PHOENIX – The Nets’ plane barely had touched down Monday night at Sky Harbor International Airport, and Jared Dudley couldn’t resist. He sent out an exultant tweet accompanied by a smile emoji wearing sunglasses: “Back in PHX!”
Who could blame him? Dudley turned down a buyout offer from the Suns last summer and accepted a trade to the Nets. His return to the Valley of the Sun was a triumphant one because, after playing barely 14 minutes a game in just 48 appearances with the Suns last season, the 12-year veteran has started all 10 games for the Nets this season at power forward and averaged 24.8 minutes, the most for Dudley since three seasons ago with Washington.
“For me, it was showing myself and the league that I could still play,” Dudley said before the Nets faced the Suns Tuesday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena. “ . . . when you’re not doing your job for a year or two, people think, ‘Is the team wasting money on him? Can he still play? Is he out of shape?’ For me to spend the summer I did and get into tip-top shape, I could go to the bench next week or whatever and [I showed] I’m an NBA player.”
Dudley lost 20-25 pounds last summer to get down to a playing weight of 227. Although he’s averaging only 5.6 points and 3.1 rebounds, he has defended well and facilitated ball movement on offense.
“The little things are what’s key,” Dudley said. “We’re a terrible rebounding team because, if you look at film, we don’t box out. I might not get a lot of rebounds, but I bet I’m in the top one or two at boxing out. And then with ball movement, when we score, our percentages go up higher when we go side-to-side.”
As much as his former teammates on the Suns liked him, they admittedly are surprised by the role Dudley has with the Nets. “I’m just as surprised as everybody else, but he’s been looking good,” Suns forward Josh Jackson said. “I know Jared is a guy who can really move the ball, a great decision-maker and an amazing shooter. Having him out there really helps them out.”
Suns star Devin Booker said he was looking forward to playing against Dudley and talked to him on the telephone shortly after the Nets landed. The Nets are staying over in Phoenix for a day off on Wednesday and a practice on Thursday before flying to Denver, and Booker was expecting to go to dinner with Dudley.
Asked how Dudley helped him, Booker said, “A lot, and not just on the court but off the court. Jared is one of those guys that keeps it real no matter what the circumstances. The business side of the game, he understands that. I see a future of him being in a front office somewhere or maybe even a coach.
“He’s starting for them. It’s a very big role for them. I’m really close friends with D’Angelo [Russell]. He said, ‘I love having Jared on my team.’ I was like, ‘I know. I did, too.’ He didn’t really even play for us, but definitely, he’s someone I credit a lot of my success to.”
Jackson praised Dudley for “always being in my ear” with a “vocal, hands-on” style. Some younger players might be annoyed when confronted by an aging veteran playing a limited role, but the smart ones understand how much they can learn.
“It’s never annoying,” said Suns point guard Isaiah Canaan. “All he’s trying to do is to make sure everybody is locked in and ready to compete at a high level each game. If you take it as being annoying, shame on you.”