TrueHoop: Omri Casspi

Casspi eyes Tony Parker's French team

August, 23, 2011
Stein By Marc Stein
The San Antonio Spurs would undoubtedly prefer to see them playing together in South Texas, but the prospect of Tony Parker and longtime Spurs favorite Omri Casspi teaming up in France is very much alive.

Sources close to the situation told on Monday that Casspi is giving strong consideration to signing with ASVEL in France's top division.

That's the same ASVEL club which claims Parker as a co-owner and as its vice president of basketball operations.

It initially appeared that Casspi -- after being dealt from Sacramento to Cleveland on June 30 in the final trade consummated in the NBA before the start of the July 1 lockout -- was a lock to play for perennial Euroleague power Maccabi Tel-Aviv in his native Israel in the event of the lockout bleeding into November or December.

But David Pick of reported earlier Monday that Casspi and Maccabi officials, after a sitdown, have mutually agreed that they would not be able to reach contract terms that both sides can stomach.

France isn't the only destination that Casspi -- coveted by the Spurs since he was drafted No. 23 overall by the Kings in 2009 -- is considering as a lockout alternative. Various reports in the Israeli media say he's drawn interest from clubs in Russia and Spain.
But ASVEL, situatated in the Lyon suburb of Villeurbanne, does have one clear advantage: Casspi and Parker share the same agent. They're both represented by CAA's Steven Heumann.

Last week in London on duty with the French national team, Parker told contributor Ian Whittell that he will play in his native France if he plays anywhere other than the NBA this season as opposed to seizing upon the interest Parker has generated from teams in China.

"My agent talked about China a little bit," Parker told Whittell. "... I'm not going to take any decision until the end of September, after the European Championships. I want to see if I'm healthy, if I'm hurt and by then we will also know a lot more what is happening with the situation of the lockout.

"If I play [abroad], I will definitely play in France, for my fans, for my team ASVEL."

As for the prospect of Casspi ultimately winding up alongside Parker in the French League, one source close to the situation said it really "might happen."

Casspi is currently nursing a injured left knee that threatens to knock him out of the European Championships (EuroBasket) later this month in Lithuania. Israel's only NBA player told reporters over the weekend that "right now my leg is in a bad state."

Monday Bullets

August, 16, 2010
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz

Late Friday Bullets

August, 6, 2010
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz

Day Nine Las Vegas summer league roundup

July, 18, 2010
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
Drafting for need vs. talent remains one of the more polarizing debates in late spring among basketball fans and insiders. Do you take the best player on the board or opt to fill a positional need? Fortunately for the Toronto Raptors, their desperation for an interior player with defensive chops and the potential to flourish in the low post matched Ed Davis' profile. Nabbing the North Carolina big man with the No. 13 overall pick made a whole lot of sense for the Raptors.

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images
Ed Davis: Back and on track

Things were progressing well enough for Davis during his sophomore season at North Carolina. Although he hadn't put up the gaudiest numbers over the first twelve weeks of the season, Davis was quickly establishing himself as one of the ACC's tougher inside defenders and toughest rebounders. The offensive game still needed some seasoning, but Davis was a highly coordinated big with a soft touch. After New Years, he began to more aggressively stake out his territory on the right block, something that didn't come naturally to him in his freshman season. Then, in February, Davis broke the lunate bone in his left wrist, an injury that kept him out of action until a couple of weeks ago.

"Basically until I got to Toronto for that mini-camp, that was the first time I really played five-on-five since," Davis said. "It was rough at first trying to get back into the feel of things. But I think it's all starting to come back together now."

Davis completed his first stretch of competitive basketball since the injury on Saturday when the Raptors wrapped up their summer league schedule with a win over New Orleans. In scoring 14 points and collecting six rebounds in 18 minutes, Davis continued his consistent, efficient week in Las Vegas. He's far from a finished product -- and still not much of a threat beyond 12 feet -- but there's a level of ease with which Davis operates down low. Take a possession in the second quarter when Davis went to work against fellow first-round draft pick Craig Brackins. Davis got the ball off the left block, then patiently backed Brackins inside before unfurling a quick baseline pivot with his right foot. After spinning off Brackins' frame, Davis gathered the ball, re-established his balance then drew contact as he flicked the ball gently off the glass. Count the basket and the foul.

The balance, agility and soft hands have always been there for Davis, but over the past eight days, he's displaying more assertiveness on the offensive end. Though he's still not a guy with a natural inclination to explode from the elbow like Amare Stoudemire, Davis looks much further along than the kid who finished almost exclusively in the basket area at Chapel Hill. On Saturday, Davis even buried a face-up jumper, a rare sight when he was wearing Carolina blue.

For a Toronto team that finished last in the league in defensive efficiency, though, it's Davis' presence on the opposite side of the ball that offers the most appeal. Davis moves exceptionally well against the pick-and-roll, has exquisite timing as a shot-blocker and can clean the glass. Those are important attributes for a Raptors' front line that was bludgeoned inside last season.

"Those are things I bring to the team," Davis said. "I can help the team every night just by blocking a shot here and there, rebounding the ball and just by being in the right position at the right time."

In the third quarter on Saturday, Davis swatted away Josh Carter's layup attempt, igniting a fast break punctuated by a Dee Brown alley-oop to Ronald Dupree. On the very next possession, Davis was on the receiving end of a transition bucket when he ran the length of the floor and finished down the gut of the lane with the slam.

Not so long ago, Davis was projected as a Top 5 pick for his unique collection of talent. He combines some of the finesse of a skilled big man (those soft hands, smart passes out of the double-team) with the assets usually associated with a more brutish power forward (strong rebounding and shot-blocking). When asked to classify his game, Davis demurred.

"We'll see," Davis said. "Right now, I just need to keep working, try to get stronger, quicker and more explosive."
  • I'm not sure what else there is for Alonzo Gee to accomplish here. He had another efficient outing, scoring 20 points on 15 true shots, spaced the floor for the Spurs, passed up contested shots along the perimeter, drained those that weren't, and collected six boards.
  • Michael Roll, a four-year guard out of UCLA, has an unspectacular but complete offensive game. He strokes the ball beautifully from distance, can hold his dribble in traffic, and pass the ball on the move. Unfortunately, he has trouble staying in front of opposing shooting guards -- both off the dribble and in post-up situations -- through no lack of effort.
  • The last weekend of summer league, when things get really messy, is tailor-made for a ball dominator like Quincy Pondexter, who unleashed a series of nasty incursions into the paint. Pondexter spent the afternoon bursting off side screens or attacking in isolation at the top of the floor, drawing a ton of contact. He finished with 26 points on 7-for-15 shooting from the floor, along with a 12-for-15 day at the stripe.
  • During a brief stint in the first half, Raptors' rookie center Solomon Alabi drained a right-handed jump hook in the lane over Craig Brackins, a face-up 18-footer, then picked up a loose ball and finished with his left hand in traffic with a little flip.
  • When you watch Cheikh Samb move around the floor, you get a sense of why he's lingered around the fringes of the NBA and continues to fascinate teams. Samb blocked a slew of Hornets' shots and worked a little magic of his own in the pivot with his little hook shot.
  • David Thorpe on Al-Farouq Aminu: "I love the draft pick at that spot, he has real value there going forward. He can be a terrific player. I just don't like him as a 3 for a year or two. That position plays into all of his bad habits. Far too much dribbling and settling for jumpers. Far too little offensive rebounding-three total in their last three games. If he was constantly battling around inside, he'd get three a game simply due to his reach, feel, and talent. I like building players from the inside-out, and from a base of confidence. He's shooting less than 25 percent from the field and has one assist to 13 turnovers. That's a scary foundation for such a young player. He'd kill this league as a 4."
  • John Krolik of Cavs the Blog on Patrick O'Bryant: "O'Bryant has shown a few good signs in Vegas. He's always had an NBA body, and he's showed off a few post moves during his time in Vegas. He's sealed his man off effectively, shown a nice little jump hook, and converted some plays around the rim. He hasn't been dominant, but one expects that at least one team will give the 24-year old 7-footer one more chance to crack their rotation."
  • John Krolik on Luke Babbitt: "If you leave Luke Babbitt open from three, he'll make you pay. It's a quick, natural release, and he can just ease the ball in from 25 feet. The rest of his scoring game needs work. He got lost in traffic a few times on Saturday, and went 2-for-11 on 2-point attempts."
  • Zach Harper of Cowbell Kingdom on Omri Casspi: "When Omri Casspi's halfcourt heave went in at the end of the third quarter, he turned to the Maloofs and flashed 3-point hand signals to celebrate. It was the highlight of an 18-point second half for Omri as the Kings came back to beat the Hawks."
  • Matt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm on Cartier Martin: "Martin may have made the most impressive case for minutes on the Wizards that he has since being called up from the D-League last season. Cartier had the whole range going today, including a turnaround three that was, to be honest, sick. He's complemented that by being the Wizards' best defender not named John Wall."
  • Matt Moore on Leo Lyons: "Missouri Tiger Leo Lyons had a rollercoaster of a day. His midrange started falling and he was able to create inside. Lyons' best performance was on defense, especially in pick-and-roll situations, and in drawing fouls. Unfortunately, he ended the day with his arm in a wrap, as Summer League frustrations continue for some, while others get the calls they've been waiting for."
  • Jeremy Schmidt of Bucksketball on Tiny Gallon: "Gallon's hands measured 10th longest and 4th widest at the Chicago combine. He uses both of those plus-sized paws to grab rebounds each time he attacks the glass and once the ball enters his grasp, it doesn't come out. Gallon was a very good rebounder in college and has demonstrated that skill throughout summer league."
  • The Clippers' Eric Bledsoe gives David Brody a tour of his Facebook page.
  • Summer league fan uni watch: A CSKA Moscow Ramunas Siskauskas jersey.

Omri Casspi and Jewish masculine identity

February, 19, 2010
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
Omri Casspi
Rocky Widner/Getty Images Sport
Omri Casspi: "vigorous and strong, nimble and powerful"

Ever since Omri Casspi hit the scene, I've had two general conversations with people I know:

  • The first is with Jewish family and friends, few of whom follow pro basketball very closely. They've heard about this Israeli kid playing for some team in California. This is the greatest thing ever! Have you met him?! When is he coming to my city? What's the best way to invite him to Shabbos Dinner? Is he observant?
  • The second conversation occurs with non-Jewish friends, each of whom appreciates that Casspi carries great symbolic importance for Jewish folks. But, in the politest way possible, they want to better understand why the fervor over Casspi in the Jewish community is such a phenomenon. After all, there have been Jewish ball players before and, fifty years ago, they had a major presence in the league. Today, current Laker Jordan Farmar is a rotation player for the reigning NBA champs. There are a number of Jewish NBA owners and the league's front offices are filled with Jews. So -- and we mean this in the least offensive way possible -- why are NBA arenas packed by ecstatic Jewish fans every time the Kings show up?

This second question is a good one. Casspi, of course, is the first Israeli to play in the NBA, which explains a lot of the exuberance. Israel has long been a basketball-crazy land, and sending a native son over to the NBA is the ultimate realization of that passion. Noam Schiller of Jerusalem Sports wrote a celebratory piece over at Cowbell Kingdom describing the devotion to Casspi in Israel:

[R]egardless of how Casspi’s career unravels from this point forward, he will always be the first one who made it. And all words and all the articles and all the TV pieces that have aired in the American media since that night late in June – and some of them are really really good – can’t even begin to describe the impact this has had in Israel. Kings games have become a matter of national importance – except nobody cares if they win or lose. David Thorpe’s rookie rankings are monitored on a weekly basis by every major sports website in the country ... New Casspi interviews and analysis pieces are published by the hour, and nobody is sick of it, because all they want is more and more information of how their promised son is doing in the scary outside world.

So the next time you watch a Kings game, and the camera glosses over an Israeli flag in the crowd, don’t think to yourself “boy, these people are really over doing it”. Because the truth of the matter is, you ain’t seen nothin’. That camera isn’t showing you the people back in Israel who wake up in the middle of the night to watch the Kings play the likes of the Pistons and the Knicks and the Bucks, despite having school or work the next day. It doesn’t show the “Omri Casspi scored 15 points!…and the Kings lost” headlines. It doesn’t show how all of a sudden, the Rookie-Sophomore game and the All-Star HORSE contest have, at least for one year, at least for one nation, stepped out of obscurity and into the spotlight. It doesn’t show how all these corny new headlines – such as the suddenly over used “Omri, King Of Israel” – are indeed corny, and sappy, and stupid, and true.

Most American Jews have a visceral connection to Israel. They consider the prosperity of Israel their prosperity too. They also feel the nation's hardship, even if that burden isn't present in their daily lives.

But there's something else about Casspi that speaks to the American Jewish psyche. Some of it is familiar -- old jokes like, "there's a book about Jewish's a pamphlet!" But beneath the surface lurks something very real and raw that taps into why American Jews are so crazy about Casspi.

To understand the modern origins of this dynamic, we have to look to the late 19th century and a Hungarian intellectual named Max Nordau, one of the founders of the Zionist movement at the turn of the century. Nordau believed that Jews were the victims of persecution in part because they were, at the risk of simplification, wimpy. Nordau espoused a theory called Muskeljudentum, or "Muscular Judaism."

Franklin Foer, in his book "How Soccer Explains the World," described Nordau's dogma:

Nordau argued that victims of anti-Semitism suffered from their own disease, a condition he called Judendot, or Jewish distress. Life in the ghetto had afflicted the Jews with effeminacy and nervousness ... To beat back anti-Semitism and eradicate Judendot, Jews didn't merely need to reinvent their body politic. They needed to reinvent their bodies. He prescribed Muskeljudentum as a cure for this malady. He wrote, "We want to restore to the flabby Jewish body its lost tone, to make it vigorous and strong, nimble and powerful." Jews, he urged in articles and letters, should invest in creating gymnasia and athletic fields, because sport "will straighten us in body and character."

Now, how does this relate to Omri Casspi?

Nordau's credo became part of the fabric of 20th Century Zionist ideology. The juggernaut we know as Maccabi Tel Aviv is a product of this movement, born in 1906 as the Rishon LeZion Club in Jaffa, Israel. Initially, gymnastics was the focus of the club, but basketball was introduced in the 1930s, a full decade before the founding of the state of Israel. The nation got its first real basketball league in 1954 and, sure enough, Maccabi Tel Aviv was the first champion. About 50 years later, and nearly a full century after the formation of the first organized athletic club in Israel, Casspi suited up for Maccabi Tel Aviv at the age of 17.

Nordau might be heralded as a hero of Zionism, but his "Muscular Jew" doctrine was a little too close to the European anti-Semitic critique of the modern Jew for my taste. What Nordau essentially put forward was the idea that Jewish men, while learned professionals, smart with money and bookish, are traditionally lousy at the more primal duties of manhood -- things like defending their tribe against aggressors, sports and manual tasks.

By virtue of mandatory conscription, fighting wars and toiling the land for more than 60 years, Israeli Jews (and certainly Omri Casspi) have largely fulfilled Nordau's vision of the muscular Jew and have escaped this rap. For American Jews who have flocked to NBA arenas to get an up-close look at Casspi, the narrative is a little bit different. Many American Jews -- who are more like their European forebearers than their Israeli counterparts in their general way of life -- still internalize some of this Judendot. Their attachment to Israel is a largely tribal allegiance, but there's an element of wonder there too. One of the funnier snippets of Philip Roth's "Portnoy's Complaint" is American Jew Alexander Portnoy's arriving in Israel toward the end of the novel, in absolute awe of the virile Israelis:

And that's the phrase that does me in as we touch down upon Eretz Yisroel [the land of Israel]: to watch the men. I love those men! I want to grow up to be one of those men!

There's a little bit of Alexander Portnoy in the American Jewish men who can't wait to watch this Israeli man fly around the court, shoot 3s, harass ball-handlers and run the break. Yes, some of that fascination is a simple expression of nationalism, but Casspi personifies something deeper for American Jews. The fact that he's not a slight, cerebral point guard but a rangy, explosive -- sometimes even careless -- young swingman makes him all the more appealing.

Casspi is just like everyone else out there ... which makes him special.

The Power of Omri Casspi

February, 9, 2010
Abbott By Henry Abbott
Ailene Voisin of the Sacramento Bee writes about the NBA's first Israeli:

Clusters of spectators occupy sections in every arena, waving Israeli flags, chanting his name, pleading for an autograph, a high-five, or even a glance.

These past few days in particular have been a blur of activity: Pregame and post-game chats with a throng of fans Sunday in Toronto; a post-practice gathering Monday at Madison Square Garden with members of the media, including several Israeli television and print journalists; a private audience with Commissioner David Stern in his Olympic tower office hours later; a reception sponsored by the Israeli Consul General in the early evening and, finally, tonight's long anticipated Kings-Knicks matchup that is being marketed as Jewish Heritage Night. ...

The attention in Sacramento, Casspi's adopted hometown, is only slightly less intense. High school coaches ask him to address their teams. Congregations compete for his presence at religious functions. Jewish mothers try to fix him up with their daughters – requests he coyly refuses, he says, citing time constraints.

Then there's the baby, the namesake, another first. But little Omri Ruben Nelson, son of Tami and Louis Nelson of Elk Grove, probably won't be the last.

"Both of our parents are Israeli," said Tami Nelson, an elementary school teacher, "and we wanted our child to have a Jewish name. Then when Omri came to the Kings, we thought his story was inspiring. My sister actually wanted to name her baby Omri, too, but we beat her to it; she isn't due until March."

Monday Bullets

July, 20, 2009

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

Is it really as simple as "LeBron up top in isolation" for the Cavs? If so, how does Orlando adjust? Is "Carmelo up top in isolation" a blueprint for Denver? And if you're weary from playoff basketball, there's always the draft combine.   

LeBron JamesJohn Krolik of Cavs the Blog: "Where do you want to start? 37/14/12 against the best defense in the league? Are you joking me with that line? Is that real? Led the game in points, assists, rebounds, and offensive boards? Had as many assists AS THE MAGIC? (A note for those who think the Cavs were the team with stagnation problems in this game). Scored or assisted on 61% of the team's points. And the team scored 112 on the Magic. And with the team a quarter away from elimination ... the Cavs outscored the Magic by 14 with LeBron taking the ball at the top of the key and scoring or assisting on every Cavaliers basket. Step-back jumpers. Move after move to the basket. Ridiculous feeds. The whole thing. That's absolutely unheard of. In an elimination game, in the conference finals, against the league's best defense. That is absurd ... The TNT guys were absolutely in awe. When Kenny asked Charles Barkley, who's only one of the best scorers of all time and loved the ball from the free-throw line extended for face-up drives, if he'd ever been leaned on like that, Charles looked at Kenny like he'd just asked him where Ernie could score some PCP. They said 'eventually LeBron will get tired,' which to Magic fans must sound like someone telling Roy Schneider in Jaws 'Well, eventually we figure he'll get full.'"

LeBron JamesZach McCann of Orlando Magic Daily: "Tonight's momentous performance from LeBron James once again made it clear: when LeBron is on, truly playing at the top of his game, it doesn't matter what Mickael Pietrus, Hedo Turkoglu, Dwight Howard or a variety of other help defenders do - James cannot be stopped. He can go over, under, around and through any defender that comes his way. The Magic can only keep their arms up, hope he misses and pray they don't hear a whistle ... LeBron was just in another world, fluidly penetrating the lane and seeing the play develop an instant before any defender did. A couple years ago, LeBron scored the final 25 points of Cleveland's Game 5 victory over the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals, saving the Cavs' season and eventually leading them to the NBA Finals. His performance tonight was of the same grain, as he took over and made sure the Cavs would head back to Orlando for Game 6."

Omri CasspiGraydon Gordian of 48 Minutes of Hell: "The Draft Combine media sessions can be a bit tedious. After the tenth player tells you he wants to 'work hard' and his 'defense needs improvement,' you can start to lose interest. So when the opportunity to entice a bit of intrigue out of a player arises, you take it. For me, that moment came while speaking with Omri Casspi ... Given that Omri may be the first Israeli to play in the NBA, I asked him about the Israeli-Palestinian situation and, as his popularity back home grew, whether he would take the chance to comment on the matter publicly. 'I'm playing basketball. I don't want to involve sports and politics.' Thinking he had nipped the question in the bud, I prepared to return to the day's standard subject matter. But before I could revert back to banalities, he took a slightly different tact. 'Israel is beautiful. People don't understand it. Many Jews and Arabs live together in peace. I want to be an ambassador for Israel.' As he spoke, he began to glance downward and his tone became more severe. I grew worried that I had hit a nerve. But as he neared the end of his comments, he seemed relaxed. I think I may have been imposing my own anxiety about the question itself onto him."

Roundball Mining Company: A video breakdown of Carmelo Anthony's Game 5 fourth quarter.
The Two Man Game: Dallas has some serious needs.
Valley of the Suns: Leandro Barbosa, Keeper.

(Photos by Gregory Shamus, Seffi Magriso/NBAE, Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images)