Lakers take a preseason loss

No less an authority than LeBron James says that Jared Dudley's departure to Dallas to start his coaching career is a bigger hit for the 2020 champions than you would think

Frank Vogel's job isn't getting any easier.

The Lakers did finally grant Vogel his long overdue contract extension on Aug. 6 to ensure that he would not enter this season as a lame duck with an expiring deal, but the ongoing lack of clarity about the extension specifics has led to the presumption in coaching circles that only one season has been tacked on despite the championship Vogel won in his first season in L.A.

Perhaps we will come to learn that Vogel has more job security than advertised. What we know for now: Mike Budenholzer just received a three-year extension from the Bucks after leading Milwaukee to the club's first title in 50 years.

This week's departure of Jared Dudley, furthermore, has removed another influential voice from the Lakers' inner circle. Dudley was widely expected to sign with the Lakers for one more season as their 15th man given his close relationships with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook. That would have allowed him to continue to essentially operate as an outspoken player/coach unafraid to hold teammates accountable just like Udonis Haslem in Miami.

Given the influx of high-wattage personalities on the Lakers’ revamped roster, one suspects Vogel could have used the assistance.

The running joke in Los Angeles held that Jared Dudley was so close to LeBron James and Anthony Davis that he was the third member of the Lakers’ Big Three. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The Lakers’ apparent preference, however, is to carry only 14 players and keep the 15th spot open for a down-the-road move, prompting Dudley to take the Dallas Mavericks' offer to start his coaching career with a front-of-the-bench spot on Jason Kidd's first Mavericks staff.

So make that two of LeBron's closest confidantes, Kidd and Dudley, who have departed Lakerdom (h/t Mark Heisler) since the season ended. The highly respected Phil Handy remains in place, and David Fizdale was hired to replace Kidd and reprise his role as a Heatles assistant, but LeBron's tweets in frustration about Dudley's departure certainly back the notion that the 14-year veteran had a bigger presence in Lakers circles than his very modest playing role would suggest.

Word is that the Lakers did not offer Dudley a coaching role to stay once they made it clear that they were not holding a roster spot for him. The reality, though, is that a behind-the-bench position likely would have been insufficient to keep him in Los Angeles given that the Mavericks promised to install Dudley alongside former Suns head coach Igor Kokoškov and Sean Sweeney (who will be coaching under Kidd for the third time) as one of Kidd's top three aides.

Dudley's ability to connect with stars and relate just as well to role players makes him a likely future candidate for head coaching openings. As my pal Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times put it this week: "Dudley was such a part of the LeBron-AD duo that folks around the team jokingly referred to them as the Big Three."

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My instant reaction to the three-team trade that materialized Friday to send Lauri Markkanen to Cleveland via sign-and-trade ($67 million over four years) and landed Larry Nance Jr. in Portland:

NBA players commemorated two powerful anniversaries this week.

Thursday marked one year since the Milwaukee Bucks refused to leave their locker room for a playoff game against Orlando in the Walt Disney World bubble in response to the police shooting in Kenosha, Wisc., of Jacob Blake. Milwaukee's eventual walkout led to a wave of protests and cancellations across the sports world as athletes throughout the United States, inspired by the Bucks, came together for an unprecedented protest of systemic racism and police brutality.

Friday, then, marked one year since the NBA's remaining 13 of 22 teams in the bubble decided to keep the season going — with a strong nudge from former president Barack Obama in a phone call with four star players in the wee hours of Aug. 27, 2020.

It would be an overstatement to assert that the call alone saved the season. The amount of money at stake for the players as a collective body had the season been abruptly canceled at that point, on top of fears that a collapsed bubble could also lead NBA owners to lock the players out of the 2020-21 season, were strong drivers that helped convince the players to keep playing after the contentious ballroom meeting that followed the Bucks' walkout against the Magic.

Yet Obama's guidance, as LeBron James later revealed in an HBO appearance with the 44th president of the United States, clearly made James feel better about playing on … not long after James walked out of the ballroom meeting in frustration at the Bucks’ apparent lack of a endgame when they staged their wildcat strike. Obama told the players he thought they could make a more powerful statement by playing on and not relinquishing the high-profile platform they had in the bubble, which resonated with James and was thus pivotal because so many players were apt to follow his lead.

At Obama's urging, National Basketball Players Association leaders pushed for the establishment of a social justice coalition that would include players, coaches and team owners and promote increased access to voting and greater civic engagement in addition to the pursuit of police reform.

Three more key aspects of the phone summit:

🏀 It was initially reported that James led a small group of players who turned to Obama for counsel. The call was actually arranged by Paul, who consults frequently with Obama and just completed an eight-year run as NBPA president earlier this month.

🏀 The other two players invited to take part in Paul’s call, besides James, were Houston's Russell Westbrook and Portland's Carmelo Anthony. Westbrook and Anthony, of course, are now LeBron's teammates with the Lakers.

🏀 Anthony and Andre Iguodala, then Paul's first vice president with the players' union, were among the most persuasive speakers when the players met for a second time and decided not to abandon the season, league sources say.