Editor’s Note: Welcome to our “2020 Lakers Season In Review” series, where we’ll be looking back at every member of this Lakers roster as the offseason commences, and answering some questions about what they contributed (or didn’t) to the team’s 17th championship, as well as discussing what their situation is moving forward. Today, let’s discuss JaVale McGee.
How did he play?
JaVale McGee was everything the Lakers needed him to be in his second season with the team — nothing more, nothing less.
While he averaged 5.7 minutes less than he did last season as a result of there simply being more talent on the team — particularly at his position — McGee was actually able to make a bigger impact in a smaller role. According to Basketball Reference, the +2.1 defensive box plus-minus McGee posted through 68 regular season appearances was the highest of his career by 0.9 points. It was also the third-highest DBPM on the team behind Anthony Davis (+2.6) and Alex Caruso (+2.4).
Additionally, McGee tied his career-high for defensive rating (101), which you can obviously attribute to him starting 59 games alongside Davis in the regular season, but he also deserves a lot of credit for the way he improved his strength and conditioning in the offseason. He didn’t take his foot off of the gas when he signed his new contract in the summer of 2019.
That being said, there was always this feeling that McGee would be unplayable when the playoffs rolled around. And while “unplayable” might sound like a harsh word, it ended up being the case in the later stages of the postseason. After averaging 13.4 minutes per game in the first round, McGee averaged 7.5 minutes per game in the Western Conference semifinals and 7.6 minutes per game in the Western Conference Finals. In the Finals, he was a DNP-CD.
In McGee’s defense, he didn’t play especially badly. In fact, in the postseason, he still posted a positive defensive box plus-minus (+1.6) and had the highest total rebounding percentage (19.2%) on the team. However, the things that McGee did well weren’t better than the things Davis, Howard or even Markieff Morris did well at the center position.
With the way the league has evolved, McGee might just be a regular season player. That’s fine, but it just makes him more expendable than other players on the roster.
What is his contract situation moving forward?
McGee has a player option worth $4.2 million that he can exercise to return to the Lakers for the 2020-21 season. If he declines it, he will be an unrestricted free agent.
Will he be back?
If the question is “will McGee pick up his player option?” then the answer is “probably.” There won’t be a ton of money out there for McGee in free agency, and there almost definitely won’t be more than the $4.2 million he’s set to make next season.
Now, if the question is “will McGee be on the opening night roster?” then the answer is “it depends.” The Lakers had success with their two-headed monster at the center position last season, but what happens when that two-headed monster turns into a three-headed monster? If DeMarcus Cousins wants to finish his business in Los Angeles and Howard returns for at least another season, does McGee fit into Vogel’s rotation? We don’t know.
There’s also McGee’s contract. If the Lakers have plans of making trade proposals, McGee’s $4.2 million salary would be a great place to start. That contract, combined with Quinn Cook’s $3 million salary, puts them in the conversation for names like Derrick Rose, Tyus Jones and Elfrid Payton.
That’s not to say the Lakers are looking to trade McGee — there’s actually no firm reporting to suggest that they are. But given his salary and the potential return of Cousins, it wouldn’t be surprising if they moved on from him.