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JaVale McGee sees ‘lots of opportunities’ to contribute with the Suns

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The veteran center signed reported a one-year, $5 million with Phoenix in the offseason

2021 USA Basketball: All-Access Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

After signing with the Phoenix Suns in the midst of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with Team USA, JaVale McGee said he walked up to Devin Booker during breakfast and said, ‘What’s up, teammate?’

Apparently, Booker didn’t understand McGee was talking about the Suns.

“He’s like, ‘Oh, alright...’” McGee said during an appearance with the Burns and Gambo Show on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM on Wednesday. “And then I think he looked at his phone and was like, ‘Oh, I get it now. What’s going on?’ So yeah.”

McGee and Booker won a gold medal as Olympic teammates, and now they will look to win a championship in their first season as NBA teammates in 2021-22.

McGee, who reportedly reached an agreement with the Suns on a one-year, $5 million deal on Aug. 2 and signed with the team on Aug. 16, will provide much-needed experience for Phoenix at a position of need. Last season, the Suns had a glaring weakness in their frontcourt, especially after forward Dario Saric suffered a torn ACL in Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Over the course of that series, Phoenix was out-rebounded 278-234 (nearly nine boards per contest) and did not have a reliable defensive answer for Bucks superstar forward Giannis Antetokounmpo outside of starting center Deandre Ayton, who averaged 37.5 minutes per contest and had at least four fouls in four of the six games.

McGee, who said he attended Game 2 of the 2021 NBA Finals in Phoenix, said he sees “lots of opportunities” for him to contribute on his new team.

“I definitely felt like that backup center position could have been a lot stronger to where at least Deandre got into foul trouble, there was another big body in there to contest the rim and protect it,” McGee said. “So I definitely was watching the games and was looking at the way Chris Paul was threading the needle and getting in there and just feeding the big man.”

McGee, who has averaged 1.5 blocks per game over his NBA career, is expected to provide a reliable defensive presence for the Suns. He said he was already impressed by the team’s ability to make the Finals despite having eight players on its active postseason roster who had not had any previous playoff experience.

“I was talking to Chris, and he was saying how much the team works,” McGee said. “And that’s the main thing I’ve always seen in these championship teams is who works? Who’s willing to be in the gym before, who’s willing to be in the gym after and really lock in? And also, as a team, stay together, do things together? Go to dinner together, go places together and just make sure during the season at least, you’re locked in, all on one page.”

Here are some of McGee’s other comments from his radio interview on Wednesday.

On winning a gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics:

2020 Tokyo Olympics: USA v France Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

“For me, of course, it was definitely a special place, just being in a family that my mother (Pamela) won one in [1984], 37 years ago, was just a crazy concept. Just being able to conquer that feat and be the first mother-son to be able to get gold medals was awesome. But just alone, just going to the Olympics, being with those guys. Obviously, being with Book, my future teammate, was just a great experience. Because obviously, I was around all winners and great players. So it was definitely an amazing experience.”

On his relationship with Booker:

“Me and Devin had a pretty good relationship, nothing too crazy of more than just knowing each other in the league and seeing each other around in gyms and things like that. But we definitely had a good relationship. But it definitely, once we found that out, it was a whole different mindset of, ‘OK, we’re going to make something happen this year and we’re going to be teammates and collaborate on possibly winning an NBA championship.”

If he was able to view every game of the 2021 NBA Finals:

“I was actually at in the Game 2 in Phoenix. I literally just wanted to go. When I’m not in the Finals, which has been rare the past four years, I just wanted to experience it as a fan. I got to do that and the crowd was truly amazing. And I got to experience it as a fan, I don’t want to say post-COVID because COVID is still going on, but the arena was full. So that was just truly amazing.”

On connecting with Suns coach Monty Williams and general manager James Jones as Black men:

“It’s sort of weird to me, but for some reason when it comes to Black coaches and [general managers], I don’t know, I connect with them at a higher level or I just feel like we have this connection to where the honesty is there, the conversation is there, the openness is there to where you have that relationship with your coach, they keep it real with you, you keep it real with them, it’s 100 percent clarity in what your role is, what needs to be done. And I’ve always had that with Black coaches, and I don’t know why. It’s also amazing how many Black coaches signed in the league this year, so that was also great. So I love it.”

On Jones not guaranteeing him minutes:

“No, not necessarily any guarantees but definitely a spot where you’re like, ‘OK, I’m a vet, I understand what’s going on and I’m definitely going to make my impact on the floor to where there’s no choice but to put me in those minutes.’”

If he sees any similarities with the Suns and championship teams he played on previously (the Golden State Warriors in 2016-17 and 2017-18 and Los Angeles Lakers in 2019-20):

“I don’t think there’s any similarities, to tell the truth. Obviously, just from looking last year, they made it to the Finals, so obviously they can do it. And I feel like that piece of confidence in all of these young guys is going to grow and grow and grow, because most of the guys are extremely young. So you’re like, ‘Oh, wow, they’re making it to the Finals at this young age? They’re getting it at this young age?’ And I was talking to Chris, and he was saying how much the team works. And that’s the main thing I’ve always seen in these championship teams is who works? Who’s willing to be in the gym before, who’s willing to be in the gym after and really lock in? And also, as a team, stay together, do things together? Go to dinner together, go places together and just make sure during the season at least, you’re locked in, all on one page.”