In a way, JaVale McGee was almost apologetic for the way he performed with the Dallas Mavericks seven years ago. But at least he had a legitimate excuse.
McGee signed a free agent contract with the Mavs on Aug. 13, 2015, but ultimately missed the first 13 games of the 2015-16 season because of a stress fracture in his left tibia. McGee struggled mightily with the injury throughout the season, averaged only 5.1 points and 3.9 rebounds in just 34 games, and could never quite put his best feet forward with the Mavs, who eventually waived him on July 8, 2016.
“That was my first injury – first and last injury, actually,” the 34-year old McGee said. “That was the first injury that I ever had, and I really didn’t know what it takes to get over injuries, especially a stress fracture where I had a rod put into my shin at that time.
“So I really didn’t know what it was going to take. And not knowing exactly what it takes to overcome that and get back to an elite level, it took me a couple of years, but yeah, I’m back.”
And back with the Mavs.
The Mavs signed McGee to a three-year, $17.2 million free agent contract this past summer, knowing that the 7-0, 270-pound center has the tools to help correct the lack of rebounding and rim protection that plagued them last season. However, coach Jason Kidd also knows McGee should be equally effective on the offensive end of the floor, particularly when he starts working with point guard Luka Doncic in the pick-and-roll.
“He’s a great pick-and-roll guy,” said Kidd, who added that McGee will start at center on opening day. “I think the relationship between him and Luka as they play a little bit more together will build.
“Luka will find him, and he has to be ready. But he’s one that you can throw it almost anywhere and he’s going to come up with the catch and finish.”
Kidd also believes McGee will be a huge boost with “the offensive rebounding and giving us second opportunities that we didn’t have last year. I think that’s another side of the ball that he’ll be a plus for us.”
In getting this do-over with the Mavs, McGee had first-hand knowledge of what he’s getting himself into. That’s because he played for a Phoenix team that had the NBA’s best record last season, but were walloped by the Mavs, 123-90, in Game 7 in the Western Conference semifinals in a game that was played in Phoenix.
McGee had no problems admitting that the problems the Suns had trying to contain Doncic – he averaged 32.6 points, 9.9 rebounds and seven assists in that series — played a prominent role in his decision to sign with the Mavs.
“Seeing seven straight games of Luka definitely helped with the decision of knowing that he’s a player who gets everybody involved, and I like being around players like that,” McGee said. “The LeBrons, Chris Pauls and players who get their teammates involved, especially big men. So that was definitely a selling point for me.
“All the attention that (Doncic) draws and the way that this system is set up to have all the shooters around, it really opens up the lanes for players like me who are dynamic at the rim.”
Another plus for McGee was the city of Dallas.
“It’s a great city,” he said. “One thing I did love about Dallas when I was here the last time was the city is great, great weather, great people. I love the southern hospitality, and also just basketball-wise. Starting and playing basketball and starting on the team was very important to me.
“I like the energy out here, I like the people, I like the southern hospitality. It’s a big difference from different cities like LA and places like that. LA is a great city, but their people aren’t as open arms, I guess you would say, as they are in Dallas. And I hold the door open, too. I’m very polite.”
McGee also is very familiar with Kidd, who was an assistant coach with the Lakers when Kidd, McGee and the Lakers won the 2020 NBA title in the bubble in suburban Orlando.
“I’ve always admired J-Kidd’s demeanor and coaching style, even as an assistant coach,” McGee said. “I like those type of coaches who don’t get too riled up and they get their point across. Those are the ones that really resonate with me.”
What resonated with the Mavs when they pursued McGee was his championship pedigree. Not only did he win a title with the Lakers, but he also was a member of the Golden State Warriors when they captured back-to-back championships in 2017 and ’18.
“He adds a lot,” center Dwight Powell said. “He has a ton of experience, he’s been in the league a long time, he brings size, athleticism, especially on the defensive end.
“He’s a huge lob threat, rebounder. The list goes on. It’s definitely exciting to have him here. He’s another weapon in the tool that’s going to help us be successful.”
Powell added that he plans on picking McGee’s brain from time to time, asking him what are some of the important intangibles that it takes to win an NBA title.
“You can tell anybody what it takes,” McGee said. “It’s more about the implementation of really putting into these young buckaroos about how serious it is and what it really takes.
“But obviously last year you guys made it to the Western Conference Finals, so you guys definitely got a taste of it. But those (NBA) Finals are different.”
The 18th overall pick of the 2008 NBA Draft by the Washington Wizards, McGee got a taste of basketball at an early age. His mom, Pam McGee, won NCAA national titles at USC in 1983 and ’84 — with her twin sister, Paula, and Cheryl Miller.
Drafted in the 1997 WNBA Draft by the Sacramento Monarchs, Pam McGee went on to help the United States win a gold medal in 1984. Fast forward 37 years later, JaVale helped the United States win a gold medal in 2021 in Tokyo.
“It’s an amazing feat that I don’t think she ever thought could happen,” McGee said of his mom. “I never thought it could happen either, especially 37 years later, which is crazy.
“I’m just grateful that my mother could lay those bricks, could be the bricklayer for her family, her legacy. And now my sister is in the WNBA, I’m clearly in the NBA and I’ve won a gold medal after her. The McGee family, the McGee brand just continues to grow.”
McGee is the first son of a WNBA player to play in the NBA. Meanwhile, McGee’s sister, Imani McGee-Stafford, was the Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2016 while playing for Texas. She also was the 10th overall pick of the 2016 WNBA Draft by the Chicago Sky, made the WNBA all-rookie team and played for the Dallas Wings in 2019.
In the meantime, Kidd is banking on his close relationship with McGee dating back to their days with the Lakers being a huge advantage this season.
“When you look at JaVale, he’s won three championships,” Kidd said. “He’s a great veteran guy for our young players.
“Again, it was something that we felt we needed last year was someone at the rim to protect. And offensively, being able to roll with the best of them and then to be able to punish the switch, we really truly believe JaVale can do that.”
Kidd certainly got no argument from McGee on that accord.
“Every time I step on that court it’s full speed, it’s high energy, it’s getting the crowd involved, and just making sure that I’m doing everything to make sure that my team is in the right position to win that game,” McGee said. “Just in general, I’m extremely efficient at what I do – blocking shots, rebounding, even scoring, actually. I’m really excited.”
McGee is especially excited that he has a chance to redeem himself for what transpired the last time he played for the Mavs.
“Health-wise I’ve grown to know how to take care of myself now and I know how to do preventative things that I didn’t know how to do the last time I was here,” he said. “The last time I was here I was recovering from an injury – trying to give 100 percent — so just being here 100 percent healthy is beautiful.”
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