Though he had an impressive preseason, 26-year-old Israeli point guard Gal Mekel has been released by the Dallas Mavericks, who signed him in 2013, to make room for J.J. Barea, who’ll be returning to the team following a stint with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
So what’s next for the second Israeli to ever play in the NBA? Here are five possible places Mekel could end up:
Oklahoma City Thunder: Out of the two NBA teams on this list, Oklahoma City is a more likely option for Mekel. The Thunder announced last night that star point guard Russell Westbrook will be out for four to six weeks after fracturing a bone in his hand. The Thunder are pretty thin at the point guard position and only have NBA journeyman Sabastian Telfair as a back-up for Westbrook.
The team is likely desperate to sign a point guard they think can help them win now. Since Oklahoma City drafted Kevin Durant (who’s since gotten injured), the team has been one of the best in the league, and they’ll want to keep their winning stream going even while Durant and Westbrook are out.
Throughout Mekel’s career, he’s been a winner. He’s one of the only players in Israeli Winner League history who was able to win a championship on two teams that weren’t Maccabi Tel Aviv. (Maccabi Tel Aviv have won 51 championships since 1954; Mekel has been part of two teams that defeated them in that time.) Mekel could come in and help keep the Thunder stable until the team’s stars return to the court.
Houston Rockets: Again, an injury could help propel Mekel to an NBA roster. Up-and-coming point guard Patrick Beverley has shown flashes of brilliance on the court but he seems to be injury-prone. Beverley strained his hamstring and might need to take time off—or at-least cut down his minutes—until he recovers completely. His back-up, though, is young and might need time to adjust to the NBA. While it’s only Mekel’s second year in the league, he’s an experienced player and could give 10 to 15 minutes of solid playing each game until Beverley returns.
Euroleague: If Mekel can’t find the right opportunity in the NBA or the D-League, he can try to sign with a prestigious team in the Euroleague. Prior to leaving Israel for the NBA, Mekel showed an impressive improvement in his shooting ability, and many top European clubs are in the market for a player with the tools Mekel possesses.
Based on media reports, Mekel wants to prove he can play in the NBA. But if he doesn’t get signed by a team in the next few months, he’ll face pressure to sign with a team that gives him time on the court and an opportunity to stay sharp, no matter the country. It would be better for him to sign with a European team and show NBA scouts that he is indeed ready return to the NBA than spend the entire season chasing his NBA dream without a team.
Maccabi Tel Aviv: Although it’s unlikely that Mekel will return to Israel, Maccabi Tel Aviv is arguably one of the biggest clubs in the world outside of the NBA. If Mekel had a spectacular season with Maccabi, that could improve his stock and help him return to the NBA. Several players have gone on to NBA teams after having excellent seasons in Tel Aviv.
Hapoel Jerusalem: Now that New York Knicks star Amar’e Stoudemire is a partial owner of Hapoel Jerusalem, we can’t rule them out completely either. They’re still searching for their first championship in franchise history and many in Jerusalem believe Mekel could be what gets them there.
Still, he most likely wouldn’t want to play in the Eurocup, which is the second tier of European competition, below the Euroleague. Plus, Hapoel has a star point guard, and Mekel wouldn’t get as much money there as he could with other top European teams.
Either way, Mekel has some solid options, within the NBA and elsewhere.
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Raphael Gellar is a freelance football and basketball journalist covering Israeli sports and international football. He tweets at @raphael_gellar.