There have been three Israeli players in the National Basketball Association, and all of them have played in New Orleans — very briefly.
There were hopes that when the Pelicans executed a major trade that brought All-Star DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi to New Orleans from Sacramento on Feb. 20 that Casspi would be around for a while.
Instead, he was waived on Feb. 25 after less than a week with the Pelicans, after breaking his thumb in his debut game on Feb. 23.
In 24 minutes, Casspi scored 12 points and had two rebounds against Houston.
With the Pelicans needing immediate help and on the periphery of making the playoffs, Coach Alvin Gentry told ESPN “it was really just important for us to have that roster spot,” as Casspi would be out of action for at least four weeks, pretty much the rest of the regular season.
After the trade that brought Casspi to New Orleans, David Booth, the Pelicans’ director of player personnel, said “he can stretch the floor, being able to knock down open shots beyond the three-point line. He’s knows how to play, is smart, and his basketball IQ is very high, which helps our team on the floor. We have valued him in the past. This was a great time to get him, with him coming with DeMarcus.”
This was the second time for Casspi to be in New Orleans. In 2009, Casspi, became the first Israeli player in the NBA when the Sacramento Kings picked him in the first round of the draft. In July 2014 Casspi wound up with the Pelicans as part of a three-team trade, was waived almost immediately and returned to Sacramento.
In 2013, Gal Mekel from Ramat HaSharon signed with the Dallas Mavericks. On Nov. 1 of that year, the first NBA game featuring Israelis on opposing teams occurred, as Casspi was with the Houston Rockets at the time. After a mid-season injury and time in the Developmental League, Mekel was waived by Dallas.
The Pelicans signed Mekel in December 2014, but he was waived after playing in four games. He has since played for teams in Russia and Serbia.
Last fall, Shawn Dawson was in the Pelicans’ training camp. Having come up through the ranks of Israeli basketball, Dawson helped lead Maccabi Rishon Lezion to its first-ever title last season, and started getting calls from the NBA.
He appeared in three preseason games for the Pelicans, then was waived on Oct. 21. Dawson has returned to Maccabi Rishon Lezion.