Omri Casspi is coming off arguably his worst season as an NBA player.
It was certainly his most frustrating. It is also probably the best thing that could have happened to him.
That may sound like a contradiction, but in Casspi’s case, it is the reality.
Had he not experienced such a dejecting 2016/17 campaign during which he played a mere total of 36 games for three different teams, twice sitting out significant time due to injury, Casspi would not have joined the Golden State Warriors last week.
The first Israeli to play in the NBA agreed to a one-year deal with the reigning champions for a veteran’s minimum of $2.1 million.
Casspi entered 2016/17 knowing it would be a season that could end up shaping the rest of his career.
His two-year $6 million contract with the Sacramento Kings was due to end in the summer of 2017 and the forward was hoping to build on an excellent 2015/16 in which he registered career-high averages in points (11.8 per game), rebounds (5.9), minutes (27.2) and three-point percentage (40.9%), ranking him 12th in the league in accuracy from beyond the arc.
He knew that if he can build on his growth in the previous campaign, he would be in line for a big pay day due to the spike in the salary cap thanks to the NBA’s new multi-billion TV deal.
But nothing went Casspi’s way. He quickly fell out of favor with new Sacramento coach Dave Joerger and was sidelined for a month with a calf injury before being traded to New Orleans in February. Casspi was waived by the Pelicans just six days after joining the franchise, breaking his right thumb during his one and only appearance.
After three weeks without a team, Casspi was picked up by Minnesota and played for the Wolves in 13 games to finish the season. In all, he averaged 5.2 points on 47 percent shooting in 17.9 minutes per game.
Casspi’s poor season meant his stock dropped significantly, and the prospect of receiving an eight-figure contract was no longer realistic.
That opened the door for the Warriors.
Omri may have turned down an offer for double the salary from a lottery team, but he would almost certainly have favored a long-term deal for four or even five times the amount offered by Golden State had it been on the table.
“There is no doubt that had I been coming off a career season this may not have happened for several reasons,” said Casspi during an exhibition session conducted by his shooting coach David Thorpe at Tel Aviv University last week.
“When the owner calls you a minute after midnight on July 1 when teams are officially allowed to begin negotiations with players and says that you are the first player he is calling, that means a lot. Hopefully this time next year, I’ll be here with the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy.”
Casspi added that one of the reasons he wanted to play for the Warriors is due to their special blend of team basketball, which he believes will favor his game.
With a star-studded roster considered to be one of the best of all-time, including Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, Casspi is set to receive plenty of open looks, especially from beyond the arc.
After struggling from three-point range at the start of his career, Casspi began focusing on shooting from distance in the summer of 2013 and the fruits of his labor are what have led him to the Warriors.
He has averaged 40.1 percent from three over the past three seasons, one of only 13 players in the league to do so.
Two of those players will be his teammates next season, the prolific sharpshooting duo of Curry and Thompson.
“He’s a proven player. He’s a really good player. So I didn’t know we’d be able to get him for that, but timing is everything in this league,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told The Mercury News in his first comment on Casspi’s addition.
“Sometimes it’s just the right time for the player and the team. I love the way he plays. He’s a proven three-point shooter with deep range, great cutter, moves without the ball, going to fit right in with our offense.”
Kerr surely remembers well Casspi’s career night against the Warriors in December 2015. The career-high 36 points and improbable shooting duel with Curry in Oakland was remarkable by any measure. Casspi hit 13-of-18 field goal attempts, including 9-of-12 from three-point range, while also taking six rebounds in 35 minutes on court.
The most memorable part of Casspi’s night came in the final three minutes and 15 seconds of the first half when he traded three-pointers with Curry to the amazement of everyone watching.
Casspi scored four triples to Curry’s five, with the two combining for 29 of the game’s 31 points during that stretch.
It has basically been downhill for Casspi ever since, but his career has been a roller-coaster throughout. Nevertheless, he has never given up on his NBA dream and will be entering his ninth season in the league.
The average NBA career lasts around five seasons. The 2009 draft in which Casspi was selected was excellent by any standard and included the likes of Curry, James Harden and Blake Griffin.
But still, a third of the first-round selections in that draft are no longer in the NBA, highlighting Casspi’s achievement.
From his first day in the league, Casspi spoke about his wish to play for a winning team. But success on a team-level has eluded him to such an extent that there is no other player in the league who has made as many regular season appearances without playing in the playoffs. In fact, Casspi is ranked seventh all-time in that uncomplimentary list with 499 games to his name without playing in the post-season.
That drought is finally set to end next season, assuming of course Casspi proves himself as a worthy bench player in the regular season.
None of this would have been possible had Casspi been coming off a better season.
“This is a dream come true,” said Casspi. “When Kevin Durant sends you a welcome text message, that makes everything worthwhile. I can’t wait to get started.”