Regretfully, Jared Dudley will not be back in the Los Angeles Lakers locker room in 2021-22 — neither as a player nor coach. After two seasons in L.A. and 14 in the NBA, seemingly everybody’s favorite teammate — including LeBron James — is retiring to join the Dallas Mavericks as an assistant coach.

Shortly before Dudley announced his retirement on Twitter, James couldn’t hold back his strong feelings upon seeing reports of Dudley’s impending departure.

Dudley was an instrumental voice for the Lakers on the 2019-20 championship team (he wrote a highly entertaining e-book about it). The 36-year old personally thanked James, Anthony Davis, Jeanie Buss, and the Lakers organization for helping him win a ring.

Dudley appeared in nine games in the 2019-20 playoffs, and 12 overall in 2020-21. However, his impact was immeasurable amid challenging bubble circumstances and throughout a rocky 2020-21 campaign.

“There were no problems these last few years since I’ve been in the locker room,” Dudley said at exit interviews. “No beef, not any problems, just good chemistry. When we won the chip it was phenomenal chemistry. That’s part of my job to make sure that happens. And if it doesn’t happen, then it means I did a poor job.”

In celebration of Dudley’s transition to coaching, let’s spotlight precisely what made him such an invaluable piece of the Lakers’ puzzle.

1) He’s a Hall of Famer-caliber teammate

During a recent Twitter Q&A, a fan asked Kyle Kuzma who his greatest teammate in the NBA has been. Kuzma didn’t waver on his answer: “Duds and it’s not even close.” (Following the trade that sent Kuzma to the Washington Wizards after four seasons in Los Angeles, Dudley and LeBron threw Kuzma a going-away party.)

Here’s Dudley explaining his locker room value on J.J. Redick’s “The Old Man and the Three” podcast:

“I excel in the camaraderie. I’m gonna be on the gambling table,” he said. “If I can gamble with you, I take your money, you take my money, we laugh it off, we go drink some wine, go have a beer. Now, during the game, I can curse at you and you’re not gonna be sensitive to me.”

Dudley noted that “there’s a very small percentage of people” in end-of-bench roles around the league that can get on their teammates in that manner.

In July 2020, Frank Vogel called Dudley a “star” in his role.

“One of the reasons we’ve had success in our season to this point is because not only do we have two megastars in LeBron and Anthony, but we’ve had several guys who have starred in their roles … And I would put Jared Dudley in that boat of being a star in his role. He has really impacted our team’s togetherness and chemistry and, quite frankly, brought a great deal of leadership to make sure that we’re all going about our business the right way and having the right attitude and doing things together.”

Throughout his career, Dudley has been a positive influence on numerous stars in the NBA.

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“LeBron’s obviously a leader, AD leads in his own way,” Dudley said. “But I would just say I’m a little more vocal on talking to 1 through 15. That’s my job. I’ve been in this league for a long time and I’ve mentored a lot of young players in Booker and John Wall and Giannis … I’m one of the rare vets that can speak to 1 through 15, because I’ve been around guys like Shaq and I’ve been around guys who DNP [did not play], so I’ve been through it all.”

Now, Luka Doncic can benefit from Dudley’s mentorship.

2) He formed a deep, productive bond with LeBron

Dudley and James established a close friendship that stretched beyond basketball. On the court, though, Dudley was able to use his relationship with LeBron (and Anthony Davis) to challenge him in ways a coach or supporting player may not be willing to.

“You have a guy like LeBron. Certain people are intimidated by him when it comes to either coaching staff, ownership, players, of what to say, what not to say,” Dudley told Redick. “When we watch film … there are at least two to three times every film session, I will call somebody out, if it’s AD, if it’s Bron … because I want everyone to know that our goal is a championship.”

3) He was making the Lakers better until the end

Dudley was reportedly present at the now-famous meeting of the minds between James, Davis, and Russell Westbrook that took place a few weeks before the blockbuster deal on draft night.

Who knows how much Westbrook truly had to be swayed to go from the Wizards to his hometown Lakers, but Dudley’s mere presence at the dinner speaks volumes about the gravity of his voice.

4) Don’t sleep on him coming back from the torn MCL

This past February, Dudley suffered a torn MCL. Dudley said it tore “off-the-bone.” Rather than have surgery – which would have likely ended his season and kept him away from the team due to COVID-19 protocols — or retire, he committed to healing in time for the playoffs.

The Lakers’ season came to a premature end, but Dudley was activated and played in the team’s regular-season finale against the Sacramento Kings.

“I put this up as being the best achievement of my career,” he told Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register about his comeback.

(During his rehab, Dudley lost over 20 pounds and began dunking frequently in practice, much to the delight of his teammates, per Goon.)

Dudley made scoreless cameos in Games 5 and 6 against the Phoenix Suns — the final appearances of his career.

5) Revenge Game vs. the Brooklyn Nets (Jan. 23, 2020)

Dudley said he wanted to return to the Nets in 2019-20, but the team went in another direction. Ultimately, there were no hard feelings, but it was still glorious to watch Dudley have arguably his best performance with the Lakers against his former team, on national TV, at the Barclays Center.

Dudley dropped eight points, five rebounds, two steals, and a block in 16 minutes, good for a +16 in a 15-point Lakers victory. His buzzer-beating three-pointer and ensuing reaction at the end of the third quarter is one of the Lakers’ top highlights of recent years.

Dudley’s presence will be sorely missed by Lakers coaches, players, media, fans, and #LakersTwitter. That said, congrats to Duds on a stellar NBA career!