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JaVale McGee Brings Leadership, Defense -- and Three Rings -- to Cleveland
To paraphrase Ferris Bueller, life in the NBA moves pretty fast.
Like, if someone told you a year ago that Andre Drummond would be the Cavs starting center on opening night and JaVale McGee would be his backup, you might’ve responded with a quizzical look.
Now it seems completely normal. And it’s safe to say that for the 3-1 Cavaliers, it’s working out pretty well.
McGee arrived in a late-November deal, with Cleveland sending Alfonzo McKinnie and Jordan Bell to the Lakers in exchange for McGee and a 2026 second round pick. And the 13-year veteran has fit right in.
”I wasn’t surprised by the trade, more surprised by where I got traded,” said McGee, originally drafted by the Wizards in 2008. “I just looked into everything (the Cavs) were about, looked at their roster and my surprise turned into excitement, for a new beginning and a new challenge.”
A veteran of over 700 career contests before his arrival, McGee won the NBA title with the Warriors in 2017 and 2018 and his third with the Lakers this fall. The well-traveled big man has logged time with the Wizards, Nuggets, Sixers, Mavericks, Dubs and Lakers – averaging 7.9ppg on 58 percent shooting and 1.5 blocks per over his career. In 58 Playoff games, McGee has shot 61 percent from the floor.
The Flint, MI native might be well-traveled, but his most recent travels have taught him how to win at the highest levels. And he’s already seeing good things from the young Cavaliers.
”From game one, I’m just (impressed with) the energy that we bring and just the openness that everybody has,” said the 32-year-old. “No one is sensitive on the team – you can talk to anybody any type of way and tell them what’s good and what’s bad and they take that to heed – and they go out there and show that they were listening. And everybody is young with great energy.
”It’s hard to get a group of guys who are all of the same mindset – young, ready to run the floor, ready to put it all out there for their teammates, listening and just ready to win.”
McGee’s veteran leadership isn’t just verbal. He’s leading by example as Cleveland’s first big off the bench.
Through the first four games of the season, McGee has tallied double-figure scoring in three of them – averaging 10.5ppg, shooting 63 percent from the floor, 71 percent from the stripe and, yes, 60 percent on 3-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc.
”I love him; he’s a really good vet,” smiled Larry Nance Jr. “He’s got a personality that just kind of lights up the gym and it’s hard to be around him and not be laughing and smiling. So, a day like (Wednesday) where everyone’s down a little bit because we lost, he’s worth his weight in gold.
”Playing against him, I knew he was a shot-blocker and that stuff, but I didn’t know when we were trading for him that we were getting a stretch-5 as well.”
Besides his three-point marksmanship, McGee has been doing his normal work on the glass, grabbing at least six boards in three of the first four games; nine in his most recent outing against New York, and five of those off the glass.
He’s also blocked a shot in three of four games, including a pair of swats in Sunday’s win over Philly.
”We’d be hard-pressed to find a better set of defensive bigs in the league than the two we have with us right now,” praised Coach J.B. Bickerstaff. “I didn’t realize how good of a passer he was, I didn’t realize the touch he has around the rim with the little floaters and the hooks. I think he’s definitely been a pleasant surprise all the way around.”
McGee brings a wealth of experience to Cleveland, but he also brings a unique philosophy. He’s already been a big influence on the youngsters – teaching them that the key to longevity and success in the Association is actually quite simple.
”When you’re playing your hardest, you’re out there going as hard as you can and you’re playing for the team and you get wins, everything works out,” said the laid-back veteran. “Everybody loves you when you’re winning. When you’re losing is when they decide to make excuses for you, and it’s this-person-did-this, this-person-did-that.
”When you win games, everybody’s perfect. So, you can solve all your problems by just winning.”