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Petteri Koponen eyes NBA debut in 2015

9/1/2014
Petteri Koponen, whose NBA rights are held by Dallas, hopes to make the leap across the Atlantic. David Dow/NBAE/Getty Images)

BILBAO, Spain -- Finnish point guard Petteri Koponen hopes to be playing in the NBA by the 2015-16 season.

Here at the 2014 FIBA World Cup, Koponen told ESPN.com he intends to make the jump to the NBA after completing the final season on his contract with BC Khimki in Russia.

"I always said my dream is to play in the NBA," Koponen said. "Every summer we talk a little bit with Dallas to see what the situation is and what they think. I've got one more year left on my contract in Russia and then of course I would like to come over. I hope I get some options to go there and show I can play at that level."

The Mavericks acquired Koponen's NBA rights in 2011 in a draft-night trade trade with Portland. He was selected by Philadelphia on behalf of the Blazers with the last pick of the first round in 2007, having played in the Nike Hoop Summit that year against a future MVP named Derrick Rose.

The 6-foot-5 Finn has since played professionally in Italy and Russia and has developed into an experienced combo guard who has some athleticism to go with his size and shot-making ability. He looks physically ready now, at 26, to make an NBA roster.

"I feel I can do something there," Koponen said, "and I hope I get that chance someday."

Team sources say that the Mavs have not ruled out importing Koponen themselves in the future, but there was no discussion of doing so for this season with four point guards already on the roster: Devin Harris and Gal Mekel as returnees and Jameer Nelson and Raymond Felton as the newcomers.

There's also always the chance, of course, that the Mavs could use Koponen's NBA rights as a trade asset themselves as the player's stature continues to grow. Coming off Saturday night's 59-point hammering administered by the United States, Finland rallied Sunday for an impressive 81-76 victory over the Mike Fratello-coached Ukraine, with Koponen totaling 14 points and nine assists in a duel with one of Europe's best points guards in Pooh Jeter (who had a heady 24 points of his own to go with nine assists and five boards).

"Koponen is excellent," Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "He's a big guard ... one of the better guards in the tournament. He's the key to their team. He gives them even more confidence because of how confidently he plays.”

No story about anyone connected with the Finns, of course, is complete without a mention of the tremendous fan backing Koponen and Co. are getting here. Finland has a traveling contingent of nearly 9,000 supporters, who made an undeniable impression on the Americans in Saturday night's opener.

"They were energetic regardless of the score," said Team USA guard Steph Curry. "Seemed like every basket Finland made, [they reacted like] it was a game-winner."

Added teammate Klay Thompson: "I don't know if we'll play in front of a better crowd than that the whole tournament. I've never played in front of a crowd like that."

"All of Bilbao," Koponen said with a smile, "is filled with Finnish people."

As for the controversial wild-card entry Finland received to earn a spot in this World Cup, Koponen said: "I can say our tournament starts now [after playing against the United States]. I think we will show here that we deserve this wild card and this opportunity."

Added 38-year-old teammate Hanno Mottola, who became the first Finn in the NBA thanks to two seasons with the Atlanta Hawks after playing collegiately at the University of Utah: "We are here because we are one helluva basketball team. When we make it to Barcelona next week [for the single-elimination phase], people are going to stop talking about the wild card."