Ultimately, Gal Mekel understood what most others realized long beforehand.
His NBA dream is all but dead. The time has come to move on.
Since he was cut by the New Orleans Pelicans in December 2014, every one of the 27-year-old guard’s decisions was made with the aim of returning to the NBA as soon as possible.
For so long he truly believed that it would only be a matter of days, maybe weeks, until he was offered a new deal in the NBA. Others told him otherwise, but Mekel never lost hope.
He experienced frustration in Russia and Serbia, but he believed it would all be worthwhile once he would renew his career in North America. At least he did until last week.
Mekel finally faced the reality of his situation, acknowledging that in his case patience is no longer a virtue. He made the best and only decision he could by returning to his boyhood club, Maccabi Tel Aviv, signing a three-and-a-half year deal. Mekel included a clause allowing him to leave for the NBA, but not before the summer of 2017.
Mekel is back at Maccabi six years after asking to leave the team for Hapoel Gilboa/ Galil due to limited playing time.
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His return comes at an ideal time for both parties, with the yellow-and-blue off to one of its worst starts ever to a season, while Mekel is coming off a nightmare four months in Belgrade.
He turned down Maccabi and Hapoel Jerusalem to join Serbian champion Red Star Belgrade last summer, but was released last week after averaging just 3.8 points and 2.8 assists in 20 minutes per game in four Euroleague encounters before completely losing his place in the rotation.
“It is really fun to be here,” said Mekel on Monday, training at Yad Eliyahu Arena on his own as his new teammates were already on their way to Russia for Wednesday’s Eurocup encounter against BC Nizhny Novgorod. “I’m happy to arrive at a place at which I wanted to be last summer. It happened three months late, but I’m happy it happened.”
Mekel explained that a tax issue which complicated matters last summer had been solved and he is set to earn over $500,000 a season at Maccabi.
“It was mainly a matter of timing,” explained Mekel. “When Maccabi wanted me to sign, I wanted to give the NBA another chance and then when I wanted to sign they wanted something else. But now the timing is perfect for both sides.”
While the official announcement was only made on Sunday, Mekel had already agreed terms with Maccabi co-owner David Federman on Thursday.
Mekel arrived in Israel from Belgrade earlier in the day and shook hands on the deal with Federman following a meeting at his home a few hours later.
“I’m not worried that Maccabi is experiencing a bad season,” said Mekel.
“I’m here for many years, and when I spoke to Federman he told me that he wants to bring the best Israeli players to Maccabi and I’m looking at this as part of a process. I want to succeed here and I’m certain that I’ll help the team, which also still has targets this season.”
Mekel will only be able to join Maccabi in Eurocup action in the second half of its Last 32 campaign, when teams can register new players, but he is set to already make his debut in Sunday’s BSL contest at Maccabi Ashdod. Maccabi is also still alive in the State Cup after advancing to the semifinals with a 73-70 win at Maccabi Haifa on Saturday thanks to Taylor Rochestie’s three-pointer with 0.4 seconds to play.
It isn’t difficult to understand why Mekel clung to his NBA dream for so long. After all, he looked set for a bright future in the league after receiving a guaranteed three-year contract at the Dallas Mavericks.
It all looked so promising for Mekel on several occasions, but time and again, his hopes disintegrated in heartbreaking fashion.
Mekel entered 2014/15 with two guaranteed years still remaining on his contract with the Mavs and was in a confident mood after impressing when given the opportunity in preseason. However, the addition of J.J. Barea to a roster which already included three point guards meant he was the odd man out.
The Mavs were full of praise for Mekel after releasing him, something which would become a recurring theme.
“The future is very bright for Gal,” said Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson. “He’s got a big upside and is developing ahead of schedule.”
Mekel, who only took part in a total of 31 games in his rookie season in large part due to a knee surgery he underwent in mid-January 2014, remained upbeat nevertheless. He received the $1.76 million Dallas owed him over the next two seasons after clearing waivers and knew he had several suitors in the league.
After less than a week as a free agent, Mekel looked to have found a new home in Indiana. However, a procedural delay in securing a new visa thwarted his expected move to the depleted Pacers.
Mekel had selected Indiana over the injury-hit Oklahoma City as he believed he would receive a bigger role on the team, but ended up empty-handed.
Mekel ultimately spent over a month as a free agent. He practiced with his personal trainer in Florida in the meantime, before securing a deal with the New Orleans Pelicans at the beginning of December. The Pelicans signed him to a two-year non-guaranteed contract but just two weeks after joining New Orleans, Mekel found himself on the waiver wire once more.
New Orleans head coach Monty Williams was of course extremely complementary of Mekel’s capabilities.
“We thought he did a good job, [but] there are some particulars financially that I am not going to discuss,” he explained. “We like [Mekel] a lot. He was a positive for our team.”
He ended up sitting out more than two months before signing a shortterm deal at Nizhny Novgorod in late February of last year. With things also not working out in Belgrade, he looks to have finally put his wandering days behind him by returning to Maccabi.
“I don’t think that I’ve arrived at a bad timing. I’m thinking of the long term,” stressed Mekel. “I’ve always brought commitment and passion to every team I’ve played at and will do so here as well.
“After the past two months in Serbia, I really wanted to return home and I’m happy it happened. Maccabi showed all along that it was the most serious suitor and that it sees me as part of the team for many years to come. I’m certain that will be the case.”
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