What happened with Gal Mekel and the Indiana Pacers?
When Mekel was waived by the Dallas Mavericks, it was done in part with a heavy heart. The Mavericks really liked Mekel, so much so that they involved him in some of the potential trade talks as they looked for ways to open a roster spot. The Mavericks ultimately opted to release Mekel to make him a free agent rather than trade him somewhere that didn’t make sense for him. Dallas needed the roster spot, and they could have offloaded his salary in trade, but they opted to do right by Mekel.
For Mekel, clearing waivers was something of a blessing. His salary for the current season was fully guaranteed as is his salary for next year. Clearing waivers ensures he is paid for both seasons and now he can take his time selecting his next team based on opportunity.
There were a number of opportunities on the table, but the Pacers were attractive since they offered the chance to play and had a hardship exemption due to the injuries they’ve had. The Pacers have five players currently out: Rodney Stuckey (foot), David West (ankle), George Hill (knee), C.J. Watson (foot) and Paul George (leg). There was a real chance for Mekel to contribute in Indiana.
The two sides talked for a couple of days, ultimately deciding to try and reach a deal. The issue at hand was never about money or contract; it was about some complicated immigration laws.
As a foreign player in the United States, Mekel required a valid P1 visa to play in the U.S. He had one with the Mavericks, but when he cleared waivers, he required a new one based on his new team. The problem is that while getting visas for players isn’t overly difficult, like all things with the government it takes time. Unfortunately for Mekel and the Pacers, time was not on their side.
The Pacers were granted a roster exemption to add a 16th player. Mekel was to be that 16th player; however, the Pacers needed a player in uniform and ready to play on Friday.
Even with the help of the NBA and its immigration attorneys, no one could guarantee the Pacers that Mekel would be cleared by Friday. Because of this, they were unwilling to tie up the additional roster spot they were granted and opted to sign A.J. Price instead.
This was a case of bad timing for both parties.
Sources close to the situation were adamant that the Pacers were genuinely interested in signing Mekel, and that it still remains a possibility down the road if Indiana opens a roster spot, especially given how far down the road the Pacers had gotten with Mekel and his agent.
Failing to reach a deal today was about the immigration process, which normally takes between two and seven days, with most visas being processed inside three days.
There are some loopholes for players who are traded, but as a free agent Mekel will likely take three days to clear the process.
A number of teams continue to express interest in Mekel, so the odds that he’ll be a free agent for much longer remain slim, but the nature of the NBA’s injured player exemptions and their quick expiration dates make Mekel tougher to sign in that capacity.
With guards like Ish Smith and A.J. Price off the free agent market, Mekel looks like one of the better backup guard option around. With the Pacers moving on the for the time being do to some strange circumstances, he could be the next domino to fall.
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