I’ll be honest: I want JaVale McGee to come back...badly!
I don’t think I’m alone in this. Beyond his tremendous locker room presence, McGee was a revelation on the court last season. Although he played less than 10 minutes per game, he was a transformative force. Coach Steve Kerr called it “vertical spacing” but regardless of what label you slap on it, the addition of McGee was shown to be incredibly effective in the 2016-17 season. In fact, the lineup featuring McGee was a top-ten 5-man unit and the team’s second most effective out of all our options. He had some big games — like when he started for an injured Zaza Pachulia and had 16 points in 13 minutes against the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.
So what gives? Why haven’t the Warriors re-signed him? I know I’m not the only one wondering what’s going on. In an offseason that has been rife with action, there’s been a dearth of news about McGee.
I think I have an answer, although we may not like it: what if the Warriors are secretly hoping that JaVale McGee moves on?
It’s a complicated issue, but one that we can (and should) break down to its most basic components.
Issue #1: the competition for minutes for our backup big
The Warriors have something of a logjam developing right now with their big men. First of all, there is incumbent reserve David West. He may be a less exciting option, but he is a capable defender and excellent passer; West represents the safe and sane option. He won’t do anything too impressive, but is also the least likely to lose a game for you in 10 minutes. Which brings up the next salient point — we are only talking about 10 minutes per game here (McGee averaged 9.5 minutes per game last season).
In those limited minutes, the Warriors are faced with a very tough decision with resultant opportunity costs. Namely: do they prefer to play it safe (if that’s what McGee represents) or do they want to devote those minutes to their young guns, Damian Jones and/or Jordan Bell? And this is all before we have even mentioned the enigma that is Kevon Looney. Bell, in particular, looks like an intriguing prospect that could contribute right away (he averaged five points, nine rebounds, two steals and 2.6 blocks in limited Summer league play):
Jordan Bell Summer League block compilation. Elite timing rotating as a help defender to protect the rim. pic.twitter.com/bAif2aONZ8— Joshua Riddell (@Joshua_Riddell) July 14, 2017
Let’s be honest. All three of those guys are total “flyers,” low-risk but high reward. Looney and Jones were both the 30th picks, Bell was the 38th pick — although the $3.5 million dollar price tag attached to him makes the numerical draft order a bit less germane. But the point is that at some point, the Warriors are going to want to see whether or not these picks can cut it as a rotation player in the league, and JaVale McGee makes that visibility harder.
The truth is that McGee is certainly a better player than any of those three other guys right now, but at the same time, he is almost as certainly less critical to the team’s long-term outlook. And I wonder how much the front office is weighting his averages of six points, three rebounds, and one block per game? Is this really an irreplaceable output? As Nate Parham said in our Slack chat:
......he certainly had meaningful minutes, but didn't play a lot of minutes...so...maybe they're willing to take a chance that one of those guys grow quickly.
Issue #2: the looming salary cap implications
Here’s where I think the perverse incentives come in the most. On the one hand, McGee is an asset that makes the Warriors better right now. On the other hand though, it could be argued that the Warriors are more than good enough as-is this season with the main concerns emerging next season.
Sources: Warriors' luxury tax moving forward is concern for Golden State and owner Joe Lacob in re-signing Andre Iguodala.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 29, 2017
McGee is already looking for a little bit of a payday. That’s the whole reason that he’s taken meetings with the lowly Kings and the hated Clippers. Assuming he returns to the Warriors, and does well, then it can be assumed that we will face this same signing pressure next offseason, only with a McGee armed with yet another solid season performance under his belt to augment his negotiating position.
In this scenario, doesn’t it make sense for the Warriors to concede the near-term advantage that McGee offers? Even if they don’t end up re-signing any of the three young studs, it’s easy to see why they would want to devote minutes towards figuring out their merits right now. If nothing else, there are salary ramifications in our next subsequent season that point towards needing plenty of minimum salary players.
Issue #3: A bird in the hand...
Not to flip--flop too much, but I want to flip my argument to the pro-McGee side now. JaVale McGee was a critical component of our team last season. Beyond the issue of vertical spacing, he brings a certain level of shock and awe to our offensive attack. It would be foolish (in my humble opinion) to squander the opportunity of bringing him back, just because we think we need to start developing our young bigs. After all, that’s what the team in Santa Cruz is there for, right?
Instead, it almost feels like the Warriors are intentionally moving away from McGee so that he initiates the break. Much like when I was too immature to break up with my girlfriend in Junior High School (sorry, Hetty!), I’m starting to wonder if the Warriors are intentionally being discourteous to McGee so that he breaks it off. It controls the narrative so that the front office can still toe the line and say “we wanted him back.”
But if they really do want him back, they sure are doing a crummy job of showing it.
At this point, the best recourse is bringing back JaVale McGee. But one source said he is not happy with the Warriors for not giving him a shot at the starting slot and giving all of the mid-level to free agent guard Nick Young. McGee believed his play this season earned him more minutes and money, and is looking for that on the market.
The Warriors just went all in on the 2017-18 team. I’m not a salary cap guru but am comfortable saying that the team next year will be expensive. In signing Iguodala, the team signaled that they are committed to winning now, but these are Joe Lacob’s Warriors. Part of being light years ahead of the competition entails a lot of planning, so you can rest assured that the front office has discussed these issues. And I don’t think it’s hard to see why they could end up deciding that McGee isn’t a priority, unfortunately.
Don’t worry, be happy
In the end, there’s nothing we can do as fans. I hope McGee knows how much we have appreciated him here. No matter when it ends, I think that both sides will come away satisfied. He came here on a non-guaranteed contract, and ended the season as an NBA champion whose career is back on an upwards trajectory.
McGee was more than just his stat line, more than 10 minutes per game — he became a part of the family. Remember when he gave the whole team those cozy blankets with an enormous picture of Draymond Green on them? Or the joke hat he found to fit Zaza Pachulia’s head? These are the intangibles that helped him fit in here. The kind of actions that form an indelible bond between teammates.
And that’s something to be happy about, right?
(note: please turn your sound on to fully enjoy this one!)