The first season of the LeBron James era in Los Angeles was a complete failure for the Lakers from a team perspective, but for some individuals on the team, like JaVale McGee, this season was a blessing in disguise.
McGee left the back-to-back champion Golden State Warriors to pursue a bigger role with the Lakers and his gamble paid off. Through 70 games in Los Angeles, McGee is averaging a career-high 11.8 points per game on 62.2 percent shooting from the field while contributing 7.6 rebounds and two blocks per game. The only other player to match those averages this season is former Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert.
Obviously McGee would have loved to play in the postseason for a third consecutive year, but he told Bill Oram of The Athletic that the season still held some value to him in spite of the Lakers coming short of their playoff aspirations:
“I wanted to make the playoffs again but with a bigger role,” McGee told The Athletic. “We didn’t make the playoffs unfortunately, but I had a bigger role, so I don’t take it as something lost or anything.”
On the surface, these comments from McGee come off as a bit selfish, but McGee came into the season with a lot to prove.
It’s easy to forget that before landing in the perfect situation in Oakland, McGee was the laughing stock of the NBA and nearly fell out of the league in 2014. Even with the success he enjoyed with the Warriors, there were still concerns about how much he could contribute on a team that wasn’t loaded with superstar talent.
McGee told Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times that he believes he addressed those issues with the Lakers this season:
“I feel like there was a belief that I couldn’t play more than 10 minutes in the league because of asthma or because of anything,” McGee said. “I feel like I broke that stigma this year, showing that I can play 30-plus minutes if given the time and be efficient. I definitely think I’ve proved something this season.”
Now, with just two games left in the season, McGee still plans on playing as hard as he’s ever played because he doesn’t feel he can afford not to:
“These games don’t matter in the standings but they matter to still show people you’re professional and play the game the right way,” McGee said. “You can’t go out there and start acting crazy just because the games don’t mean anything.”
McGee will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and with the season he put together, he’ll be sure to garner some interest from teams looking for inexpensive help at the center position. The 31-year-old has already expressed interest in coming back to the Lakers for a second season, but his future in Los Angeles depends on how successful the front office is in their pursuit of another star.
If the Lakers go out and sign a big money free agent, it would make sense for them to bring back McGee, who will likely be relatively cheap in spite of his breakout season. If they’re unsuccessful in their pursuit of a big name star, expect them to offer a sizable one-year deal to a big name center like DeMarcus Cousins or DeAndre Jordan.