JaVale McGee won’t be a Cavalier for the next five years. He probably won’t be a Cavalier for more than one year.
However, McGee can help the Cavs as long he is around. That’s not a bad return (plus a 2026 second-round draft pick) for two players that also didn’t matter much to the team’s long-term future.
What last season was like
McGee, 32, spent last year with LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers. His role was largely to play center and eat up some of the wear-and-tear that Davis would have otherwise burdened, catch lobs and play defense. He ultimately mattered way less in the playoffs via Dwight Howard getting minutes over him and Davis playing the five, but McGee helped.
McGee started all 68 regular season games that he appeared in, averaging 6.6 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 16.6 minutes per game. Notably, he shot 70% at the rim, putting him in the 63rd percentile among bigs. He rated out highly as a lob threat and screener as well. Defensively, BBall-Index gives him an ‘A’ grade for the number of shots he contests at the rim, although he doesn’t deter players from driving into the paint.
What his role could look like
It’s uncear when McGee will be available to the Cavs. He arrived last weekend, but it seems like he’s going to take time to acclimate and gear up for the season.
However, McGee profiles a useful backup center, even on a non-title contender. Even he doesn’t impact the game in the way he might have with the Lakers — and that seems likely because the Cavs are worse — he can run pick-and-roll and catch lobs with the Cavs’ young guards in a way no other Cleveland big goes. Drummond has the size to matter there and likely will, but McGee finishes at a higher rate. Think of how Spencer Hawes helped a young Kyrie Irving for a stretch — that’s sort of what McGee offers Collin Sexton and Darius Garland.
He also can help provide some defensive cover on bench units as a rim protector in drop coverage. McGee won’t unlock scheme versatility, but he raises the floor. Having him as a mentor for Thon Maker also isn’t a terrible use of McGee, provided he’s willing.
Key stat to watch
It’s cheating to call this a stat, but McGee’s $4.2 million expiring contract is the most notable thing about him, at least from a bigger Cavs team-building perspective. Maybe Koby Altman could get a second-round pick for him if a contender ends up needing center depth. Or he could be easily combined to get to a bigger number for salary matching purposes. For instance, McGee plus Cedi Osman ($8.75 million) plus Dante Exum ($9.6 million) is $22.55 million for matching purposes. McGee plus Exum alone is $13.8 million and expiring. It’s just something to watch.
McGee will either be bought out or traded before the end of the season. He’s set to make $4.2 million in the last year of his contract, meaning he wouldn’t give up a lot if bought out and would be easy enough to trade to a good team looking for frontcourt depth.