Warriors

JaVale McGee finally has what he always wanted: respect and appreciation

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USATSI

JaVale McGee finally has what he always wanted: respect and appreciation

OAKLAND -- Though he was born with genes for immense height and a predisposition for athletics, both of which helped him earn $50 million by age 27, the affirmation JaVale McGee craved most were the hardest to achieve.

He liked the money, loved being in the NBA and enjoyed his teammates. The 7-foot, 270-pound center relished making plays that altered the trajectory of a game. Life was, on the whole, quite good for McGee.

But not until last season, his ninth in the NBA and first with the Warriors, did McGee get what he really wanted, in addition to a winning environment: respect and appreciation.

And, please, do not confuse them with fame and adulation.

For so long respect and appreciation were buried under copious images of goofy moments, some mental and others physical. Nothing unnerved McGee more than knowing that, in the eyes of some, he associated mostly with being the most frequent punch line on Shaquille O’Neal’s video clips show, “Shaqtin’ A Fool.”

McGee’s play last season kicked that caricature in the teeth. He became a regular contributor to a championship Warriors team and gained status as a fan favorite, the most popular player coming off the bench.

“The crowd roars, and they’re happy for me to come in,” McGee told NBC Sports Bay Area on Thursday. “And I’m happy to perform for them. It’s entertainment. That’s what we’re doing. And that’s what I’m trying to do to the best of my possibilities.”

McGee’s entrance into games at Oracle Arena is routinely greeted with a wave of applause and an edge-of-seat anticipation. He’s an energizer, throwing lob passes through the rim, blocking shots and, perhaps most of all, sprinting up and down the court as if his salary were based merely on effort.

It’s apparent that as much as Dub Nation loves what Four All-Stars bring to the Warriors, nothing warms hearts quite as much as McGee’s story of redemption, perseverance and salvation.

Think of it. One year ago, McGee as a free agent went through an entire summer without being pursued by any of the NBA’s 30 teams. Two weeks before training camp, he settled for a non-guaranteed one-year contract with the Warriors.

The man who was coming off a four-year contract worth $45 million was battling with an array of upstarts to earn the team’s 15th and final roster spot.

McGee won the job, and won over the Warriors. His per-game averages of 6.1 points and 3.2 rebounds, over 9.6 minutes, don’t seem like much until one considers those numbers jump to about 23 points and 11.5 rebounds per 36 minutes. As for efficiency, McGee shot a career-best 65.2 percent from the field.

It wasn’t enough, though, to prompt teams to chase McGee this summer. Though there was communication with several teams, there is little doubt that his asthma, which limits him minutes total, hurt his value on the open market.

So, with the Warriors essentially keeping his seat warm, McGee ended up signing another one-year deal -- this one guaranteed -- to return.

“I just took my time, and then I decided to come back, basically, that's about it,” he said. “It wasn't really a crazy . . . ‘Oh, no, I get to go back to Golden State, win a championship, oh no!’ ”

McGee’s role will be much the same as it was last season. He’ll get the occasional start, but on most nights he’ll enter midway through the first and third quarters, stirring the crowd and sending a shot of adrenaline through the building.

“It feels great,” McGee said of the reception he gets at Oracle.

“But I’m not really a star. I don’t like fame and being in the spotlight. That’s not really my thing. But it comes with the territory. It’s like, ‘Do you want to be famous? Or do you not want to play in the NBA?’ I want to play in the NBA, so that’s what comes with it.”

Fame is easier to accept when much of the past is associated with infamy and now, to the surprise of many, you’re waving a championship ring. It’s absolutely OK when that ring is accompanied by respect and appreciation.

Durant reveals second-favorite jersey number, 'I can't get that here'

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AP

Durant reveals second-favorite jersey number, 'I can't get that here'

The Warriors play the Lakers Monday night in Los Angeles. 

With the Lakers at 10-17 and currently owning the 11-seed in the Western Conference, this would seem like just any other game. Grabbing a ticket, however, will be nearly impossible. 

The Lakers are honoring Kobe Bryant that night at Staples Center. Bryant will have both No. 8 and No. 24 retired by the team he spent his entire 20-year career.

Kevin Durant has worn the same jersey number his entire 11-year NBA career. He first started sporting No. 35 his one and only season at the University of Texas. 

"To have two numbers retired, it had me thinking, damn, that'd be cool," Durant said to Anthony Slater of The Athletic. "I got another favorite number that I like.”

Durant then revealed his other favorite number to be 11. But, that's off limits in Golden State. 

"I can't get that here,” Durant continued saying. 

Klay Thompson has worn No. 11 throughout his seven-year career with the Warriors. He did wear No. 1 at Washington State though, so maybe Durant has a chance to do his own Kobe impression one day. 

With Curry out, Durant shows you exactly why Warriors went all in for him

With Curry out, Durant shows you exactly why Warriors went all in for him

OAKLAND -- Exhibit A: 35 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. A triple-double and two blocked shots. Warriors win in Charlotte.

Exhibit B: 36 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks. Warriors win in Detroit.

Exhibit C: 28 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three blocks. Warriors win at home over Portland.

Exhibit D, Thursday night at Oracle Arena, in a 112-97 win over the Dallas Mavericks: 36 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks.

This is why the Warriors invested time and money and energy 18 months ago in their shameless pursuit of Kevin Durant. This is why a platoon of them took cross-country flights. This is why they embraced the possibility of rejection. This is why any possibility of failing and having to resort to Plan B put knots in their bellies.

For those times when they would be without Stephen Curry, their leader and a two-time MVP, they could turn to Durant, himself a former MVP and four-time scoring champ still in the prime of his career.

“He’s just really, really good,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr says. “KD is one of the most talented scorers to ever play the game. He can make stuff out of nothing.”

Just as Curry found another level shortly after Durant went down last February, missing 19 games, Durant is filling a void perhaps only he could fill. He already has entered Exhibits A-D, and he seems to be working his way through the alphabet.

“I pretty much figure I can do whatever I want on the basketball court if I put my mind to it,” Durant says. “So, whatever position I’m in, I’m ready to conquer it.”

There is a cruelty about what Durant does to defenders when he’s at his best, as he has been over the past four games, ever since Dec. 4, when a sprained ankle took Curry out of the lineup. Durant taunts them without meaning to (maybe). Too quick for 7-footers and too long for prototypical wings, he scores with an ease that leaves observers breathless, if not wordless.

“He doesn’t have many ceilings to his skill set,” says assistant coach Ron Adams, who coached Durant for two seasons (2008-10) in Oklahoma City and is enjoying the reunion.

“He may be the most efficient basketball player I’ve ever played with,” Klay Thompson says. “He makes it look easy out there.”

Thompson is basking in the shelter provided by Durant’s presence. Kerr is delighted to have Durant as, get this, a splendid alternative.

“It’s so amazing,” Kerr says, “to have a player like him, who is a superstar and who, without ever saying anything, without me saying anything to him, with Steph out he just takes over.”

The Warriors are 4-0 since Curry left the lineup. They are 3-0 in games for which fellow starters Draymond Green and Zaza Pachulia joined Curry on the sideline. Durant has stepped in the fill a void perhaps only he can fill.

He’s playing at MVP level, averaging 33.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 3.0 blocks. Through 25 Warriors games this season, Durant had one 30-point game. He has had his three highest-scoring games in the last four.

They were listless in the first half Thursday night, committing ghastly turnovers and playing haphazard defense. They were behind, at home, to a Mavericks team hurtling toward 55 losses.

Except the Warriors had Durant. He was keeping them in the game. He scored 12 of their 24 first-quarter points. When the Mavs tried go up nine midway through the second quarter, he was there was block Harrison Barnes’ layup.

“Kevin is amazing,” says teammate Omri Casspi. “He’s always been great for our team. The past few games he’s just picking up in so many different levels. He’s having Defensive Player of the Year numbers defensively. He’s playing great. Really helping everybody. Blocking shots.”

Shortly after Dallas went up by five early in the third quarter, Durant was there, spoon-feeding Jordan Bell for a layup to cut it to three. A few seconds later, Durant was finding Casspi for a short jumper to bring the Warriors within one.

A Durant jumper pulled the Warriors into the last tie of the game, 61-61, with 7:20 left in the third, and 31 seconds later his 3-point bomb put them ahead for good. Durant followed that by accounting for four of the next six field goals, assisting on one of the other two. Game.

“Frankly, Durant just comes down and jumps over us a few times,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle says. “It’s very difficult to stop that if a guy is that good.”

Says Kerr: “There were times where it didn’t look like we had anything going and he just rose up and knocked down threes or put it on the floor and scored. He’s basically un-guardable . . . KD seems to have an answer for everything.”

With Curry and Green out, Durant is absorbing most of their scoring and playmaking and defense. If that sounds like a lot, it’s because it is.

But that’s why he is here. So there is no panic when Curry goes down six weeks into season, even if it’s conceivable he could miss a month. Durant is on it, diving into the challenge in a way he plunged into the NBA Finals last June.

Remember what happened? The Warriors won in five games, Durant coming away with a Finals MVP trophy and his first championship ring.

He was in a zone then, and he’s in one now.

“When Steph and Draymond come back, I’m looking forward to them coming back,” Durant says. “I get back into what my role is.

“I’m ready to conquer anything I have in front of me and I know if I put my mind to it, I can do whatever I want.”