It would be no understatement to say that Omri Casspi’s NBA career has reached a crossroads.
There is every indication that Israel’s first NBA player is about to be released by the New Orleans Pelicans, which only acquired him from the Houston Rockets on Tuesday.
Casspi believed he had found a home in Houston after signing a two-year contract with the Rockets last summer. However, he was used as a trade toss-in for salary-cap reasons in a three-team deal between Houston, New Orleans and Washington and is about to find himself without a team for the second time in a year.
According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, Casspi will most likely get waived by the Pelicans after the three-way transaction is officially completed and he will then get to pick a new home.
Maccabi Tel Aviv remains in constant contact with Casspi and would love to bring him back to Israel. However, Casspi’s services are still in demand in the NBA and the location of his next stop only seems to be a question of the right deal and situation.
The decision Casspi is about to take could very well determine in which direction his career heads; either a fringe piece in the world’s best league or a European journeyman.
Entering his sixth season in the league, the 26-year-old Israeli has reached the make-or-break stage of his life as an NBA player.
There is no hiding from the fact that since his rookie season, Casspi has failed time and again to play to his potential.
Part of the time, it was due to circumstances beyond his control, namely his second seasons in both Sacramento and Cleveland.
The problem is, even when the situation has seemed perfect - i.e. in Houston last season - Casspi hasn’t proven he is any better than a borderline NBA player.
Executives around the league continue to speak highly of him, but if he doesn’t display what they are talking about on the court he will eventually run out of opportunities.
There is no doubt Casspi works his heart out to continue and live the NBA dream. That is something that certainly doesn’t go unnoticed.
But teams will ultimately run out of patience should he not show he can be a productive NBA player.
There doesn’t seem to be any danger of that happening this summer, but Casspi’s upcoming decision will have a significant impact on the rest of his career.
Casspi was delighted at joining Houston last summer, at last receiving an opportunity with a playoff- bound team after four years at the struggling Kings and Cavaliers.
A role as a contributing bench player looked to be ideal for Casspi’s skillset, but it quickly became apparent that rather than becoming a vital part in a fine-tuned machine, the Israeli had turned into a dispensable cog.
After an encouraging start to his time in Texas, Casspi slowly but surely dropped down the rotation, failing to score in double-digits in the team’s final 20 games of the season.
He didn’t even play a single minute in Houston’s first-round playoff defeat to the Portland Trail Blazers last season.
Nevertheless, the trade was an unexpected development.
It not only caught Casspi by surprise, with Houston coach Kevin McHale admitting he also knew little about it.
“I didn’t even know,” he said. “I love Omri, he’s a great kid.”
McHale is clearly not the one making the decisions in Houston, with general manager Daryl Morey determining that the Rockets would be better off without Casspi.
According to his current contract, the Israeli is set to earn just over $1 million next season, the minimum amount for a player of his tenure.
However, the Pelicans don’t seem to be interested in his services even for that sum, which certainly says something when you consider their glaring hole at the small forward position.
Casspi will likely have to settle for a minimum-salary deal once more after averaging 6.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 1.2 assists over 71 games last season.
He did at least manage to revive his career slightly after registering just 4.0 points and 2.7 rebounds in the mere 43 games in which he took part in Cleveland the previous year. However, he was still far off the career highs he recorded in his rookie season with Sacramento.
The promise seemed so great after he ended his 2009/10 debut campaign with averages of 10.3 points and 4.5 rebounds in 25.1 minutes per game (still all career highs).
Five years in, and Casspi has only gone backwards.
A repeat of his first-year numbers in the coming season would be regarded as a resounding success.
His stay in Houston may not have worked out, but Casspi should be looking for a similar situation in his next team.
Long gone are the dreams of him becoming a steady starter in the NBA . He needs to find a team where he will consistently play over 20 minutes per game off the bench and become an indispensable part of the rotation.
As important as the location of his next destination will be, it is Casspi’s play which will ultimately determine how long he has left in the NBA .
He had a chance at Houston but he failed to fully grasp it.
There are countless excuses Casspi can use for his downward spiral, but as more and more time passes they are becoming less and less relevant.
He has yet to exhaust his options in the NBA , but he is sure going through them quickly. The average length of a NBA player’s career is 4.8 years, which Casspi has just eclipsed.
Any way you look at it, time is running out for Casspi. Simply put, it’s now or never.
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