Sinai Says: Caught between a rock and a hard place, Mekel makes right move

Sacrificing the short-term for an uncertain, yet promising, future is never easy.

Gal Mekel 370 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Gal Mekel 370
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Regardless of what one may think of Gal Mekel’s decision to pull out of the upcoming EuroBasket tournament, he does not deserve the criticism he has endured in recent days.
Israel coach Arik Shivek took aim at the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks organization on Monday for acting unfairly towards their new rookie guard and putting him in an “impossible situation.”
It is true that, in theory, Mekel could have told Dallas that with all due respect to its plans for him, he intends to represent Israel in September’s European Championships.
However, that would have been akin to spitting in the face of the Mavs franchise just after it had handed him a three-year guaranteed contract that should make him financially secure for life.
As Shivek correctly noted, the 25- year-old Israeli guard essentially had no other option.
Dallas made the decision for Mekel when it brought him in for a meeting with General Manager Donnie Nelson and the coaching staff to explain why he would be better off following their program and not playing for Israel this summer.
There was no way back for Mekel after that.
Shivek was outraged, but despite his disappointment, he ultimately explained that there was no point in confronting Mekel and demanding that he defy the Mavs.
Mekel’s announcement was especially frustrating for Shivek as Israel seemed to be ideally placed to finally make a run deep into the championships in Slovenia.
Israel will face France, the runners- up from 2011, as well as Germany, Great Britain, Belgium and Ukraine in Group A, which will be played in Ljubljana.
The top three teams from each group will progress to the second round, and while the Tony Parker led-France remains the favorite despite Joakim Noah’s absence, Germany will not have Dirk Nowitzki at its disposal and Great Britain will have to manage without Loul Deng.
Israel will be playing in its 11thstraight EuroBasket tournament, but it hasn’t progressed past the first round in the event since 2003 when it finished in seventh place.
Two years ago the national team lost any hope of a top-three finish and a place in the second round by losing its first three games in Lithuania to Germany, France and Serbia by an average margin of 17.7 points.
However, there is every reason to believe that Israel can at least reach the second group stage this year, with a place in the quarterfinals also within the blue-and-white’s potential.
After missing the past two championships, Omri Casspi will finally be playing for the national team in the EuroBasket.
Israeli basketball fans everywhere, including Shivek, were counting down the minutes until the Houston Rockets forward would team up with the Mavs guard to lead the blue-and-white to renewed success, with the likes of Yogev Ohayon, Lior Eliyahu and Alex Tyus playing supporting roles.
Mekel’s announcement burst that balloon, but it remains to be seen how much his absence will in fact hurt Israel’s chances next month.
It is easy to forget now, but Mekel was no more than an afterthought for Shivek in last summer’s qualifying tournament.
While Shivek has insisted in recent weeks that Mekel has made significant progress over the past season and that he plans to use him alongside Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Ohayon, the new Dallas guard spent much of last year’s campaign on the bench.
Mekel averaged just 2.1 points and 1.0 assists in eight minutes per game, never playing more than 17 minutes and not even entering the court for a single second in two of the 10 qualifiers.
Shivek clearly didn’t trust Mekel last summer, playing Ohayon for almost 30 minutes per game. While there’s truth to the coach’s verdict that the guard is coming off a superb season, I for one can’t help but feel that he may well have found himself playing a marginal role once more had he not signed with Dallas and become Israel’s latest NBA beacon of hope.
Either way, it is now time to move on and at least Mekel didn’t draw out his deliberations in a manner that would have overshadowed and been a distraction during the national team’s preparations.
Israeli basketball will only benefit in the long run should Mekel become a productive NBA player and his chances of doing so have surely increased now that he has committed to following every step in the Mavs’ plan.
Casspi, who skipped the 2009 EuroBasket to prime himself for his rookie season in the NBA with the Sacramento Kings, was typically blunt – almost brash – when he said that Mekel “needs to do what is best for Gal Mekel.”
But he was nevertheless fundamentally correct.
Sacrificing the short-term for an uncertain, yet promising, future is never easy. In this case, it is the right decision for Gal Mekel and Israeli basketball.