What do you do when an “A-list” NBA free-agent center agrees to join your team, but then a few days later changes his mind and stays where he was? If you’re the Dallas Mavericks, you start scouring the globe for potential replacements, literally.
The Mavericks reached an agreement last week with 7’1” center Salah Mejri, a native of Tunisia who could become the first native of that country to ever play in the NBA.
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Living in Madrid, Spain, I’m a tad embarrassed that I can’t tell you much about Mejri, especially since he was just playing down the road from me with Real Madrid.
Look, Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid soccer is one thing, but a basketball player from the same elite Spanish athletic organization, like Mejri, is a bit different I guess. Plus, my Spanish stinks at this point.
A little bit about the Real Madrid basketball team:
This team almost mimics its soccer counterpart in terms of outright dominance in both Spain and Europe. It’s taken a record four Saporta Cups, 25 Spanish Cups and also 32 Spanish League titles. Perhaps most impressive is the nine Euroleague Championships to date.
Yes, sports in Europe serve cups like a 24-hour diner serves coffee in the United States, but you get the idea.
Among the well-known names that have played for Real Madrid and the NBA include Rudy Fernandez, Arvydas Sabonis, Dražen Petrović and Fernando Martín Espina, the first basketball player from Spain to ever play in the NBA back in the late 1980s.
It’s also worth noting that Spain, as a country, trails only the US in terms of basketball interest and overall talent. In fact, the men’s national teams from Spain and the United States have played one another in the last two gold medal contests in the Olympics.
So, what does this mean for the Dallas Mavericks and it’s 29-year-old center from Tunisia?
It’s hard to say right now, but I would expect the Mavs to give this player a really hard look, especially with the absence of former centers Tyson Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemaire. Further, it’s not like rookie second-round draft selection Satnam Singh, possibly the first player from India to play in the NBA, will see any time on the court in 2015-16.
As the video shows below, Mejri does have some skills going to the hoop. How those skills translate against Western Conference big men like the previously mentioned Jordan, Chandler and still others like Tim Duncan, Marc Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins and Dwight Howard remains to be seen.
But Mejri has some explosion and mobility going to the rim and this could translate on any given play. His movement seems pretty good and his mobility is quite intriguing for a player who stands over seven-feet tall. If Mejri, in fact, makes the Dallas Mavericks roster, shot blocking would be an area where he could possibly make his biggest impact.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Mejri has to convince the Mavericks that he could be a possible backup center to starter Zaza Pachulia, a more offensive center than anyone the Mavs have had in some time. How much can Dallas expect out of recently signed re-tread Samuel Dalembert?
Until that time, it will be interesting to see whether or not European basketball continues to produce players worthy of the NBA.
Mejri was the first player of Tunisian decent to play in the Euroleague and also with Real Madrid. He can hold the very same status in both the NBA and with the Mavericks this coming season.
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