Just 15 opportunities remain for Jordan McRae to latch on with the Cavaliers.
Although Cleveland signed the 6-foot-6 guard to a multiyear contract earlier in the month, carving out a place in the NBA is a major challenge, even for a player fresh off setting a NBA Developmental League scoring record.
McRae carried the Delaware 87ers to a 130-123 victory over the Canton Charge in January as he poured in 61 points on 21-of-34 shooting to go along with 11 rebounds and seven assists.
The performance wasn’t an aberration for McRae, as he was selected to the D-League All-Star game after averaging 23.3 points, 5.2 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 1.7 steals in 29 appearances for Delaware.
The Cavaliers may only need McRae to fill a small role — providing a scoring punch when a game is out of reach — but his wide array of talents hasn’t gone unnoticed by the coaching staff.
“He’s a really good player, he’s got some size and some length. I didn’t get a chance to see him in the D-League, but I heard a lot about him,” Cleveland assistant coach Larry Drew said. “He just fits. He’s the type of player that we like.”
Following a four-year career at Tennessee, McRae was selected with the 58th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, but was dealt on draft night to Philadelphia.
In four summer league appearances, McRae averaged 21 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.0 assists per game, but opted to sign a deal to play for the Melbourne United in Australia.
McRae came back to the United States after the 87ers acquired his rights.
He made an impact with the team and was invited to Philadelphia’s training camp, but just three days before the start of the season, McRae was the final player cut from the 76ers.
For the rest of the year, he has been bouncing back between the NBA and the NBA D-League, as he signed a pair of 10-day contracts with Phoenix and another 10-day contract with the Cavaliers at the end of February.
“It’s difficult, but players realize it’s the opportunity they’ve been looking for,” Drew said. “That’s why they go D-League, so they can get a 10-day contract and showcase their talents. And that’s exactly what he’s done.”
Since joining the Cavaliers, McRae has played in just five of 10 possible games, totaling 15 points, two rebounds and an assist in just 19 minutes of play.
The minutes available may be limited, but McRae relishes the opportunity to be in the NBA.
The harsh reality is the final player on the roster is also on the verge of being cut if the team finds a better fit.
In two years, McRae’s hard work has translated into just 12 appearances and 101 minutes on the court in the NBA.
Prior to Cleveland’s game against the Magic Friday night, Shatter the Glass caught up with McRae to discuss his hopes for the rest of the season and much more.
What was it like getting the phone call saying the Cavaliers were interested in bringing you onto the team?
I felt like I had a better opportunity here than Phoenix, just because they don’t expect me to come in and average 20 (points), you don’t need to. You’ve got LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, J.R. Smith, so you just have to come in and work as hard as you can. That’s what I do anyway, keep working even on my days off. They love that I’m still young, 24-years-old, I’m just trying to fit in.
How much can you learn during a 10-day stint with a team, what was the biggest thing you were able to take away from your time in Phoenix?
I just talked to the veterans there, it was (Tyson Chandler), P.J. Tucker, I just talked to them during timeouts, about why this or that happened. Now I try and do that with LeBron and James Jones. I just try to soak up as much information as I can.
How as the coaching staff here helped you improve your game? Along with Tyronn Lue, there are a pair of former head coaches on this team, how as that impacted you?
I get with the coaches in workouts all of the time. After every game, I just go and ask them what time are we starting tomorrow. I’m just trying to be prepared, you never know what can happen in this league. You have to be ready at all times.
What are some of your routines in the pre-game shootaround? How difficult is it to stay ready for a game, knowing that there is a chance you might not get into the game?
I just take all my workouts serious, and my pregame serious. You can never go into a game thinking that you aren’t going to play. You just never know.
Your role on the team is to provide an offensive spark when needed, have you been able to take anything away from J.R. Smith, a player that has made a career out of doing just that?
I haven’t really had the chance just yet. The thing about this team is that you are going to get open shots because you have guys on this team that are so experienced. We have three of the top players in the league, so just having those guys creates open shots. It makes my job easier, just as long as I can get those shots to drop.
How has your time in the D-League helped you prepare for life in the NBA?
It’s a great opportunity to keep working on your game. You don’t want to be a guy that’s just known for scoring, because it’s not all about scoring. On this team, you can’t be a volume shooter, on a team like this, you have to get things done efficiently. So, my time there helped me become much more efficient.
Tennessee didn’t make the NCAA Tournament this year, but did you think Middle Tennessee was capable of pulling off the upset against Michigan State?
The way they reacted after the game, they acted like they knew they were going to win the game and it wasn’t a surprise for them. For a team to be that confident against a team like Michigan State is really cool.