It's wait and see for Mavs and JaVale McGee

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DALLAS – Based on talent and basketball fit, JaVale McGee is the Dallas Mavericks’ best option to start at center as they deal with the aftermath of getting dumped by DeAndre Jordan.

Unfortunately for the Mavs and McGee, the springy, 7-foot Shaqtin’ a Fool star isn’t an option at this point. And it’s impossible to say when – or even if – he will be.

McGee, who was signed to a partially guaranteed two-year veteran’s minimum deal this summer, isn’t expected to be ready for the beginning of the regular season as he continues his return from a leg injury that has sidelined him for all but 28 games the last two seasons. He’s recently been cleared for increased activity, but McGee still isn’t sprinting, cutting or jumping.

The frustration of the long rehab process from a Feb. 20, 2014, surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left tibia is apparent for McGee, who should be in his prime at 27 years old.

“I don’t even believe in hope,” said McGee, who would need weeks of conditioning work after he is fully cleared to get in proper basketball shape. “I just let it happen. Whatever happens, and however fast it’s supposed to happen, it’ll happen.”

The Mavs hope a healthy McGee can compete for a starting role at some point this season.

To put it bluntly, it’s not as if the Mavs have any great options after allowing Tyson Chandler to leave in free agency and being blindsided by Jordan reneging on his commitment to come to Dallas. Zaza Pachulia is a solid backup whose limited mobility makes him an odd fit to play next to Dirk Nowitzki. Samuel Dalembert, who has played for six teams in the last six seasons, is infamously unreliable and lived up to that reputation by reporting to camp out of shape. Rookie Salah Mejri is an unknown – coach Rick Carlisle has only seen YouTube clips of him – who is dealing with his own leg injury.

From the neck down, a healthy McGee has a lot in common with Chandler as an athletic 7-footer who excels at finishing above the rim -- an important spacing element in the Mavs’ pick-and-roll-intensive offense.

“I definitely feel like I fit very well,” said McGee, who has career averages of 8.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. “Tyson’s game is sort of like mine. We both are athletic and dunk the ball, but I’m a little bit more faster and a little bit more agile, so it definitely opens up the floor more and makes it even harder.”

But it makes it hard to evaluate whether McGee merits a roster spot when he can’t actually compete. The Mavs might have to make a $250,000 decision before actually seeing McGee in any live action.

McGee’s contract was written to make it easy to cut him. He got only $250,000 guaranteed when he signed and another $250,000 guaranteed when camp opened Tuesday. He would get another $250,000 guaranteed if he’s on the opening night roster, and his $1.3 million salary would become fully guaranteed on Jan. 10. There are 16 players in camp with fully guaranteed salaries.

But none of the other bigs have McGee’s upside, which is why the Mavs are likely to give McGee the benefit of the doubt barring another setback, hoping he will be a two-year bargain.

“We know what he’s capable of doing,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He has a body of work. We know he’s an NBA player, and we know he has the ability to be a starting player in the NBA. We know he’s very motivated to play. He’s just had a very odd rehab situation that’s been addressed and he’s doing much better.

“So that’s something that we’re going to have to evaluate and kind of see what’s what as time goes along, but we consider him a guy that’s a great prospect.”