The last time we saw ex-Sixer Mac McClung on a basketball court was April 9 in Brooklyn, when he logged 33 minutes for the Sixers, more than double the sum total of minutes played in his NBA career. He scored 20 points that night, with nine assists and nine rebounds, and just one turnover. He played pretty good defense, as the Nets’ backcourt combined to go 8-for-28 from the field in the Philly win.
That came just two days after McClung logged 30 points and eight assists in the clinching game of the G League Finals, won by the Sixers’ affiliate, the Delaware Blue Coats, in a sweep over Rio Grande.
And it came 50 days after McClung won the 2023 NBA Slam Dunk contest, becoming the only G League player in history to take that crown.
“It was a year of highs and lows,” McClung said this week in an interview with Heavy Sports.
Indeed. The highs are obvious. But so is the low—despite his accomplishments (McClung was also the G League rookie of the year in 2022), McClung was not able to secure an NBA roster spot. In the past year-and-a-half, he estimates he’s lived in “eight or nine” different cities, bouncing through four organizations (the Bulls, Lakers, Warriors and Sixers) and three G League assignments.
With all he’s done, doesn’t McClung deserve a shot at an NBA roster by now?
“I don’t know,” he said. “My ego would probably want to say yes, but I don’t think that is how I am going to look at it. I am going to look at it like when the opportunity comes, it’s for the best. It’s hard, obviously my agent probably feels that way. My shooting percentage, us winning the Finals, the way I played in the last game, the dunk contest, the Rising Stars game … but I have learned in this game that you’re not really owed anything. It’s making the most of what your time is, when it is there.”
Mac McClung Remains an NBA Free Agent
July is wearing away, and McClung is still a free agent. His status as the NBA’s dunk champ has kept him busy—he will host a group of 10 winners to ride on a new roller coaster at Hersheypark, Wildcat’s Revenge, as part of a promotion through Starry soda (register here). He says he was obsessed with roller coasters as a kid but not so much here in adulthood. “I have become a little more terrified of them,” he said. “But it’s a good scared.”
McClung did not participate in the NBA’s summer leagues this year and the league’s rosters are mostly full. When he was with the Sixers, he was on a two-way G League contract, and if he returns to Philadelphia, it would likely be on a NBA deal—the Sixers have used all three of their two-way spots. But plenty of teams still have two-way spots open.
“We’ll see,” McClung said. “I am in free agency right now, my agent is talking to some teams, back and forth. We’re just trying to evaluate what is the best situation for me. Hopefully, I will be in the NBA next year and finding my way.”
Much could still change. The Sixers are coping with the James Harden trade demand, and in Portland, the Blazers are doing the same with Damian Lillard. There is likely to be some serious flux in rosters around the league in the coming weeks.
What is impressive about McClung is his outlook on his situation. He’s answered every knock on his game. For one: It’s been said that he is only 6-foot-2 and can’t really play point guard. But he’s averaged 6.1 assists in his G League career.
For another: It’s also been said McClung is not a particularly good shooter, yet he has knocked down 50.7% of his shots and 42.7% of his 3s in the G League. And we’re not talking about a small sample size. He’s played 55 games there.
“The biggest thing we talk about is being undeniable,” McClung said. “Whatever they say about me, I take it personal. You say I’m not a shooter, I shot 48% from 3 this year. You say I can’t pass, I averaged 8 assists a game my rookie year in the G League. You say I’m not a winner, we just won the G League championship. You say I can’t play in the big leagues, I had an opportunity in the last game and I think I showed myself.
“The thing is being undeniable. I don’t know what they want to say. Whatever I hear, I take it and I say, ‘Here’s this situation, I am going to try to kill all the excuses you guys have.’”
What’s consistent about McClung is that he won’t let the opinions of others change how he sees himself, even if those opinions are what keep him from a roster spot.
“I am not going to drive myself crazy, as if being in the NBA was going to give me value to who I am as a person,” McClung said. “Yeah, that’s where I want to be and that’s where I should be but at the end of the day I play the game I love each day and I am getting better at it.”
McClung Open to Playing Overseas
One thing that has changed, in a way, about McClung is his outlook on taking a spot in Europe, where he has had past opportunities to make significantly more money than in the G League—opportunities he has turned down. He talked about it during an interview last December, noting, “My heart has always been in this (trying for the NBA).”
He still wants to go to the NBA primarily, but he is more open to a detour across the Atlantic.
“It’s not that I don’t want to go overseas, it’s that my goal is to play in the NBA,” McClung said. “If it takes going overseas to do that, to put me in that situation, that is what I’ll do. I felt like last year, my gut was telling me not to go. Anything can change. I’m not knocking anything out. That was kind of a last-year thing, me feeling that way. I have nothing against overseas.”
Whatever he does, McClung wants to make sure he is exercising the right motivations—that he is operating from a position of love and positivity, not fear and negativity.
“The thing is to act in love, not fear,” McClung said. “When you act in love, the world will assist you. I feel like when you act in fear, so many decisions in our lives are guided by fear. So, I ask myself, ‘Am I doing this in fear because I am afraid this is not going to work out? Or am I doing this because I am scared someone will say something about it?’ Act in love and the world will assist you. Probably the best advice I have ever gotten.”
For now, at least, the thing McClung needs to fear most has little to do with basketball at all. It’s a roller coaster at a chocolate-based theme park.