New contracts and new teams show faith in African players is high


NBA fans on the African continent have lots of excitement waiting for them when the 2018-19 season opens in October. In the postseason has seen some players of African origin were handed new deals; and while some secured more lucrative deals with the teams they played for last season, others moved on to new teams.

Clint Capela (Houston Rockets): The African player with the biggest close-season deal, without a doubt, is the Houston Rockets’ Angolan/Congolese-Swiss center, Clint Capela. The 24-year-old, who became a restricted free agent in the summer, received a $90-million, five-year extension on his contract, following a season of new personal highs in scoring and rebounds. Capela became the youngest Rocket to have at least 23 points and 25 rebounds in a game since Nigerian great Hakeem Olajuwon, when he recorded 23 points and a career-high 25 rebounds in a 130-104 win over the Denver Nuggets in February 2018. That earned him the first 20-point, 20-rebound game of his career. The upgrade meant that his salary would increase from the almost $2.4 million he earned last season, to at least $15.4 million next season.

Luol Deng (Minnesota Timberwolves): Luol Deng will arguably end the toughest one-and-a-half seasons of his career when he joined training camp for the new season with Minnesota. The South Sudanese-British, two-time All-Star forward followed up the 56-game, 2016-17 season with a 13-minute, one-game cameo for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2017-18. The lively performance he put up for Team Africa, where he scored 14 points in 23 minutes on 6-of-10 shooting, and added three rebounds and three steals, showed that he can still contribute in the league. Deng, who was the highest-paid Laker in the past two years, was waived on September 1 and the Wolves took note; nine days later, he joined Senegal’s Gorgui Dieng and Nigerian-American Josh Okogie in Minnesota.

David Nwaba (Cleveland Cavaliers): The Nigerian-American took his time to get into the NBA, but he now rolls into his third team in three seasons after picking up a contract with the 2016 Champion Cleveland Cavaliers early in September. Nwaba was undrafted after leaving college in 2016, but his exploits for Los Angeles D-Fenders in the NBA G-League caught the attention of the Lakers, who handed him a multi-year contract following two 10-day gigs. Chicago stepped in and claimed him when he was waived by the Lakers. He went on to play 70 games for the six-time champions, averaging 7.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game and was lauded by teammates for his shot-contesting ability. The Cavaliers signed him to a guaranteed one-year contract on September 8, 2018.

Salah Mejri (Dallas Mavericks): The Tunisian center looked to be on his way out of Dallas following the arrival of DeAndre Jordan in Texas. Mejri had seen his appearance numbers and minutes drop in the 2017-18 season as he made just one start, a sharp drop from his 11 in 2016-17, and played for just 12 minutes per night in 2017-18, instead of the 12.4 he averaged the previous season. But the 31-year-old upped his numbers, and did enough to convince the Mavericks to keep him as backup as the third center behind Jordan and Maxi Kleber.

Chinanu Onuaku (Portland Trail Blazers): The Nigerian-American center spent two years with the Houston Rockets, but logged just six games, and played a total of just under 33 minutes in those two seasons. However, in those two years, he gained some playing experience in the G-League with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. The Rockets traded him to the Mavericks at the end of last season, but he was waived just four days after arriving in Dallas. The center has, however, secured a new contract with Portland where he will join fellow Nigerian-American power forward Al-Farouq Aminu.

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