The Dallas Mavericks carried an open roster spot for much of September after waiving center E.J. Onu. The vacancy fueled speculation about possible free agent signings—Goran Dragic was a favorite among Twitter GMs. Eventually, Dallas brought in a player that it had long coveted.
Frank Ntilikina, the four-year veteran point guard, finally finds himself in a Mavericks jersey. In 2017, many thought Dallas would draft him in the first round. The New York Knicks pounced first, selecting him one spot before the Mavs were on the board. Signing with the Mavs this year was anything but easy.
“I have to do my visa every year since I’m from France,” Ntilikina said. “This year—this summer— with the offseason being so short, especially with free agency and me signing pretty late right before training camp, I had to do that during training camp.”
He missed two days of camp—just one practice—in order to travel to Mexico City to sort out his papers. The coaches made sure he didn’t miss a beat while he was away, though. They sent him film to study and Ntilikina kept in touch with his teammates.
With his visa issues behind him, Ntilikina can focus on basketball. He made his first preseason appearance against the Los Angeles Clippers last week. In 16 minutes, he scored six points, grabbed one rebound, had a steal, and blocked one shot. Naturally, he also showed off his Eurostep.
“It was great,” Ntilikina said about getting into the game. “Like I said, new start, new experience, new environment, new arena. But for real, it was great. Also, being with my teammates—with the team—we have a great atmosphere, great chemistry. So, playing basketball on that court was really fun.”
Ntilikina has two more games to prove that he’s worth a regular season roster spot. He signed a non-guaranteed, two-year Exhibit 9 contract with the team in mid-September. Teams don’t need cap space to sign a player to an Exhibit 9, but the contracts leave players with few long-term assurances. If, for example, Ntilikina gets hurt, the Mavericks aren’t liable to pay his full $1.7 million salary. Instead, they would only owe him $6,000.
As head coach Jason Kidd mentioned recently, the roster is pretty much set. However, if Ntilikina does make the final cut, he’ll give the Mavericks depth at the guard position as well as versatility off the bench. Even with his future with the organization uncertain, Ntilikina is going about his business and preparing for the regular season.
“I can’t wait to keep on going,” he said.