Dudley deemed worth risk
News of Jared Dudley’s surgery to repair a herniated in his lower back Tuesday was an unanticipated development for those outside the Washington Wizards organization, but that was not the case internally.
Dudley’s campalerted the Wizards’ brass of his back pain, which he played through last season, before Washington completed the trade to acquire him from the Milwaukee Bucks this month for a future top 55-protected draft pick. Consequently, the Wizards are confident theyhave the answers for questions raised by the disclosure of Dudley’s surgery.
Why take the chance on Dudley?
Back surgeries are significant hurdles for athletes and do not always fix the problem. The Wizards need only look at one of their own players: Martell Webster had his third back surgery in four years last summer and did not return to his previous form after he was activated in late December.
Dudley’s case, however, is different for a few reasons. Webster said he rushed back from his first procedure, which he underwent in October 2010 while with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He had a second surgery 14 months later. Webster, 25 at the time, returned to average 6.9 points and shoot— at the time— a career-worst 33.9 percent from beyond the three-point line in 47 games during the lockoutshortened 2011-12 campaign.
Webster then signed a one-year deal with the Wizards and averaged 11.4 points while shooting 42.2 percent from three-point range — both career bests— in 76 games. The Wizards then signed Webster to a four-year contract worth up to $22 million with a partially guaranteed fourth season. He was productive again the next season but was dealing with severe back pain during the playoffs and underwent the third procedure a month later.
Dudley is older than Webster— he turned 30 on July 10— but his agent, Mark Bartelstein, confirmed this is Dudley’s first back surgery. Plus, Dudley is owed just $4.25 million next season before becoming a free agent. There weren’t many, if any, players of Dudley’s caliber who met Washington’s qualifications— a versatile three-point shooter who could be used as a stretch-four with one year left on his contract— available at that price in this summer’s bloated free agent market.
At best, Dudley will return in November and transition seamlessly as an option at small forward and an effective stretch-four. (Dudley told Grantland’s Zach Lowe on Thursday that he doesn’t expect to miss more than “a couple games.”) At worst, Dudley comes back later than expected— say, sometime around New Year’s Day— and has less time to assimilate before the postseason.
For the price of a heavily protected second-round pick and $4.25 million for just one season, it was a risk the Wizards were willing to take.
Why undergo surgery now?
Dudley battled back pain all last season, and the Bucks played their last game April 30. Why wait until Tuesday? According to Bartelstein, Dudley didn’t want to undergo the procedure unless it was deemed absolutely necessary. So after the pain continued over the course of the summer, he consulted with Wizards doctors and back specialists. He could have tried to play through the pain again, but the parties concluded it was best to get it done now instead of perhaps needing the surgery during the upcoming season and consequently miss a bigger chunk of it.
There is another variable: Dudley’s contract status. The eight-year veteran, to the surprise of many, decided to opt into his contract with the Bucks for $4.25 million next season instead of entering themoney pit that is this summer’s free agent market.
On paper, Dudley, recognized as a great locker room presence, surely would have secured a substantial contract. But the back injury could have scared suitors. Now Dudley will fix the problem, play for an Eastern Conference contender and still have a shot at a big payday when TV money floods the market next summer.
What about the Wizards?
Wing depth was one of Washington’s major weaknesses last season. The Wizards didn’t have a steady contributor off the bench for much of the campaign after Rasual Butler cooled off from a blistering start. The shortcoming was painfully obvious in consecutive losses in late February to the Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers— two of the NBA’s worst teams last season— when Bradley Beal and Paul Pierce were sidelined by injury.
Consequently, Washington prioritized versatility this summer when it acquired Dudley, Alan Anderson, Gary Neal and Kelly Oubre Jr.
Beal and likely Otto Porter Jr. will start while Anderson can play the two or three and Neal will log minutes at shooting guard off the bench. The depth means Washington won’t have to rely on Webster or Oubre, the team’s lone rookie. Webster, 28, had his worst season as a pro after joining the team in December. He averaged 3.3 points and shot 29.2 percent from the field, including 23.3 percent from three-point range. Oubre, 19, is considered a long-term project after one season at Kansas.
But the 6-foot-7 Dudley also was brought in to log minutes as a smallball power forward, and stretch-four depth is thin for most NBA rosters, including the Wizards. Washington re-signed Drew Gooden III, another stretch-four option, but Dudley is a better defender who can more effectively guard players on the perimeter. Kris Humphries could add three-point shooting to his repertoire, but he also is a traditional power forward more comfortable inside than defending on the perimeter.
Still, the Wizards are equipped to handle Dudley’s absence. They prioritized versatility and depth this summer and now boast the deepest roster since John Wall arrived in 2010. They just will have to put it to use immediately.
The Wizards believe acquiring Jared Dudley, shown here with the Suns, will pay off even if Dudley misses time next season after Tuesday’s back surgery.