Omri Casspi was traded by the Kings to Cleveland after the 2010-11 season, but Sacramento was always home to him.
When it looked as if the team would move to Anaheim and later Seattle, Casspi expressed his fondness for Sacramento and hope the team would stay put.
The Kings remained in Sacramento with new ownership, and that worked out well for Casspi. He’s back in Sacramento after signing a one-year deal, reuniting the Kings’ 2009 first-round draft pick with the city and people he loves.
“I’ll always be a King,” said Casspi, who played with Houston last season. “I’m a King. I love it here. I’m happy to be back.”
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These aren’t the Kings Casspi knew in 2011. The overall atmosphere is different.
“Just the coaching staff, the organization as a whole, we’re a lot more organized now,” Casspi said. “Now we just need to win games. That’s what we’re here for.”
And life in the NBA is different for Casspi. When the Kings used the second of two first-round draft picks on Casspi, it was a historic selection.
Casspi was the first Israeli-born player drafted into the NBA. That led to international attention and extra commitments. Many road teams held Jewish heritage nights when the Kings were in town and wanted Casspi to participate in some capacity.
Casspi appreciated the significance of being in the league, but he also wanted to be known as a basketball player, which has happened over time.
“Experience plays a big part in it,” he said. “I’m happy just to focus on the game and playing basketball. And it’s fun.”
The Kings believe Casspi will add versatility and three-point shooting, two things they lacked last season. Casspi is a career 35.2 percent three-point shooter. The Kings shot 33.3 percent from beyond the arc last season.
Casspi will play small forward or power forward, and his outside shooting will complement center DeMarcus Cousins in the post.
“It’s well-documented, the lack of shooting last year being 27th in three-point percentage,” coach Michael Malone said. “Omri’s a guy that can shoot the ball. The last couple of years, he’s mainly been playing stretch four (a power forward who can shoot from outside), but he’s also got a competitive fire to him. He has a quiet toughness, a great young man, and I’m looking forward to getting to know him better and also using him in different areas where he can be most effective.”
Casspi looks forward to playing with Cousins again. After playing with All-Star center Dwight Howard last season, Casspi knows he can get open looks from the perimeter because of the attention Cousins draws from defenders.
“Last year in Houston we had one of the better lineups in the league when we played four shooters around Dwight,” Casspi said. “And if you look at DeMarcus as an offensive player, he’s such a great passer, and he can be really the one guy in with four guys spreading the floor for him. The court is too wide and too big to help and somebody’s going to make a mistake, and we’ve got shooters around to help. … And DeMarcus maybe is a better passer and a better offensive player than Dwight.”
Last season was Casspi’s first on a playoff team in the NBA. He went from a losing team in Sacramento to Cleveland after LeBron James had left for Miami, hence another losing situation that exposed Casspi to the level of focus, discipline and effort needed to win in the NBA. Practices were intense, and every defeat stung.
“It’s totally different,” Casspi said. “… It was fun, but it was hard.”
Kings forward Jason Thompson was one of the many Sacramento residents with whom Casspi stayed in contact. Thompson even traveled to Israel to attend the wedding of Casspi’s brother and learn more about his culture.
Thompson has talked to Casspi about being on a winning team and his experiences on different teams, and he expects Casspi will bring a fresh perspective.
“It’s always good to see familiar faces,” Thompson said. “He’s a guy with a lot of confidence from playing on different teams. Now he’s starting to find his way and get his swagger back. So I’m happy for him. It’s good to see him.”