Omri Casspi returns to Sacramento Kings with new mindset
After three seasons away, Omri Casspi is back with the Sacramento Kings.
He’s not the same player the Kings drafted with the 23rd overall selection in the 2009 NBA Draft. The Israeli born forward is no longer a rookie with unlimited upside. He is a veteran now and he understands that he is back in Sacramento to play a role, which is something he was not prepared to do as a young player.
“A lot more mature,” Casspi said of how he is different this time around. “I think experience is a big part of it. Knowing my role, what I need to do to help this team win basketball games.”
After two seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Casspi spent last season with the playoff bound Houston Rockets. With Houston touting super stars Dwight Howard and James Harden, you either fit a role or sat on the bench.
Casspi sees a lot of similarities in Sacramento. DeMarcus Cousins will anchor the post and Rudy Gay is the No. 2 option. Casspi, rookie Nik Stauskas and second-year guard Ben McLemore need to camp on the perimeter and bury long range shots to space the floor.
Coach Michael Malone fully understands that his team lacked perimeter shooters last year and he hopes to turn to Casspi at both forward positions during the upcoming season.
“He’s a guy that has a versatility to play the small forward, as well as be a stretch four,” Malone said following Tuesday’s practice. “It’s been well documented with our lack of shooting last year, being 27th in 3-point percentage. Omri’s a guy who can shoot the ball.”
Once the season ended, Casspi, like Cousins and Gay in the USA, joined the Israeli national team to prepare for the upcoming season.
“Basketball-wise, it was great,” Casspi said of his summer in Israel. “It was probably the best summer I’ve had with the national team. I’m just feeling comfortable with my game and our success as a team.”
While the basketball was great, Israel wasn’t the safest spot in the world this summer. Casspi found himself in the middle of not only a political storm, but a full-fledged conflict. Like most players, basketball became an escape for the 6-foot-9 forward. But for Casspi, the bounce of the ball had to drown out the pounding of missile strikes.
“At some point, you want to leave politics aside and you want to just focus on what I’m here to do,” Casspi said. “That’s to just play basketball and help my team, my Kings, to win as many basketball games as possible for our fans, for ourselves, for our organization. That’s what I’m here for. So I’m trying to focus on basketball as much as I can.”
With trouble abroad, Casspi has returned to his second home, Sacramento. Only Cousins, Carl Landry and Jason Thompson remain from the 2009-2011 teams that Casspi played for. In fact, almost everything in Sacramento is new.
“It’s a different team now, it’s a different organization,” Casspi said. “I’m excited. We have a good group of guys. I’m happy to be back.”
In his first go around, Casspi and Thompson built a bond. The duo spent a lot of time together off the court, including a trip by Thompson to Israel to visit his friend. Thompson is no longer a wide-eyed second-year player. He is the longest tenured Kings player and he needs just 59 games to surpass Peja Stojakovic for the franchise’s leader in games played.
“I still have a great relationship with him,” Thompson said. “I’m happy for him and hopefully everything works out here.”
According to Casspi, his shot feels better than it ever has. He is ready to man the corner and wait for his opportunities as a role player. If he can provide perimeter shooting and hold his own on the defensive end, the Kings may have found another solid piece to the overall puzzle.
Casspi is working on a one year deal for the league minimum. He is a different player and perhaps a different man than he was in his last go-around in Sacramento. He is in the mix for minutes, but the frontcourt is crowded.