For the Kings who played in George Karl’s system that stressed freedom on the floor, the adjustment to Dave Joerger’s structured strategy can be challenging.
And as veteran forward Omri Casspi can attest, it’s even harder watching from the bench.
Casspi is one of the Kings’ more popular players, and previous coaches Michael Malone and Karl relied on him off the bench.
But under Joerger, Casspi no longer is a key member of the second unit and has fallen out of the rotation just 11 games into the season. Casspi also hasn’t played in three games when he was healthy.
Last season, Casspi flourished under Karl, averaging 11.8 points and 27.2 minutes, both career highs. He also shot 40.9 percent from 3-point range.
This season, he is averaging 4.3 points and 15.3 minutes.
During the preseason, Casspi missed some time because of injury, which he concedes “probably” put him behind with Joerger. The Kings also added Matt Barnes, Garrett Temple, Arron Afflalo and Anthony Tolliver in the offseason. Those four take up minutes on the perimeter, and Barnes has assumed Casspi’s role as Rudy Gay’s backup.
“Dave is a new coach here, and I don’t think I was high on his list from the get-go,” Casspi said. “That’s pretty obvious. I’m not a young guy (28). I’m the captain of my national team (in Israel). I played in the European championships and in the playoffs and different teams. And when you want somebody to get back in a rhythm, there’s ways to do it, ways to help them. Obviously, most of it is on me.”
Throughout training camp, Joerger said it would be easy to second-guess his rotation because it would take him time to sort out who fits best on a given night.
But it’s not surprising a new coach would rely on players he knows such as Barnes, who played for Joerger in Memphis.
“(Casspi is) a good shooter, smart cutter, and he loves Sacramento,” Joerger said. “He’s been through some tough times here. I know his heart is in it. It’s a changing year for us in the organization with what we’re trying to do, and sometimes his minutes can be sporadic.”
Joerger said he doesn’t know if Casspi has played enough to determine if the coach’s offensive system works for him. Casspi said it’s hard to figure out where he fits and to find a rhythm on offense without regular playing time.
“It’s just playing, playing consistent minutes,” Casspi said. “I don’t feel like the system is ideal for me, but I don’t think it’s bad for me. I played in it, and it’s pretty similar to Mike’s offense, so it’s just playing. Playing consistent, getting my rhythm and playing. Right now, I’ve got to work.”
Casspi denied a report out of Israel that he wants to be traded. He reiterated he loves Sacramento, where he began his NBA career in 2009 and returned in 2014.
After practice Monday, Casspi planned to meet with general manager Vlade Divac to discuss his status but added he needed to work hard to get back into the rotation.
Casspi said Joerger told the team how the rotation would look going forward. Players generally hate guessing if and when they’ll play, and Casspi said knowing he’s not in the mix for regular minutes means he must make the most of practices and any playing time he does get.
“I didn’t think I’d go from playing 27 minutes to being out of the rotation,” Casspi said. “It is what it is. I’ve got to be a pro about it.”
Casspi’s confidence might be waning, but he still believes he can contribute if given the chance.
“What goes through my mind is I can help this team win,” he said. “I might be here today, and I’ve got to stay ready. I might be somewhere else. I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do.”