Sinai Says: Casspi still seeks answers in 4th season

If the early signs are anything to go by, it may well be another rough season for Casspi.

Cleveland Cavaliers Omri Casspi 370 (R) (photo credit: Ray Stubblebine / Reuters)
Cleveland Cavaliers Omri Casspi 370 (R)
(photo credit: Ray Stubblebine / Reuters)
Omri Casspi began his fourth season in the NBA on Tuesday night with more questions than answers.
After a disappointing 2011/12 campaign with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the 24-year-old Israeli was saying all the right things ahead of his team’s opener against the Washington Wizards.
However, if the early signs are anything to go by, it may well be another rough season for Casspi.
The forward recorded career lows across the board in his debut campaign for the Cavs after being traded to Cleveland following two seasons with the Sacramento Kings, averaging just 7.1 points (shooting only 40 percent from the field), while taking a mere 3.5 rebounds in 20.6 minutes per game.
“I learned a lot about the game and a lot about myself last season,” Casspi said earlier this month before adding that “I feel comfortable now.”
However, for all of Casspi’s optimism, he begins the season as coach Byron Scott’s third option at his preferred small forward position, behind both Alonzo Gee and new recruit C.J. Miles.
Casspi started in Cleveland’s first 25 games in the strike-shortened season, but his poor play saw him get dropped to the bench at the beginning of March, with coach Scott calling out his Israeli forward, claiming he still doesn’t know the team’s playbook.
Omri was relegated to a minor role as a sub, scoring in double figures in only six of the team’s final 32 games.
However, he now says that he has overcome the nagging pain in his knee that dogged him for much of last season and he sure looked healthy in the summer when he led the Israel national team to EuroBasket 2013 qualification, averaging 19.5 points (shooting 60 percent from the field) and 5.1 rebounds per game.
“He was very disappointed in the way he played [last season],” Scott said at the team’s media day.
“I know he’s a much better basketball player than that, so I’m expecting him to come back and play much better this year.” senior NBA writer, Marc Stein, is also optimistic Casspi can rebound in what is a contract year for the Israeli, who will earn about $2.3 million this season and will be a restricted free agent at the end of it.
“[This season will be] better for sure because he’s significantly healthier and because the go-to guy role he took on for the national team over the summer should help his offensive development,” Stein told me earlier this week.
“He’s starting this season in a much better place.”
Stein believes that much of Casspi’s struggles last season came down to the situation he found himself in at Cleveland and rubbished the rumors which claimed the Cavs were considering to buyout his contract and release him.
“Health was a factor for sure. But the struggles were also magnified by the fact that he went to a team that needed not only a starter at small forward but needed a real scorer at that position, which put demands on Omri that don’t suit his game in the NBA,” Stein explained.
“It didn’t make any sense,” he added regarding the rumors.
“Omri has an expiring contract at a pretty reasonable number by NBA standards because he’s still on his rookie-scale contract.
“Even if the Cavs wanted nothing to do with Omri, it would make far more sense for them to keep him around just in case they needed to throw his cap-friendly contract into a trade.”
Despite struggling to make a significant contribution since the mid-way point of his second season with the Kings, Stein is convinced Casspi has no reason to worry about his NBA career being threatened.
“He’s not going anywhere. If he gets to free agency, when he has the right to pick his next destination, I’m sure he’ll choose a team that’s a better fit than the Kings and Cavs have been,” Stein said.
“The money won’t be what he could probably make in Europe if he decided to go back to Maccabi Tel Aviv or play for someone else in the Euroleague, but my sense is that he wants to play in the NBA for as long as he can.”
According to Stein, Casspi will truly blossom as a glue guy on a playoff team.
“The best-case scenario, as I’ve always said, is that he finds his way to an elite team that can use him as a role player who supplies energy, determined defense and an underrated stroke from 3-point range,” he said.
“I still believe he has a lot to offer a playoff team.
“I always imagine him on the Spurs because he strikes me as the classic sort of San Antonio role player who slits in nicely playing off Duncan, Ginobili and Parker.”
That seems unlikely to happen any time soon, leaving Casspi to make the best of a bad situation in Cleveland.
As things currently stand, it could well be another long and frustrating season for Israel’s first and only NBA player.