Casspi couldn’t have asked for a better situation

Sinai Says: With Year 3 on the horizon, Omri Casspi figures to stay on the floor in Cleveland.

By
December 20, 2011 23:31
Omri Casspi

Omri Casspi 311. (photo credit: (Facebook.com))

 
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Omri Casspi couldn’t have asked for a better situation.

After publicly demanding to be traded from the Sacramento Kings late last season due to a lack of playing time, the 23-year-old Israeli is set to be given all the minutes he can handle with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

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Sure, the Cavaliers are at the beginning of a rebuilding process and are unlikely to improve significantly on the 19-63 record they posted last season, the second worst in the NBA.

But at this stage of his career, Casspi has no interest in playing a minor backup role even for a title contender, making Cleveland virtually the best place he could have landed after Sacramento began listening to offers following his remarks that he hopes to find himself on a team “that appreciates me as a player and a person – a team that plays like a team.”

The NBA lockout also played into Casspi’s hands, with the seven-and-a-half week delay to the start of the 2011/12 season – which will finally begin on Sunday – allowing him to fully recover from the slight tear he suffered in his left knee ligaments when he slipped on the Hadar Yosef Arena floor in a routine training session for the Israel national team in mid-August.

Casspi missed Cleveland’s first preseason game after he strained his right knee last week in a collision with teammate Luke Harangody, but he finally got back to five-on-five basketball on Sunday, playing in the annual Wine and Gold scrimmage.

His new coach Byron Scott seems to already be won over, likening his starting small forward to a pit bull.



“Casspi is an intense competitor and I like that about him,” said Scott after Omri scored nine points on 4- of-8 shooting as his Gold side won the scrimmage 67-57 before 7,836 fans at The Q in a game shortened to three quarters at the coach’s request. “He has his fun after practice... but when he’s in practice he’s the same way.

“We need some guys like that. I always put it this way: We don’t need Chihuahuas, we don’t need poodles, we don’t need German Shepherds. We need pit bulls, and it’s good to have a few of them.

“I think he is one of them. If you have a bunch of Chihuahuas you are going to be in trouble.”

ESPN.com senior NBA writer, Marc Stein, has little doubt Casspi will be given every opportunity to prove his worth in Cleveland.

“I expect him to start and play a lot,” Stein told the Post. “One of the reasons that Cleveland let Baron Davis go [to the Knicks] is because they want to start Casspi at small forward, which means Anthony Parker has to play a lot of shooting guard. Playing Baron in the same backcourt with Kyrie Irving would have made it harder to implement that plan.

“I don’t think Casspi has any longterm promises because the Cavs are a long way away from returning to contention. So realistically, no one there has been promised anything apart from Kyrie.

“But we’ve already heard lots of raves about Omri from coach Scott. He’s clearly fond of him.”

After exceeding all expectations in his rookie season, averaging 10.3 points and 4.5 rebounds in 77 games for the Kings, Casspi’s production took a hit in 2010/11.

The Israeli suffered a drop in almost all of his numbers, averaging 8.6 points and 4.3 rebounds, playing in 71 games and starting 27 of them, compared to 31 the previous season.

Casspi only scored a total of 10 points in less than 38 minutes on court during Sacramento’s final 13 games of the campaign after completely falling out of favor with coach Paul Westphal.

However, Stein doesn’t feel the problems with Westphal have tarnished Casspi’s reputation in any way and he believes the Israeli still has plenty of admirers in high places.

“Omri has a lot of fans in front offices around this league. If it doesn’t work out in Cleveland, he’ll be snapped up quickly by someone else,” Stein said. “The day he got traded to the Cavs, I remember hearing stories about San Antonio and New York trying to convince Cleveland to turn right around and trade him again. Omri is always going to play with urgency, because that’s his nature, but I don’t see this as a huge ‘pressure is on’ kind of season for him.

“The Cavs like what everyone likes about Omri: He’s a very good passer and shooter for someone who’s classified as an ‘energy’ guy. He’s a very skilled ‘energy’ guy. That’s valuable and rare. He’s obviously got to get stronger and get healthier. A full strength right knee is all that the Cavs want to see from him right now.”

According to Stein, a successful season for Casspi would see him keep the starting spot all year and boost his scoring average into the 12-14 points per game range.

The early indications are that Scott plans to give Omri the time he needs to realize his potential, with the unheralded likes of Alonzo Gee and Christian Eyenga behind him in the depth chart.

“[Casspi] is a little more athletic than people think,” Scott said. “He gets up and down the floor. He moves real well and has very good basketball IQ.”

Scott sure seems happy with his new recruit, and Casspi certainly has no intention of holding anything back, as he looks to take his career to the next level with the Cavs.

“I try to compete all the time,” he said after the scrimmage. “I try to play tough, hard, always aggressive. I want to keep learning the system and our tendencies that we want to do defensively. We’re making strides. I don’t care if we are playing Detroit or the Lakers or whoever, we are going to try to win every game."

“I am passionate about basketball and I love basketball.”

allon@jpost.com
Follow Allon on Twitter: @AllonSinai

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