Jared Dudley came into the NBA as a 6'7", pudgy, braid-wearing power forward with no real position in the NBA. After being named the ACC Player of the Year as a senior at BC, he was drafted late in the first round as a project that teams figured would eventually have to convert to small forward if he wanted to last.
He was included as a throw-in on the Jason Richardson trade to Phoenix in his 2008 rookie year, but even when the trade happened a few onlookers suggested that Dudley was a sneaky-good throw-in that might turn some heads because of his all-out hustle.
He played from 2008 to 2013 with the Suns, filling a number of roles from small forward to shooting guard, shooting specialist to defensive specialist when Grant Hill was injured from time to time. At his peak, Dudley started 60 of 65 games in the strike-shortened 2011-12 season, netting 12.7 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game as the Suns fell just two wins short of a playoff spot.
His stint with the Suns came to an end in 2013 when he strongly suggested the Suns trade him to a playoff-caliber team in exchange for younger players as they embarked on a rebuild.
"The Suns were in a gray area," Dudley said of 2013. "We didn't really have any young people to groom. They signed Beasley, traded for Wesley Johnson, we had a lot of guys we were trying to mesh and it wasn't really working."
The Suns youth at that time included late lottery picks Markieff Morris (22) and Kendall Marshall (21), as well as free agents and trade acquisitions like Marcus Morris (22), Goran Dragic (26), Michael Beasley (23) and Wesley Johnson (23).
By the end of the 2012-13 season, players like Dudley, Marcin Gortat, Luis Scola and Jermaine O'Neal all wanted out. But they all handled it like the pros they were, working more behind the scenes than via social media to express their desires.
"At that time, I was in the peak of my career where I wanted to win," he said. "After coming off the conference finals (in 2010), you wanted to win."
Managing Partner Robert Sarver, President Lon Babby and new General Manager Ryan McDonough, for all their faults, have regularly traded their outgoing veterans to greener pastures over the last few years. In 2010, Leandro Barbosa was traded to a good situation in Toronto. In 2012, Sarver sent Steve Nash to the hated rival Lakers because that's where he wanted to go. They sent Dudley (Clippers), Scola (
Raptors Pacers) and Gortat (Wizards) to playoff contenders.
"It shows you what this franchise did," he said. "They could have traded me to Memphis (but) they traded me to the Clippers, thinking at the time it was the best thing for me. It didn't work out in LA. They tried, and that's what you can remember."
Even when Goran Dragic laid out an ultimatum in 2015 that he wanted to go to Miami, the Suns grumbled and complained but they accommodated that request too.
Sure, the Suns have burned a few bridges with players while they were here. And sure, it's quite possible that the acquiring teams are the ones that offered the best package each time, but its not a coincidence when it happens each and every time. And every time, the Suns sent a player to a good situation.
"I always remember this: you treat people how you want to be treated," Dudley said. "They looked out for me. Same thing happened to me in Milwaukee. They didn't have to trade me to DC. They didn't get anything back. They did it because I was a pro there. They looked out for me."
Dudley has always been refreshingly open and honest, and he's always taken the time to see both sides of a situation. He knew in 2013 that his best opportunity was to go to a playoff team, but also knew that the Suns needed to get younger and they could use him to do that.
He didn't force his way out of town. He was frustrated with a loss of playing time in the spring of 2013, but so was everybody. I mean, who wasn't frustrated with the Lindsey Hunter/Lance Blanks combo? But Dudley stayed professional and made sure the right people knew he meant only the best for the Suns and for himself, and that they could find common ground.
"That kind of symbolizes me," Dudley said. "You do everything the right way, get taken care of, and now I'm back home with my best contract I've ever had."
Thanks to the exploding salary cap (already twice what it was the last time he signed a contract, and heading even higher in the coming year), Dudley's $10 million per year doubles what he made on his last contract which, by the way, was also negotiated with the Suns.
That's a product of the rising player salaries, but it's also a product of Dudley's professionalism and realistic outlook on his career.
Many veterans don't want anything to do with mentoring young players who are trying to steal their minutes. Sure, they are friends off the court and in the locker room, but few of them will actively teach young players how to be better pros on and off the court.
Dudley, on the other hand, relishes the idea of helping young players with a lot more talent than he ever had learn the tricks of the trade that make them real pros. It's more than scrimmages and drills. It's eating right, getting your mind right, and competing on every possession.
"He's a great role model for them to have in their first year," coach Earl Watson says of Dudley mentoring Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender on being able to play multiple positions to take advantage of skills and matchups.
Dudley agrees, says he's the "perfect" guy for this team. Dudley knows he's on the downside of his career and can't wait to help the Phoenix franchise get back to the playoffs someday. Even if that means he needs to help his competition outplay him.
He's heading to Las Vegas today to hang out with the Summer League squad for the next few days, and then will be looking for a house in Phoenix to get settled again. He's still got friends living here in the valley, and his wife has already found the perfect school for their kids.
"My wife is even happier than me," Dudley said. "When I was here she lived with me for four years, and she's been complaining ever since."
Listen to the whole one-on-one Dudley interview on this subject here.
Now listen to Bright Side's interviews with coach Earl Watson and GM Ryan McDonough.
And here's McDonough, with my daughter helping as the camera operator, and with Bryan Gibberman adding his own good questions.
After this interview, my daughter hung out in the corner till I was done. She ended up with more conversation with McDonough - who was hanging out between interviews - than I did. LOL.
The whole presser
If you're really, really bored waiting for the first SL game, here's the whole 25 minutes press conference yesterday with Dudley. Sorry for the jumpy camera angle sometimes. It's hard to hold the camera, take the mic and ask the question without losing a bit of focus.