The Step Back

Omri Casspi signing with the Warriors is a long overdue stroke of good luck

When Omri Casspi signed with Golden State on a one-year deal on Tuesday, the move wasn’t really an exciting one to many. After all, it was a one-year deal for the minimum, and adding another shooter doesn’t exactly move the needle for the defending champs. They’ll still be the Warriors, it’s just a new face in the Ian Clark/Brandon Rush role.

It is not an insignificant move for Casspi. That’s an obvious statement — he’s probably going to win a ring, clearly he has to be happy about that. But this move is also the first real breakthrough of Casspi’s career, and it comes in what will be his ninth NBA season. Most guys who “ring-chase” — meaning taking minimum contracts on elite teams with the goal of winning a title — are former All-Stars or elite role players who never got a chance to win a Finals in their primes. Casspi’s different. He’s 29-years old — still ostensibly in his prime. He has never been a starter. Heck, he’s never even played in a playoff game.

Instead, Casspi’s signing with Golden State is breaking down a wall for a basketball career that can best be described as “trying.” Casspi, the No. 23 pick in the 2009 Draft, joined the Sacramento Kings right as they started to become the Kings we know and love today. A solid two-year stint for some very bad Kings teams led to him being traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers for J.J. Hickson.

Here, things started to come off the rails. Casspi and Cavs coach Byron Scott never got off on a good note, and Casspi was slowly buried in the rotation, being benched for journeyman Alonzo Gee. In his second Cavs season, things cratered; Casspi averaged a career-low 4.0 points and 2.7 rebounds per game in 43 contests, and an emergency appendectomy derailed his season for a month that coincided with the best stretch of basketball the Cavs played between LeBron James stints. Casspi asked for a buyout; the Cavs denied him, and he struggled his way through the end of the regular season before signing in Houston in July of 2013.

He turned his career around in Houston’s high-tempo offense, averaging 6.9 points and 3.7 rebounds per game playing off James Harden. The Rockets actually did make the playoffs, but Casspi, who was averaging 18.9 minutes per game in the regular season, was shut out of the rotation completely. He then was traded to the Pelicans and waived in the Omer Asik trade, and then signed with the Kings. The past three years in Sacramento have been his best as a pro, peaking at 11.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game while shooting 40.9 percent on 3-pointers in 2015-16. However, injuries continued to strike — a bone bruise to his knee, an ankle sprain, and a hamstring strain helped limit him to under 70 games in each of the past three seasons. There’s also the whole matter of playing for the Kings, and the messiness that came with that. Ultimately, it led to Casspi being included in the DeMarcus Cousins trade.

His Pelicans tenure lasted exactly 24 minutes, before he sprained his thumb and fractured a small area of bone, requiring surgery. The Pelicans, rather than wait six weeks for the injury to heal, cut him. He wound up on the Timberwolves once he recovered, but barely caught on at the end of a disappointing season. Now, the switch on his career flips in the best possible way. Nearly six straight seasons of turmoil are ending, and now he’s in the best basketball situation he’s been in since being a 20-year old at Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel.

This move isn’t just a good one for Casspi, either. Casspi thrived as a stretch four next to Cousins, and he had a 62.1 effective field goal percentage last season. He’s a legitimate floor-spacing weapon, particularly from the top of the key, where he’s been a 42-percent plus shooter in each of the past three seasons.

He’s also a useful slasher, helping him fill all the roles the Warriors will want him to. He was efficient both at the rim and from the 3-point line with minimal spacing in Sacramento — now he gets chances to score with the gravity created by the best shooting team ever. He’s yet another weapon in the toolbox, and probably is a more consistent outside shooter than Clark was.

He’s also a consummate veteran, a guy who was a fan favorite in Sacramento and is a positive culture influence, someone who teaches young players and connects with teammates and loves to share in his experiences. He famously took eight fellow NBA players to his native Israel in the summer of 2015, for an immersion experience and to run a basketball camp for youth in the area. Given the political turmoil that’s surrounded his home since his birth, it’s no surprise that he’s politically active, and he uses his standing as Israel’s most famous NBA player to attempt to advocate for the people he grew up with that are affected by the constant political struggle. He’ll fit in very well in the Bay Area in that regard.

Casspi isn’t just a throw-away signing for the Warriors. He’s a legitimate weapon from the outside, another piece in the never-ending shooting arms race between the Warriors and Cavaliers. And perhaps more importantly, he’s a great story. He’s overcome a lot to be able to get to this point, and he’s one of the best locker room guys in the league. With the narrative surrounding the Warriors painting them as villains, it’s nice to have a counter to that in Casspi. Here’s hoping he can thrive in the best situation of his career.

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