Omri Casspi entered the league as the first NBA star of his native country, the "Michael Jordan of Israel" as former King Jason Thompson used to call him. During his first stint with the Kings from 2009 to 2011, the 6'9'' forward showed that he was going to need some time to transition into the NBA. The talent was there. He could score, but his game was raw and he hadn't quite caught up to the speed and physicality of the top league in professional basketball.
Former Kings head coach Paul Westphal used Casspi sparingly and at one point favored Donte Greene's services over him. Casspi wasn't shy about his displeasure over his role under Westphal and he was ultimately dealt to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Last season, Casspi returned to Sacramento following stints with the Cavs and Houston Rockets. He seemed to be quicker, stronger and under more control on the floor. His stats on the season didn't jump off the page (8.9 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.5 assists). But he shot the best percentages of his career (48 percent from the field and 40 percent from three) and finished the season under George Karl on a blistering pace: 19.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists in the month of April. Casspi has continued this high-level play in his four EuroBasket 2015 games with 18.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists. But it isn't just the stats that validate the reported two-year, $6 million contract the Kings gave him this summer. This version of Omri Casspi is much more composed and self-aware compared to the rookie we saw in Sacramento some six years ago. Casspi's skill as a teammate and the type of versatility he brings to George Karl's offense will supply true value to this updated 2015-16 Kings roster.
The national narrative for the Kings this season is that it will be a train wreck. It may be or it may not, but even if Vlade Divac's experiment works out, chances are things will get sideways from time to time. Having a cool and collected guy like Casspi in the locker room is a good thing. He is as honest as he can be with the media, never saying too much on the record, but saying enough to give you a heartfelt, clear answer. He's full of life and, at least from the experiences I have had with him, appears to be grounded in who he is and what he believes in. And what he believes in is Sacramento, which he's said feels like home, and the future of the Kings. He recently had this to say to CBS Sports:
" … I didn't want to leave. I trust our organization, I trust our coaches. We have the best center in the league. Obviously, we're going in the right direction."
Casspi has trust with the most important piece of the Kings train: DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins' recent trip to Israel with Casspi has been well documented. Following the trip, Casspi said he loves Cousins and called him a brother. During the NBA Summer League they had this little moment and before that, the now-famous headband fix moment. Toward the end of the season, their chemistry on the floor was palpable. Cousins and Casspi would swing passes to one another and you could tell they were tracking each other on the floor.
In terms of his impact on the current roster, Casspi's main role is to serve as Rudy Gay's backup (Casspi refers to Gay as a role model), but if Karl wanted to he could slide Gay to the four and potentially start Casspi at three. Based on what we saw out of Casspi toward the end of last season and what he is doing overseas lately, he is turning into one of those great backups who is on the fringe of being a starter, much like his new teammate Kosta Koufos. His ability to be interchangeable helps lessen the blow of an injury to Gay also.
Casspi could still work on his turnovers, and while his shot looks better, there is more room for improvement. But what he does when he is on the floor is set an example: diving for loose balls, bringing energy by running the floor hard and competing for rebounds regardless of what the scoreboard says.
What Casspi brings to this 2015-16 Kings team is simple: heart.