Dud­ley deemed worth risk

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY JORGE CASTILLO jorge.castillo@wash­post.com Ex­cerpted from wash­ing­ton­post.com/ wiz­ardsin­sider

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.

JOHN MCDON­NELL/THE WASHINGTON POST

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.

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