Texas two-step: Israeli hoopsters Mekel and Casspi

Jewish basketball fans will have their eyes on Texas when the NBA starts its new season this fall as Israelis Omri Casspi and Gal Mekel are signing on with teams in the Lone Star State.

On Wednesday, Mekel, a point guard who helped guide Maccabi Haifa to its first Israeli Super League championship with an upset of powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv, officially signed a three-year contract with the Dallas Mavericks. And Casspi, the first Israeli to play in the NBA, is expected to sign a two-year deal this week with the Houston Rockets, joining star center Dwight Howard, a free agent who spurned the Los Angeles Lakers after playing on the West Coast for only a season.

Neither will be making the big NBA bucks — both signed for the minimum available — but it’s the NBA, the world’s eminent hoops association.

Mekel, 25, who will earn a guaranteed $2.3 million over the span of his pact, should have an opportunity for playing time as the Mavs didn’t bother to sign two of their free agent guards. The 6-foot-3 backcourtman, who averaged 13.3 points and 5.4 assists for Maccabi Haifa last season while winning league MVP honors, will be competing with the veteran Devin Harris, who returns to Big D, where he started  his NBA career, and still unsigned first-round draft pick Shane Larkin of the University of Miami.

First stop for Mekel is Las Vegas, where he’ll hope to make a good first impression on his Southwest fans while playing for the Mavs’ summer league squad.

Casspi is expected to sign this week with Houston for $2 million following a not-so-productive couple of seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers. This season he averaged 4 points and 2.7 rebounds while seeing his playing time plumment to less than 12 minutes a game. The 6-9 forward had been traded to the Cavs from the Sacramento Kings, who made him their first-round draft pick in 2009 and where he enjoyed a promising start.

As the first Israeli in the NBA, Casspi had started his career with great fanfare among Jewish fans throughout the country. His U.S. and Israeli supporters no doubt are hoping he can bring similar excitement to Texas, where perhaps Casspi will have some room to operate with Howard and teammate James Harden taking up the attention of defenses.

Marc Brodsky is JTA’s copy editor. Prior to joining JTA in 2006, he served 15 years as the assistant managing editor at The New York Jewish Week. He also has worked as a reporter and editor in news and sports for daily and weekly newspapers in New Jersey.