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Scott Howard-Cooper

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Omri Casspi promises to run all personal appearance requests through the Kings this season.
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Kings' Casspi ready to lighten his burden off the court


Posted Oct 4 2010 7:15PM - Updated Oct 5 2010 12:43PM

A reporter asks Omri Casspi after Kings practice about the ongoing fight with Donte Greene to win the starting job at small forward. Casspi replies, "We're not fighting." So there are still some language issues.

Boy, are there still some language issues. Casspi said life as an international hero last season wore him down -- playing for Sacramento, playing for Israel, playing for Jewish people everywhere -- only it didn't. He said life will be different this time, except that it won't.

It's all become so clear, but not really.

Year Two begins with Casspi in the same worldly role that is invigorating yet tiring, with the same high profile the team supports but wishes would change. All this amid the same expectations to plant a flag for a country when he may not even be ready to make a stand for the opening lineup on a lottery team. Where it all leads, no one can be sure. It's a pretty good bet that exhaustion will be part of the destination.

In a rookie season that became a study in conflict, he embraced life as an NBA marketing sensation, the first player from Israel to make the league. Opposing teams in markets with large Jewish populations -- New York, Miami, Toronto, and even Atlanta -- all used his appearance to sell tickets and often capitalized on getting him to visit with groups at the arena before or after games. He received mailed invitations to dinner with families at their homes. He got requests to address large groups through the team. His agent was hounded with personal appearance requests.

The demand eventually became so great that the Kings grew concerned, to the point that coach Paul Westphal said, "I think it's something that we're going to have to keep our eye on and really work with him to scale down some of the things. The people who want him to succeed the most, in a way, can be an impediment to that success just by their well-wishing. It's definitely a concern."

Others within the organization, not wanting to douse the historic moment, kept their concerns private. Bottom line, though? He was a rookie in the United States -- a challenge enough on its own -- and the difficulty of the transition was being multiplied by the flurry of commitments.

The great thing was that he eagerly embraced the role. The bad thing was, he eagerly embraced the role.

His impressive start as one of the four or five best newcomers in the league, a standing that came while playing with top rookie Tyreke Evans, was fading by midseason. Maybe it was the rookie wall and would have happened anyway. But maybe it was a young player taking on too much.

Casspi denied it at the time. But later, in an interview on NBA TV, he admitted that "I just feel tired. I wake up in the morning and it's hard to wake up. It's hard to wake up, to practice, to another practice to another morning practice, to another game." And, stronger still: "You get to a point you don't want to play basketball anymore. You feel like, I'm tired of basketball, I need a break. And you've got 2 months left and you've just got to push through it."

Now he gets the second season. The newness of his arrival in the NBA is gone, but Casspi is still expected to be prominent, whether he starts or not. His stature will grow again if he has a larger role on the team.

"I just think that I need to keep working hard during the season," he said after a recent practice. "I feel blessed to do the stuff I did to the Jewish communities around the NBA and around the United States. Hopefully I'm going to have the opportunity to do it again. I'll try to make the right decision and stay fresh for the game. That's the most important thing.

"Obviously this year I'm going to try to do the best that I can on the court. That's the main goal that I'm here, and I'm trying to say it all the time. The main goal and the reason I'm here is to play basketball and to try and focus and relax on basketball. Whatever I can do in my free time with the approval of the organization, I'll do."

You're going to have them give approval?

"Yes," Casspi said. "Of course. All the time."

But they had wanted you to cut back last year and you didn't cut back.

"I'm here to play basketball."

Last season, some of the requests went through his agent. Some went directly to Casspi.

This year will be different. But Casspi hopes not all is going to change.

"It's going to be interesting to see. I believe it's going to be the same and hopefully be the same and even more," he said. "The fans showed us great support throughout the season throughout the league."

Wait. He wants it to be the same?

"I hope so," Casspi said.

Try fighting that mindset.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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