In his first game back in Washington since the end of the regular season, JaVale McGee looked pretty much the same as he always has in the street ball exhibition game between the Drew League and the Goodman League at Trinity University: He still gets up and down the court faster and off the floor quicker and higher than most big men.
Besides being slightly bigger, what’s new?
McGee finished with 21 points as he caught lobs from Brandon Jennings and punished the rim with a two-handed dunk, bringing the backboard down so low that there was some concern that it wouldn’t plop back up. McGee seemed to thrive in a setting where an ability to finish alley-oops trumped the need to create with polished low post moves.
Although the Drew League has been trying to get Kobe Bryant involved in a possible rematch next month, McGee wasn’t certain that players would be willing to make what happened last Saturday — when players from Los Angeles paid nearly $2,500 for flights and hotels to play for free in a charity game — a regular occurrence during the NBA lockout.
“I don’t think people will,” McGee said, “because I don’t think people want to chance it, playing these games all the time. Especially with no insurance or not getting paid for it. This was free. We actually lost money coming to this game.”
Organizers of Saturday’s game are expected to reimburse the players for travel expenses, but it certainly was a different experience for McGee. He has played regularly in the Drew League but also was paid to participate in an all-star game in the Philippines — where he joined Bryant, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Derrick Rose — and got some YouTube hits for fulfilling a promise to his Twitter followers by planking on the court after driving the length of the court and dunking, then blocking a shot on the other end.
McGee said he hasn’t given consideration to playing overseas should the lockout extend well into the fall. “I really haven’t. I’ve been trying, my agent and everybody, has just been getting little games together for sums of money, like we did in the Philippines.”
McGee isn’t hurting for money, since he is notoriously frugal and had no problem saving money even before the players’ union advised players to get prepared financially for missing out on checks in the 2011-12 season. “I’m good,” McGee said with a smile.
John Wall mentioned that he thought DeMarcus Cousins got the better of McGee in their head-to-head meeting at Trinity University, because Cousins was able to bully his way toward dunks on consecutive possessions and was more aggressive on the boards (“He’s a beast,” Wall said of Cousins). In a glorified scrimmage, no one could’ve or should’ve expected McGee to mix it up down low in a game that was played primarily to entertain.
McGee did protect the rim with a few blocks, including an incredible rejection in which he simply inhaled a Gary Neal runner in the lane, snatching it with his right hand and corralling it like a rebound. But the 7-foot-1 McGee certainly has to improve in several areas, with his colleagues around the league aware of his athletic gifts but also his limitations.
Dallas Mavericks center Tyson Chandler made some interesting comments about McGee to TrueHoop last month. “When you’re young, they say you’re young and you’re dumb. You can’t gain that knowledge except for just playing,” said Chandler, who beat out McGee for a spot on the gold medal-winning team at the world championships in Turkey last year. “There are some Dwight Howards who come in and blossom early and are able to dominate. Then you have guys like myself, and Andrew Bynum, and I think the same thing about JaVale McGee. It’s going to take him a while before he truly gets it. But his athletic ability and his just physical capability . . . he should be able to change a game. And I definitely think he will. It’s just time and understanding and placing, coaching, guys working with him, before he dominates out there. He has something that you can’t teach.”
So far, the offseason hasn’t really been much different for McGee since he continues his same workout routine of dunking on random people at an open gym at HAX Athletic Club in Los Angeles, lifting, riding his bike and boxing, as he did last summer. McGee has had the opportunity to travel abroad, with his trip to the Philippines followed by a tour through China earlier this month with his shoe company, Peak. “It really hasn’t been that bad, because we wouldn’t be in training camp yet, so I feel like if the lockout is still going on when we’re still going to training camp, that’s when we’ll feel it,” he said.
McGee sat in for the regional players’ union meeting last week in Los Angeles, where about 70 players showed up to get an update on the labor situation from union head Billy Hunter. Despite the speculation that the lockout could wipe out an entire season, McGee said he feels both sides will reach an agreement. “I’m optimistic, just for the fact that I don’t think the owners want to lose all that money. Because it’s a lot of money and last year was a great season money wise. I don’t think they want to lose the money of an upcoming season.”