JaVale McGee's leadership felt on Day 1 of Kings training camp

JaVale McGee's leadership felt on Day 1 of Kings training camp originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

The Kings’ starting five last season had an average age of 26.2 years old. Most of the team entered the 2022-23 NBA season with little to no playoff experience.

Enter JaVale McGee one year later, a 35-year-old three-time NBA champion and Olympic gold medalist.

On Day 1 of Kings training camp Tuesday, McGee already made his presence felt -- and heard. The 7-foot-1 center might be new to the team after signing a one-year contract with the Kings this offseason, but he’s certainly not new to the game and made that vocally clear at the opening practice.

As the Kings wrapped up their final drill of the day, the players and coaching staff huddled in the middle of the practice facility court. Kings All-Star point guard De’Aaron Fox shared some words to the group before McGee ended with a message of his own.

“Just focus on the little things,” McGee recalled telling the team. “We have a habit of, sometimes, some guys can have a whole conversation with a guy while the drill is going on. And when it's his turn, he turns and goes to do what he needs to do. But some people don't have that skill to be able to multitask like that. So I was just telling them, you have to realize who you're talking to because you might be messing up the next guy who's trying to make the team or something.

“And you're talking to him, ‘Yeah you should do this, you should do that,’ and then he misses the drill and the coach sees that, and it's just a trickle-down effect. So you have to know who you're talking to and you have to focus on the game and focus on the little things.”

McGee is entering his 16th season in the league with the Kings, who will be the ninth organization he’s been a part of.

He has seen just about everything the NBA has to offer from the highs to the lows, and shared what playing with this Kings roster was like on Day 1.

“Fast. Very fast,” he said. “We get up and down the court extremely fast. And it's fun, real fun. Just being here with these guys, the excitement, the energy, it's real fun.”

McGee speaking up on Day 1 doesn’t come as a surprise to Kings coach Mike Brown, who worked with the big man during their time together with the Golden State Warriors.

After things didn’t go exactly as planned for McGee with the Dallas Mavericks last season, he sought a new home this summer. McGee’s close relationship with Brown was a “big deciding factor” when he ultimately chose to sign with Sacramento.

“He's an NBA champion. He's been around a lot,” Brown said of McGee on Tuesday. “He has a great, great feel for what's right and what's wrong. He's got a fantastic presence and he's not afraid. Those are some of the characteristics you have to have in order to be able to speak up in front of the group.”

On top of McGee being a vocal leader off the court, Brown expects him to speak up just as much on the court, particularly on the defensive end -- an area the Kings are tunnel-vision focused on improving this season.

“He's going to have to play the right way,” Brown said. “He's different than what we had last year with his length and his ability to block shots and discourage shots at the rim. He's also vocal. So we need him to be vocal, we need him to step up on that end of the floor in order for us to take that next step as a unit defensively.”

The Kings made a splash last season but aren’t satisfied with how it all ended. With a year of playoff experience under the belt as a unit, they're focused on sustaining and building upon last season's success.

To Brown, so far so good.

"It was good," Brown said. "I thought the guys worked hard, they tried to do what we asked them to do. The spirit was pretty good, the connectivity was good. So I thought it was a good first day.

"We want to continue laying the foundation of working on the narrative of who we are. We're going to play fast. We did all last season. We want to see if we can play faster. We want to be more physical, and so I wanted to see that today. I saw it a little bit, but we can still up it in that area. And we want to play together, the right way. And we're seeing glimpses of it carry over from last season. So that made me excited."

It's only Day 1, but it's evident the Kings have specific goals with the intention of doing what it takes to accomplish them.

At the beginning of last season, the Kings signed an "all-in" contract, committing themselves to the team and the culture. Copies of the contract were displayed around the team's practice facility, locker room and coaches' offices.

As the Kings get ready for a new season with new expectations, a new contract was drawn up.

"It's necessary because it's the beginning of a new season. And everybody needs to be all in," Brown said. "It's hard. Yesterday or the day before, I said it's hard to be all in because it's hard to go from a good team to a great team, and that's what we're striving to do. We want to compete for a championship.

"And the only way to do that is to have the utmost level of commitment from everybody. From all units across the board. ... We all have to be aligned in order for that to happen. We all have to embrace what our culture is and the way we want to play. And if we do that, we're all in. And I value that, so we all sign it."

New year, new vocal leaders, same team philosophy.