Lakers’ Jared Dudley won’t undergo MCL surgery, will stay with team for stretch run

LOS ANGELES — For almost any player on the Lakers’ roster, an injury as significant as a torn MCL is an enormous setback.

Jared Dudley might be the lone exception.

The 35-year-old has a way of making any discussion topic light, including his own right knee injury, which will keep him out of action for a minimum of three more weeks. His teammates wasted no time roasting him on Thursday when he sat out portions of practice icing his right knee: “‘How are you going to have ice on when you just had seven, eight days off?’”

Dudley doesn’t mind that his teammates laughed that a player who barely gets minutes found a way to get hurt when he set a screen against Corey Joseph in a loss to Sacramento on March 3. He’s graduated from a crutch to a knee brace. The silver lining, he said, is that not being able to play won’t affect his role.

“Let’s just be honest, my value to this team is not playing,” he said Tuesday night prior to the Lakers’ game against Minnesota. “For the most part, my value is the locker room, the bus, the plane, film room, holding guys accountable at practice, habits. Getting on guys – kinda like a coach. But the difference with me not being a coach is I’m in the locker room on the day to day and there are certain things I can say to certain players that maybe a coach couldn’t.”

Continuing his presence in the locker room is a huge reason why Dudley, who has played all of 76 minutes in 11 games this season, has decided to put off surgery. A tear like his – which he thought initially was a bone bruise before an MRI discerned otherwise – has a chance to heal on its own, he said. He’ll be re-evaluated in three to four weeks to check his progress.

Surgery would have a longer timeline: Dudley estimated four to six months of recovery. And More importantly, it would mean rehab at home, away from the Lakers, for the next six-to-eight weeks as the team buckles down to finish the regular season and establish playoff seeding.

Aside from his infrequent check-ins, Dudley’s main on-court role comes during scrimmage situations, especially when rotation players are working on getting back in shape. He won’t be able to do much of that for the foreseeable future, but the role he plays on team chemistry will largely be intact.

Of course, not getting surgery right away also puts him in position to potentially play in the playoffs, too.

“My goal is to rehab, to be able to come back, to be able to suit up and eventually, hopefully, in a playoff series with us going to the Finals and hopefully winning it, being a part of that,” Dudley said. “I’m someone that doesn’t rely on my speed and athleticism. It’s more I.Q. and mind.”

The veteran forward in his 14th NBA season has a goal to reach 15 years in the league, and he outlined as much in his media session by saying he hopes to be back (on another minimum deal) next season. He offered Miami’s Udonis Haslem as an example of his value (Haslem has not played more than 100 minutes since the 2016-17 season) as a bench presence.

Dudley has also not hidden his post-playing ambitions of coaching, working in a front office or – perhaps a more obvious calling – working in media.

“That time will eventually come for me, either front office or on the bench,” he said. “I want to use this Lakers’ experience – it’s huge for me and my life after basketball. Knowing how to play with superstars and dealing with egos and when you go on a three- or four-game losing streak, how to handle the media and to see how it is in the locker room.”

But no one is rushing Dudley out the door, so he’s not about to walk through it. Last season saw him win his first championship ring as a player, and he’s hoping for at least a second. And when it comes down to it, being a player is more fun than being a coach.

“I’m not willing to rush it,” Dudley said. “I play for the Lakers. I hang out with Bron and A.D. We do team dinners. We won a championship. Why would I want to leave? Drink some of the best wine in the world.

“What is a better life I could have than this right now?”


Lakers’ Jared Dudley won’t undergo MCL surgery, will stay with team for stretch run