JaVale McGee Leaves The Nest | Wizards Blog Truth About

JaVale McGee Leaves The Nest

Updated: March 16, 2012

I don’t have many McGee stories, but here’s one.

Last winter I was playing in a rec league at a high school about twenty minutes from D.C. On Sunday nights, after participating in any number of NFL-watching activities that would not be described as “performance enhancing,” we would take the court in chafing mesh jerseys, our shouts and clanked jumpers echoing all over the empty gym.

One evening, a few minutes before tip-off, JaVale McGee crept into the gym in a dark grey sweatsuit, the hood pulled up to shadow his face like the world’s most conspicuous ninja. There’s just no hiding when you’re 7-feet tall and move like a jungle cat, a lesson McGee must thoroughly understand at this point. We immediately spotted him, but attempted not to stare as he positioned himself on a ludicrously ill-proportioned loose chair in the corner of the gym, the seat so low as to bring his knees and shoulders almost level.

He was there to watch a friend, and a guy that might have been his trainer — both on our opposing team that night. His friend ostentatiously wore a Team USA practice jersey with McGee’s number. During the game, McGee mostly heckled his pals when they returned to the bench, and gave a brief shout when I caught the trainer with a crossover.

If you wondered what JaVale McGee was getting into on school nights during the season, there’s your answer.

Any time McGee is on the court, it doesn’t take long for your eye to begin tracking the simultaneously spastic and graceful movement of the tallest guy in the gym. His legend as a master of .GIF-worthy blooper is deserved, but he’s hardly a larger than life center on the lines of Dwight Howard. In the lockerroom it was Nick Young or even Andre Blatche who held court. I always found McGee surly and distrustful — he knew we were laughing.

And he didn’t like it, because McGee — and I genuinely believe this — wants to be good. In Washington, and given the deal they made to move him, I suspect that the Wizards feel the same way, I began to wonder whether McGee was fatally flawed — somehow as stunted mentally (in a basketball sense) as he was gifted physically.

It’s hard to believe that as McGee goes to Denver, a 24-year old with his size and coordination who ranks thirteenth in rebound rate and fourth in block percentage, could be considered something of a rescue project.

Yet a rescue project he is. How else to explain why after less than four years, the virtually expectation-free Wizards cut bait. But if there’s a coach and a team in the world that can help McGee capture a greater measure of his boundless potential, it’s George Karl and the Nuggets.

Let’s compare McGee’s former and future frontcourts. In Washington, McGee’s competition for minutes was the grotesque combination of Kevin Seraphin, Hamady N’Daiye and Ronny Turiaf. In other words, no competition at all.

But in Denver, McGee will have to fight for minutes. As Brett Koremenos, editor of, put it to me, “They don’t need him. Kenneth Faried and Al Harrington have the 4 locked down. Chris Anderson, Timofey Mozgov and Kostas Koufas, while not McGee, are adequate at the 5. So he will either learn to be a pro, or he won’t play very much. Love that.”

Me too. Especially because he’ll be incorporating himself into a healthy, defined culture with a savvy front office and young players that seem entirely committed to contending. As badly as John Wall wanted to win and tried to lead, McGee has never been a part of this kind of basketball culture. What’s more, McGee is now playing for a coach with a legendary history of getting the most from of his players.

When Shawn Kemp came to Karl, he was so raw he made McGee look like Louis Scola. In a few years, the Sonics were throwing it in to the Reign Man on the low block in the Western Conference Finals, and Kemp delivered.

Karl just has a way of putting his players in situations and “actions” that suit their talents, for encouraging the “right basketball play,” and for not accepting players who refuse to buy in.

The good news for McGee is that he only has to do less to become a much better player. If McGee’s game were an outfit, it would be replete with plastic tassels and flashing lights. Karl and his staff will help trim away the excess goofiness — snip off that running hook that takes a devastating offensive rebounder farther from the rim and is as unfoulable as it is unblockable.

Maybe the Wizards could have waited for McGee to grow into the franchise player look they envisioned when they paired him and Wall. Regardless, his experience with Denver will go a long ways to determining whether the still young player can develop some basketball sense. Whether he can grow up as a player.

It’s time for McGee to put on his big boy pants. The Nuggets are betting Karl can tailor McGee into a professional.

Beckley Mason

  • A.P.

    I like this post a lot, appreciate both its line of thought and how well-written it is. And that awesome anecdote. One thing I’m curious about, though (and might even have an ever so slight gripe with) is this:

    “Yet a rescue project he is. How else to explain why after less than four years, the virtually expectation-free Wizards cut bait.”

    I agree, of course, with JaVale-as-rescue project, but I’m not sure if, even assuming most people’s expectations for our team are nil, “expectation-free” is accurate. I guess I’m quibbling over the use of that phrase, over whether it refers to the expectations the Wizards had/have or the expectations people had/have of the Wizards. I mean, the organization and its fans often expect(ed) a lot, I think–particularly out of McGee (and Young), at least in their capacity as upside players with huge roles on a rebuilding team. Prada is more articulate than I am:

    “Now, they’ll both (McGee and Young) be in new environments with much less pressure to succeed. The Nuggets don’t need McGee to be a franchise building block, and the Clippers certainly don’t need Young to do much more than hit threes and defend. Whether either player can fare better in a limited role remains to be seen, but it’s a good, unique challenge for both of them after too much was probably expected of them in D.C.” (from this BF post-

    Thoughts? In a lot of ways, these quotations and their posts and the larger ideas behind them aren’t even totally at odds–you and Mike and a lot of other people are on the same page about JaVale now being in a situation in which he can have a huge role or not, but where he’s certainly not a cornerstone. So what do and what should we expect of him, and how does that play into why we let him leave–or left him?

  • Man, the folks in the Nuggets’ front office must be regretting resigning Nene: they paid him All Star money and he’s putting up rather mediocre numbers in scoring and rebounding and he does not even block shots for a man his size. If they can only have a do over and somehow just unload that monstrous contract, but who would be stupid and gullible enough to take on such a dead weight contract of a player that has already hit his peak and is on the possibly the downslide of his career? Wait! Denver already traded him yesterday, but who did they find that was stupid enough to take . . . the Washington Wizards? Who did the Nuggets get . . . are you kidding me: Javale McGee?! Are you telling me that the Nuggets sent an over rated and over paid big man whose possibly on his way downhill to the Washington Wizards for a up and coming young center who averages a near double-double and is ranked second in the league in blocked shots per game? Okay I need to sit down . . .

  • alex


    Javale Mcgee is a restricted free agent after this season and so the Wizards would have to match any crazy offer. I wouldn’t even bet on it that he stays in Denver. The Wizards didn’t see Javale as a starting Center right now and got a solid starter (when healthy) in return. Now, why did they just let Mcgee walk and sign a Center in the offseason? Because who is out there that would come here?? Nene is now our Center and Seraphin has been solid lately. At the very least, it’s a reasonable decision. It has its risks, but I can completely understand why the Wizards would be unsure of 1) whether Mcgee would stay, and 2) whether he would be worth outbidding other teams for.

  • Incandescent Rex

    I’m glad we got rid of McGee and got something for him, but I am starting to have second thoughts about the length of Nene’s contract. Would have rather taken a lesser player with a smaller contract. But make no mistake, McGee was gone after this season and rightly so. He’ going to ask for Deandre Jordan money and he’s not worth it. From Denver’s side, this was a coup just to get out of Nene’s contract. Having Javale proof he’s worth a Deandre contract over the course of the rest of the season would be gracy, but i doubt they’re counting on it….