Jared Dudley can become a free agent, but says 80 or 90 percent chance he’ll return to Bucks

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The Clippers could sure use a veteran presence like Jared Dudley on their bench this postseason, but Doc Rivers traded him to the Bucks last summer. And to hear Dudley’s explanation of his final season in Los Angeles, it seemed as though the decision by Rivers was somewhat personal.

“Here’s the thing with the Clippers,” Dudley said. “When I hurt my back in Vegas, I show up there in September trying to get with the training staff, and sometimes when you have an injury it leads to another injury, so basically I was nursing what I thought was tendinitis at the time in my knee, basically I really couldn’t bend my knee 90 degrees so I had to deal with that for the first month or so. I basically went to Doc Rivers and said, ‘Hey, I’ve never had to deal with this, I can’t bend my knee, all my shots are short, I can’t move laterally, I need to sit out.’ At that time Matt Barnes was out with a calf injury and J.J. Redick was out with a herniated disk and he said, ‘Hey, I need you to give me 10-15 games and when those guys come back, I’ll give you a rest.’

“Well, during that time I just couldn’t guard anyone. I couldn’t make a shot, all my shots were short and then confidence happened. By midseason, I get my X-ray and I had a little fracture in my knee so I knew what I was feeling was more than tendinitis. By midseason, [Rivers] brings in [Danny] Granger and I was sent to the pine. The trade [to Milwaukee] was the best thing for my career, where I got with a training staff that got me healthy and when I’m healthy, I’m the player you see now and the player you saw in Phoenix.”

“I talked to Doc maybe a week and a half before I got traded,” Dudley told Zach Lowe on his Lowe Post podcast on Grantland. “That was in August. He was basically like, ‘Hey, you’re young. I don’t know what happened this season.’ I basically told him, ‘You know what happened. I wasn’t right and I thought I would be able to come back.’ “

That seems like a bridge burned by Rivers, but Dudley has found a home in his first season in Milwaukee. And though he has a player option for next season, even if he chooses to become an unrestricted free agent, Dudley feels as though the odds favor a return to the Bucks next season.

From Charles Gardner of the Journal Sentinel:

“All signs you would think are for me to come back here,” Dudley said, “even if I did opt out. I think my value is at my biggest high here. Even though as a vet I could play for a contending team, I think this has been my most gratifying season.

“Taking a team that was 15 wins to 41 wins, I was here for the beginning of it. I was here to help it. I think it’s hard for Milwaukee to find vets that want to come here, that want to be a role guy. …

Dudley, acquired in an off-season trade with the Los Angeles Clippers that also netted the Bucks a protected 2017 first-round pick, said he thought there was an 80 or 90% chance he would return next season.

“I don’t think it should be a problem,” he said. “I don’t think I’m someone who is overly greedy.”

Dudley’s player option is for $4.25 million for next season. It seems as though he wants to stay with the Bucks, but if he chooses to take the early termination option on his deal, he could realistically end up on a longer-term deal playing for someone else.

Dudley averaged 7.2 points on 46.8 percent shooting, while playing 23.8 minutes per contest in 72 regular season appearances for the Bucks this season.

Deandre Ayton misses coronavirus test, arrives late to underway Suns-Thunder game

Suns center Deandre Ayton
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Another testing issue for Deandre Ayton.

This one comes at a terrible time for the Suns.

Phoenix is trying to complete a longshot run to the playoffs and playing the Thunder in a key game today. But Ayton arrived late to the arena after missing a coronavirus test yesterday.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Like many Suns, Ayton has played well in the resumption. Phoenix doesn’t have another big-man option like him, especially with Aron Baynes sidelined. The Suns started Dario Saric in a small lineup today.

Ayton arrived to the arena and is warming up on an exercise bike. He could still get into the game and make a difference.

Already locked into the 4-6 range in the Western Conference and perhaps trying to keep its top-20-protected first-round pick, Oklahoma City is playing without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, Steven Adams, Nerlens Noel and Dennis Schroder. None of those will players will make a late entrance into the game.

Also: It’s ridiculous this wasn’t publicly disclosed sooner. The NBA continues to tout transparency while trying to draw more gambling revenue. Yet, a major lineup issue like this remains secret? That opens the door for some bettors to get inside information, which would be so damaging to the league’s integrity.

Kings now sole owners of second-longest playoff drought in NBA history

Sacramento Kings
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The Kings’ 2018-19 season ended with optimism.

Facing a meager over/under of 25.5 wins, Sacramento surged to 39 wins – its best record in 13 years. Under Dave Joerger, the Kings played a fast and fun style. De'Aaron Fox made historic improvements. Buddy Hield broke out. Several other young players showed promise.

Sure, the Kings missed the playoffs for a 13th straight season – matching the second-longest playoff drought in NBA history. But they were on track to end the skid soon enough.

Except, of course that’s not how it went in Sacramento.

The Kings were eliminated from the postseason chase yesterday, ensuring a 14th straight season outside the playoffs. That alone is now NBA’s the second-longest-ever postseason drought, breaking a tie with the Timberwolves (2005-17). Only the Buffalo Braves/San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers’ 15-year non-playoff streak (1977-91) is longer.

Here are the longest postseason droughts in NBA history:

The Suns could still reach 10 straight years outside the playoffs, but they’re still in the race this season.

The Kings might not be far from climbing this list, either.

Their future looks far bleaker than a year ago. Sacramento fired Joerger to hire Luke Walton, who has underwhelmed. Buddy Hield signed a lucrative contract extension then had a rough season. Fox progressed, though he didn’t make the desired leap into stardom. Other young players had ups and downs. Luka Doncic casts an even larger shadow from Dallas. The Kings’ organizational turmoil continues.

This was a feel-bad season in Sacramento, anyway. All the preceding losing only adds to the misery.

The Kings enter next season with one last chance to avoid the longest playoff drought in NBA history, and they do have a chance. But there’s only pessimism now.

Damian Lillard throws pass away from basket, off Tobias Harris, into hoop (video)

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Damian Lillard was making everything yesterday.

EVERYTHING.

Lillard, who scored 51 points in the Trail Blazers’ win over the 76ers, even got a bucket on this wild pass off Tobias Harris.

Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good. It’s even better to be both.

LeBron James admits he’s still adjusting to playing without fans

LeBron James
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LeBron James has played to overflowing gyms and arenas since he was a sophomore in high school. There is always a crowd around him to watch him play. Or a massive crowd of reporters around him after the game. Or throngs of fans when he travels through China on a shoe tour. LeBron has always packed the house.

Until now. There are no crowds, no fans at the NBA’s restart at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. It’s now games in a stripped-down, made-for-television gym. And LeBron admitted to reporters after the latest Lakers’ loss he is still adjusting. Via Mark Medina of the USA Today.

“I am getting more and more used to being out there. It’s a very weird dynamic. I haven’t played in an empty gym in a very, very long time,” James said following the Lakers’ 116-111 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Saturday. “It’s been a very long time since no one has been watching me play the game. I’m just trying to find that rhythm and lock in…

“I’m getting more and more comfortable playing in an empty gym,” James said. “Just having the backdrop here is a lot different from playing in a high school gym or a college arena where you’re playing in the summer time, whatever the case may be. It’s very dark, extremely dark. You can literally hear a feather hit the ground. I’m just getting more and more comfortable playing with my game here in the bubble.”

LeBron has still been very good in the bubble — 21.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 6.4 assists a game — but he has not been quite the otherworldly, MVP candidate level player he was before the shutdown. His true shooting percentage of 51.9 at the restart is down from 57.7 before the break (and it has been below the league average since the restart). The Laker offense overall has scored less than a point per possession in the bubble and has been the worst offense in Orlando (leading to a 2-4 record so far). It’s not all LeBron, the Lakers as a team have struggled to get their pre-hiatus traction back, the chemistry is not quite right. But we know who leads this team.

LeBron and company also know they need to find that rhythm soon. They will enter the playoffs as the No. 1 seed and face and eight seed — likely Portland or Memphis — that had to battle its way into the postseason. That team, whoever it is, will come in battle-tested and motivated.

The fans will not be there to pick up LeBron and the Lakers.

“I definitely love playing in front of the fans. The fans are what make the game,” James said. “Without the fans, I wouldn’t be who I am today. To all the fans out there that come watch me play, I miss you guys and hopefully someday I can get back to that interaction.”

Someday we all hope for that.

In the short term, LeBron and the Lakers need to find their groove in a fanless world.