We should have known that it was only a matter of time before Jared Dudley offered his take on the trade that saw him shipped from Milwaukee to Washington, and like pretty much every other Dudley interview, his appearance on Zach Lowe's podcast on Friday did not disappoint.
Like his first podcast with Lowe back in February, Dudley shot from the hip on a wide variety of topics -- including why he didn't opt out of his contract this summer, the back surgery that was announced shortly after the trade, how his agent engineered his move to Washington, and how he sees the Bucks moving forward. The whole thing is a must-listen (and a pain to transcribe I might add) but in general I'd say it's an encouraging (if perhaps bittersweet) one for Bucks fans. While Dudley doesn't see the Bucks as playoff locks this coming season, he's bullish on the big picture and leaving on good terms with the Bucks organization. We'll summarize the key takeaways for the Bucks below.
Dudley wanted to opt out of his $4.25 million deal, but the uncertainty of a bad back and Milwaukee's reticence to give him a long-term deal convinced him otherwise. Most everyone assumed Dudley would opt out in order to test the free agent waters this summer, and considering his key role on the team a year ago it seemed reasonable that he'd likely re-up on a multi-year deal in a similar price range. But the Bucks apparently didn't want to make a long-term commitment, informing Dudley that they preferred he not opt out. Dudley doesn't sound offended about it, noting that the team's young core and desire for cap flexibility were higher priorities. It's also apparent that Dudley's agent had sounded out other teams' interest in his client well before free agency officially began -- not something anyone technically likes to admit, but something that clearly happens all the time.
Me and my agent, we went around to different places and we had different people interested [before deciding not to opt out on June 30]. And said "hey, if so-and-so falls through we could have done it." But also I was doing rehab on my back, and I didn't know...I knew it was hurting, and I knew it it improved, it improved so, so much, but I always knew down the road possibly I could have had surgery, I didn't know, so for me, as I didn't want to risk possibly going into, opting out, going in there, not getting the deal I wanted...
But to be honest with you, it came as a surprise, because basically Milwaukee didn't offer [a long-term deal]. And the reason they didn't offer was because they liked where they stood, they just gave Khris the max, this was before Monroe was there...
The indication was hey, we want you back, but under that salary, under that deal for that one year because they wanted to go into possibly next year having cap space, they didn't know what was going on...and I have a great relationship with Milwaukee, did everything...we had a great season, love JKidd, John Hammond. But they're up-and-coming, with Jabari possibly coming back -- which not possibly, he will be back -- Giannis will play a little stretch-four, Greg Monroe can play five and four, we just at that time when they knew they didn't see me for the long run, it was more helping the young guys out which is understandable and which I love that role, we just knew it was time to move on.
Note that he doesn't say anything about the Bucks specifically being wary of his injury issues, though the whispers have been that concerns over his long-term health were central to the Bucks' unwillingness to offer him a long-term deal. It's not likely (or financially rational) for an athlete to admit that publicly, so that part will likely always be up for interpretation. But the team's medical staff saw how his back and knee injuries limited him throughout the second half of the season, and they worked with him leading up to the decision to have surgery on his herniated disc. We can still debate whether the Bucks should have kept him around anyway, or whether they got good value, but at a minimum we have a decent sense for how things progressed. And speaking of value...
The Bucks apparently took a worse deal in order to get Dudley to a more desirable destination. This might be the most insightful portion of the interview, as it reveals that Dudley's agent Mark Bartelstein targeted the Wizards based on Dudley's previous interest in going there and that the Bucks then facilitated the trade -- likely at a discount -- as something of a thank you for Dudley's efforts over the past year.
I gotta tip my hat to the Bucks, they gotta be the final say-so and obviously they were. And I could play for the Bucks anytime, and it's crazy because earlier in my career I wouldn't have said that. But that organization has changed...[laughs] yeah, I'll be the first one, no one wanted to go to Milwaukee early on, but you see things have changed there and I have so much respect for them.
You treat people how you want to be treated. For me, when I was there, I was 100% professional. I did stuff above my contract. I was in the film room with the young guys, on the plane with the young guys talking to them. I was by far the most vocal leader they had there in I don't know in how long. Not the best player, but someone who went above and beyond [what] the job calls. Talking to Jabari -- Jabari came to my camp this summer -- talking to Giannis. Giannis, when I missed a couple games for my back, was like, "hey I missed your presence on the bench talking to me," because I basically would, during timeouts, I would tell him how defenses were playing him, this and this.
And I think Milwaukee respected that, they said "hey, he was great for us, he did everything and he wanted to help." You saw the same thing with Zaza Pachulia, same exact, very similar trade. And this is what happens, how you do business, people want to deal with you. And that's why you see players like Greg Monroe want to go there over other places. You see how they treat people. And if you do it the right way, you don't complain and moan, you're not getting minutes or playing time, you go in there, if you weren't playing, weren't starting, you were cut minutes, you be a professional and at the end people will look out for you and put you in great situations, which I've been lucky for.
The Bucks have received their share of criticism for giving away their two veteran leaders -- both for moving them as well as getting nothing in return -- though Dudley's comments certainly cast them in a different light. What's the right balance between maximizing the value of an asset and doing right by a guy who more than paid his dues?
That said, it's still not entirely clear how much of Dudley's departure was motivated by his preference vs. the Bucks -- his "time to move on" comment still feels a bit vague. If the Bucks didn't want him at all, they could have just encouraged him to opt out and look for a new deal in free agency, especially given that they were willing to move him for essentially nothing on July 9. So presumably this was something of a two-way street, especially based on Dudley's comment about it being "time to move on" after the Bucks didn't offer a new deal and Bartelstein's work to find a trade partner. Discussion over how Dudley landed in Washington also led into some interesting discussion over the Bucks' power structure:
...I mean, Kidd and Hammond run the show. Both those guys run the show, they both have equal thing, over there that's why they've been so successful even in a short time. The owner, GM and coach they come together, they make smart decisions for each other, and me leaving, yes, it's a void when it comes to leadership, but hey, Jabari is obviously coming back, you have Giannis a little bit playing that stretch four. So it wasn't a huge thing, and I think that they were just happy what I did for the team, and I'm gracious for them looking out for me, putting me in a great situation.
Though he admits to not being involved in negotiations himself, Dudley's description of Kidd and Hammond sharing decision-making power provides a counterpoint to the conspiracy theories that Kidd is already calling all the personnel shots in Milwaukee. I'm not sure it provides us much more detail beyond that, but there it is.
Lowe also asked Dudley about Giannis Antetokounmpo's mysterious benching from this past spring, reaffirming the theory that it was related to something from practice -- and that Kidd is not someone to be trifled with.
You know, Giannis is not a bad kid, but he's just so, so young still...I'm trying to think of what happened -- I think something just happened in practice or whatever, and Jason Kidd basically was like, "hey, you gotta learn from your mistakes." And it happened throughout the course of the season, Giannis would do stuff every blue, blue moon, but that's a great kid, he works his butt off, he's going to be a star. But I like JKidd how, his whole thing, he's going to nip it in the bud. We were trying to change the culture, and I met with JKidd, the captains did, and we stood behind him. And Giannis, with his thing, took it on the chin, "hey, won't ever happen again."
Kidd might be a little quiet, and, you knw, calm and reserved. But Kidd's an assassin, and he knows what he's doing, and I love his calm demeanor and that's why they're going to be successful because of him.
So what does Dudley see for his former team going forward? I'd call him a short-term realist and a long-term optimist. While he sees big potential once the Bucks' youngsters turn the corner, he's not sure that translates into an improved record this season -- a view I'm inclined to agree with at this point. The Bucks could take a big leap this season...or their youthful indiscretions could leave them scraping for a playoff spot. Not surprisingly, most of Dudley's concerns are related to the roster churn that began with the MCW trade, as well as the team's well-documented spacing concerns:
It's going to be tight like a jail cell in there...[laughs] it's going to be real tight, I'm going to tell you that right now. But those boys, between Jabari, Giannis and Michael, they're working their butts off. They were in Vegas the whole time, they spent a lot of time in Milwaukee, so their jump shots will improve. You'll see a huge jump, especially in Giannis, because JKidd started, you know, taking off the rails a little bit on him, letting him shoot a little bit more, and this whole summer is supposed to be the big thing for Giannis. So I could see them two taking that next step, but is it going to be something they're so comfortable with? No. And that's why I think they're about a year off of really blowing the top off. Once those guys take that next level shooting-wise, spacing, that's when you're going to see them take that huge, huge next jump.
Between Indiana, Boston and Milwaukee, those three fight for the seven and eight.
Second half of the year, look at Milwaukee, because I was on that team, our record post-all-star break without Brandon Knight, it was under .500. Now that being said, it takes trades, takes time, I understand that. You lose a little bit of leadership between me and Zaza, you gain Monroe, huge, huge pickup. Can these young guys -- Jabari, when does Jabari come back healthy? So now you start the year off, who's your starting power forward? Is he going to be ready right in the beginning of the season? I'm not rushing back the franchise that fast, unless he's 100%.
So then now you're playing 10-15 games, possibly maybe Giannis at the four. It can happen, because they're very flexible. And then you just never know...the spacing, how it is. Milwaukee's going to be there, if it's not this year, 100% next year. I just think that there's going to be a little bit of an adjustment period, which they're going get through. So I wouldn't put them a lock more than the other six [Cleveland, Chicago, Atlanta, Washington, Toronto, Miami], definitely wouldn't.
I love Greivis Vasquez. He's under control, he's a big guard, they can play him and Michael Carter-Williams together, he takes big shots. But you're right, I'm not putting them as a lock yet.
Naturally, no one wants to see the Bucks tread water or even take a step backward after the surprise success of last season -- especially given the addition of Monroe and the presumed growth of their young core. But liking the Bucks' summer doesn't mean you have to expect 50 wins and home court in the first round. Weirdly, the Bucks got more talented and younger this summer; the former was hoped for, while the latter took many of us by surprise. Thus, even if the general thesis underpinning the franchise -- Giannis, Jabari and a cloud of dust -- hasn't really changed, the pressure on it to bear fruit has arrived sooner rather than later.