EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

JaVale McGee brings ‘breath of fresh air’ to Suns roster

Sep 30, 2021, 5:08 PM
Phoenix Suns center JaVale McGee poses during the NBA basketball team's Media Day in Phoenix, Monda...

Phoenix Suns center JaVale McGee poses during the NBA basketball team's Media Day in Phoenix, Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns will be trying to overcome the loss of Dario Saric (torn ACL) for most of the season, as an update on his timeline will come at a later date.

But due to the timing of the injury in the NBA Finals, the Suns knew a backup 5 was going to be even more of a priority in the offseason.

Enter JaVale McGee, and considering where Phoenix is at with Saric, it’s pretty rare for them to make the best of the situation by not only finding a suitable replacement in the rotation but one who brings a different dynamic.

Where that starts is with McGee’s experience at the age of 33, entering Year 14 of his NBA career, with three NBA championship rings to his name.

“To me, he’s a breath of fresh air,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said Thursday of McGee. “He’s been around. He’s a good dude. And I’ve told him that. I think he had some assumptions about me so I think the first couple of days around me he was trying to do what he thought would allow for him to fit in with me and I had to tell him like, ‘Hey man, we don’t do that. Be yourself around here.’ It’s just about respect.

“He’s a pro. That’s the thing that I’ve been impressed with his first few days of practice, his ability to be an example for all of our guys. His body is in great shape, he’s one of the first guys on the floor (and) one of the last to leave.”

With those rings, McGee knows the mix the Suns need to find, something point guard Chris Paul is aware of.

“He knows what it means to be a starter in this league, he knows what it means to come off the bench but more than anything, he knows what it feels like,” Paul said. “He knows what real teamwork and all that stuff feels like.”

McGee took the team out to dinner on Wednesday night to get to know everyone a little more but also establish the camaraderie he knows great teams need, something the Suns had last year as well.

“It’s extremely important,” McGee said of it. “From my experience on being on championship teams, every team we did everything together. We went out together, we went to eat together, on the road, at home. It’s very important to start that early.”

On the court, McGee will be a seamless switch out for Deandre Ayton as a traditional 5. That makes things easier for everyone, including those two early on in training camp as they bounce advice back and forth between each other.

McGee’s last title came with a team who had a center rotation like that.

“2020 Lakers, two traditional bigs back-to-back and we won it,” he said. “So just thinking about that, it’s very possible and it’s one of the things that this team has that other teams don’t really emphasize on.”

Ayton is a big fan of having another true interior presence on the team.

“Oh man oh man, love that dude already,” he said Wednesday. “Today I think he sent a few things off the backboard and I ain’t seen that in a while, since college where another dude my size is and he’s [even] taller than me.”

BOOKER REMAINS AWAY

Devin Booker missed his third day of training camp on Thursday due to COVID-19.

Paul confirmed he’s talking to Booker “every day all day” as usual. As referenced above, this Suns team was real tight last season and that’s going to carry over to this year.

“He here without being here,” Paul put it as, mentioning the group chats and such that the team use to stay in touch.

WRIST LOOKS FINE

The word from general manager James Jones, Williams and Paul is that Paul is a full go for training camp after the veteran point guard had surgery on his left wrist in the offseason.

Paul said the majority of his offseason was working his way back from that, but he’s at 100% and good to go.

It looked fine and dandy on his shot.

Paul, Booker, Jae Crowder and Cam Payne are the usual group that will compete in a shooting contest at the end of almost every practice and shootaround. The game is essentially about hitting a certain number of 3s from the two corners, wings and the top of the key, around the world style. Make a certain amount in a row at one spot and you move on. If you miss, you’re stuck there until your next turn.

This was the game you saw Paul win on Tuesday when he shouted out Booker because he needed some competition.

Paul was behind on Thursday before going on one of the craziest runs I’ve seen, hitting 22 straight. He nearly made it clean through to the end, missing on the last corner.

As you can tell by the reactions escalating from the onlookers, he was nearly there.

Payne and Paul got to the tiebreaker, which is half-court shots and first to five. You might remember Booker and Crowder getting to this point during an NBA Finals practice.

On Thursday, Payne edged Paul out.

When Paul was asked about that, he said, “First day I let him win.”

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