It should be no surprise that Jared Dudley chose to return to the Phoenix Suns. After all, he achieved the most success of his career during his previous four-season run with the Suns that lasted from 2008 until 2013.
Dudley signed a three-year deal worth $30 million with the Suns last week and seems very happy to return to Phoenix. While adding a player like Dudley won’t necessarily bring the Suns to the next level in the Western Conference, it is an underrated move that should work out in a number of different ways.
Dudley turned in the best season of his nine-year career during the 2011-12 season, when he averaged 12.7 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. Perhaps no player has benefited more from the league’s change to small-ball lineups than Dudley. He can play both forward spots at times and can run in fast-paced offenses. In addition, he brings the floor spacing that teams covet since he’s a career 40-percent three-point shooter.
The Suns have long needed another veteran presence in the locker room to help the team’s younger players develop. The team’s average age is younger than 25 – among the lowest in the league. Dudley will join Tyson Chandler, Leandro Barbosa and P.J. Tucker as the team’s only players over 30 years old. Perhaps the most encouraging sign for the Suns is that Dudley is perfectly happy with becoming a mentor for the younger guys.
“If you take finances away and if you just had to go with fit and team, they need a power forward to help groom the young guys,” Dudley told Basketball Insiders of his decision to return to Phoenix. “I’ve done that with Giannis [Antetokounmpo] and Jabari [Parker]. They still have veteran players that can win now – [Brandon] Knight, [Eric] Bledsoe and Tyson Chandler. For me, it was the best of both worlds.”
Stories surfaced during the weeks leading up to free agency that Dudley talked about how he missed Phoenix. He was with the Suns alongside players like Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire, Jason Richardson, Channing Frye and Grant Hill, and the group advanced to the Western Conference Finals. He experienced success there and wants to return to help build something special.
This summer has been one of the most chaotic offseasons that we’ve seen in recent years. With the cap rising to $94 million, teams are spending a record amount of money. It’s certainly a great time to be an NBA free agent and Dudley was able to take advantage. After some of the top names like Kevin Durant, Hassan Whiteside and Chandler Parsons were off of the board, Dudley found the Suns.
“It’s really my first time in free agency so for me it was crazy getting all of those phone calls at night time,” Dudley said. “Utah was at my door 9:01 West Coast time wanting to meet. It’s like speed dating – you get the table and you’re in a short period of time because even though there is a lot of money, it can dry up fast.
“The deals were going super fast and once [Mirza] Teletovic got off of the board because there is a pecking order [with] Ryan Anderson and you keep going down to Marvin [Williams]. Ryan was taking his sweet time and Marvin was taking his sweet time. At that time, I’m waiting for them to set the market and once Teletovic went then I was right after that.”
What the Suns look to be building appears to be special. They’re a team that hopes to surprise people next season, even though they won just 23 games last season and head coach Earl Watson is entering his first full campaign on the job.
The Suns struggled for much of last year. It’s clear that Jeff Hornacek lost his players and the team’s energy level dropped off dramatically. There was a period last season when the team posted just nine wins over a span of 46 games. With a core of Bledsoe, Knight, Chandler, Alex Len, T.J. Warren and Devin Booker, this was a team that many thought could compete for a playoff spot in the West.
Watson took over on an interim basis late last season and began to instill his philosophy. There were no guarantees that he would become the team’s permanent head coach, but he was operating as if the job was his. The team won just nine games with Watson at the helm, but it was apparent that the players loved Watson as head coach.
His time as a player earned him instant respect. The Suns brought Watson to their meeting to help recruit LaMarcus Aldridge last summer. Aldridge later said he nearly chose Phoenix before ultimately agreeing to sign with the San Antonio Spurs. Watson is trying to instill a winning atmosphere with the Suns, but he has his players buying into his system.
“I haven’t been a player under him, but you can tell how genuine [he is] and how he believes in himself,” Dudley said of Watson. “I see that in Jason Kidd in a sense of he knows what he’s good at. You can tell he’s very highly prepared, and he’s a player’s coach. His confidence is high and he’s real big when it comes to the whole family aspect. He really believes in if you’re successful off of the floor, you’ll be [successful] on the floor. I can respect that and I’m just here to help in any way that I can.”
A huge contingent of Suns players were on hand in Las Vegas this week to watch Phoenix’s Summer League team. Players like Bledsoe, Knight, Len, Dudley and Coach Watson were among those in attendance. Some teams and players view the Summer League as a chance to begin building chemistry for the next season. The team even organized a mini training camp in San Diego prior to the Summer League a few weeks ago.
The team has a great young core in place that seems poised to take the next step in their development. They have a ton of depth on the roster and look strong at nearly every position, while also having a good balance of youth and experience.
It’s reasonable to believe that the Suns’ road back to the top of the West will take some time. Every team in the conference faces an uphill battle to dethrone the Golden State Warriors as the top team. But with the group of guys in place in Phoenix, they’re perfectly fine with that challenge.
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