players like LeBron, Giannis, Booker, Bradley Beal. To help Luka and KP. Not only that, but we are also looking for free agents. I know 70 percent of the league.”
“Duds just finished playing and probably could still play,” Kidd said after practice one day. In fact, if you stick around long enough, you can catch Dudley getting in a sweat with the guys post-practice as he helps instill a defensive system that comes from Frank Vogel.
Dudley knew the scrimmaging in practice would be the easy part, but he didn’t expect the coaching part to be as easy. He got the computer work and cutting clips down in just a few weeks. The public speaking comes naturally and the scouting is a newfound love. Watching a team play five times as he scouts and develops gameplans is one of his favorite parts of the job. Because he knows that if he doesn’t do his job, players will sniff that out quick. “Me being a coach, they respect your professionalism depending how prepared you are,” Dudley said. “You can’t bull**** a player.”
Dudley does his job, and he does it well. Most of all, he enjoys it, but he also misses the comradery in the locker room. The plane rides and the bus rides to the arena. For someone who loves the relational side of the game, relationships just look different now as a coach. But it’s his relationships around the league that make him the coach that he is.
“Being able to relate to the guys, winning a championship, and playing with the best players in the world. Just his street cred and being able to talk to our players and tell them what is coming, giving them the answers and what it means to work, I think it’s a big thing to have a coach like that,” Kidd continued.
And Kidd is 100 percent correct. When talking with players on the team, having someone like Dudley who can relate to them at their level has been a key part of the season. Reggie Bullock told me about getting drafted to the Clippers and spending time behind Dudley in the rotation. The professionalism and work he saw Dudley put in every day has led to the trust Bullock has in Dudley coaching him defensively.
Maxi Kleber spends time with Dudley before every game going over video and said that Dudley helps him “read situations better and make adjustments for the next game.” For Dorian Finney-Smith, it’s about the details Dudley can recognize having just played the game. But it all comes down to the connection that Dudley has with the players.
“What he sees out there on the floor is just like us as players,” Tim Hardaway Jr. said. “We can relate to him. He does a great job talking to us on the bench. Just his role and presence plays a huge role in our success.”
Jalen Brunson added, “I’ve talked to JD a little bit about the transition from a player to a coach. Coaching might be something in my future. I think the transition he is going through will help me. Just watching him from that aspect, how he is connected with the guys. He is someone we can all look towards because he has been through the fire.”
Dudley went through that fire for 14 years, but he always knew coaching would be the endgame. His goal was to play one more year and then get into coaching. It just came a little faster than he thought. And when the opportunity arose for him to join the Mavs in a front-of-the-bench role alongside Jason Kidd, he couldn’t pass it up.
Most assistants scout 10-15 games in a season. Dudley is scouting 29 games this season and, in his mind, it’s basically two seasons of scouting under his belt and two steps closer to being a head coach one day. At this moment, he is gathering his own infinity gauntlet with stones coming from coaches of his past. He took the motivation stone from Doc Rivers and the Xs & Os stone from Ty Lue. Last year, he took the defensive stone from Frank Vogel.
“You take a little bit of everything,” Dudley said. “I think what will separate me from a lot of these coaches is the communication. If I can look LeBron in the face and tell him he’s messing up and play better and call him out, then I can call anyone out. There is a certain way you must do it. It is a unique thing not all coaches have. I have hung out with 19-year-old Giannis, 20-year-old Booker…Nash 38, Shaq 37. I have range on how to talk to someone.”
It is the relationships that mean more now than ever. When Spencer Dinwiddie was traded to the Dallas Mavericks, it was Jared Dudley that spent the time with him upon arrival. When opposing players come out of the tunnel for their pregame routine, it’s Dudley that many of them are dapping up and spending time with on the court. And he recognizes that relationships are what leads to player movement. “It’s a player’s league,” Dudley said. “If they don’t like the coach or situation, they aren’t going.”
So, what is Dudley, through his relationships, hearing from around the league on what Dallas is building?
“They love the city,” Dudley said. “Most people believe Luka is top-five. Some people either love Mark Cuban or don’t get him. Half and half on that. I think that there is a lot of potential. Them doing Kidd and Nico was a power move. Nico has been offered many jobs in front offices. I think that is huge. It is not a matter of how, but when. Once we get those meetings, it will be hard to turn this down.”
And make no mistake about it, Jared Dudley is part of “this” now.