Casspi a Cav on paper, on court will have to wait

Israeli NBA star is able to fit in a short phone call with Cleveland coaches before NBA lockout begins.

caspi (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
One short phone call with the assistant coaches of the Cleveland Cavaliers, that’s all Omri Casspi had time for after his trade from the Sacramento Kings was completed on Thursday, hours before the NBA locked out its players when its collective bargaining agreement expired.
During the lockout, teams are prohibited from having any contact with their players, who will not be paid until a deal is done.
The 23-year-old Israeli forward, who was traded to the Cavs together with a protected first-round draft pick for the services of J.J. Hickson, has spent the last month-and-a-half working on his game in Los Angeles and is raring to prove himself as soon as possible, even though it seems unlikely he will be speaking to his new head coach Byron Scott or anyone else from the Cavs organization anytime soon.
“It’s a great opportunity for me to come to a new team and to start a new way in my basketball career,” Casspi said in a conference call with reporters. “It has been a great two years with the Kings. The Kings gave me a great opportunity to play in the NBA but I’m just happy to go a new way and to start a new path in my career. I think Cleveland is a wonderful city with great fans. I can’t wait to start.
“It’s a great chance for me to show everything I can do and be the best team player that I can be. “I’ve got the European Championships with Israel in September and we’ll see what’s going on with the lockout, but besides that I’m willing to put in the work and I always want to try and get better.”
Casspi has a good chance of starting for Cleveland if and when the season gets underway and will be hoping to play an integral part in the franchise’s rebuilding process after it ended 2010/11 with the second worst record in the NBA at 19-63, losing a record 26 games in a row at one stage.
The Cavs selected Kyrie Irving from Duke with the top pick of the 2011 draft last month, while also taking Texas forward Tristan Thompson with the No. 4 pick.
The addition of Thompson created a logjam at power forward, making it easier for Cleveland to part with Hickson, while the Kings obtained small forward John Salmons from Milwaukee on draft night, meaning Casspi was expendable.
“We’ve had a list of seven to maybe 10 young wing players we’ve been targeting since the end of the season we felt strongly about. Obviously, Omri was one of those players,” said Cavs GM Chris Grant, who added that the team had been keeping track of Casspi since 2008 and was considering taking him with the 30th pick of the 2009 draft had the Kings not selected him at No. 23.
“He’s a tough, athletic 6- foot-9 kid who runs the floor great, which is good for our point guards. He’s got some nastiness about him. He’s got some fight in him, which we really like. He’s a worker. He rebounds the ball well as a small forward. He can make shots. He’s pretty good at curling and coming off a down-screen and catching and shooting, which is good with the makeup of our point-guard play, so he fits in well.”
It might still take some time until Casspi will be able to meet his new coaching staff and teammates, with the lockout likely to last a while. But he is clearly excited at making a fresh start in Cleveland and is determined to arrive at his new home in the best shape possible.
“First of all I want to go out and have fun,” he said.
“That’s really important to me. When everyone has fun you play much better. I want to get my free-throw percentage to around 85 percent and I want to keep getting better as a three-point shooter.
“I’ve been working on all of this for a month-and-ahalf now and I have another month to work on it before I join the national team. I really want to bring everything together for the national team in the European Championships and then bring it to the NBA.”