Saturday, May 30, 2009

Express News: The Casspi question
By Jeff McDonald
The NBA draft is still nearly a month away. For everybody except the Lakers, Cavaliers, Magic and maybe the Nuggets, it's not too early to start looking ahead to June 25.

For the Spurs, much of the early speculation — emphasis on the word early — has surrounded a 20-year-old Israeli named Omri Casspi.

Casspi, a 6-foot-8 small forward, isn't exactly a household name in the Alamo City. Draft wonks, and certainly those in the Spurs front office, know exactly who he is. Casspi has been playing in the Euroleague since he was 17, most recently with Maccabi Tel Aviv. He has been on the Spurs radar for about as long.

He is a decent 3-point shooter (shooting nearly 40 percent for Maccabi Tel Aviv last season), in the mold of Utah's Matt Harpring. One of the Spurs' goals this offseason is to begin to get younger on the wing, and Casspi — still not old enough to drink legally in the United States — certainly fills the bill there.

Unlike other European prospects the Spurs have taken in recent drafts (see Splitter, Tiago), Casspi reportedly is bedazzled with the prospect of playing in the NBA, and would likely take a financial hit to make that dream come true.

So, what's to keep Casspi from taking a call from the Spurs on draft day? There are two intertwined factors.

No. 1 — There are rumors that Casspi will withdraw from the draft if he's not guaranteed to be a first round pick. At the pre-draft combine in Chicago earlier this week, he didn't exactly deny that rumor. At this point, Casspi is projected as a late first-round, early second-round selection.

No. 2 — The Spurs have no first-round pick this season, having dealt theirs (No. 25 overall) to Seattle/Oklahoma City in February 2008 as part of the Kurt Thomas deal. The Spurs do have three second-round picks (Nos. 37, 51 and 53).

Don't be surprised to see the Spurs try to trade into the bottom of the first round, if they think they have a shot at Casspi. That is one storyline worth watching on draft day.

Casspi, meanwhile, hasn't scheduled a private workout with the Spurs, and it remains uncertain that he would. He probably doesn't have to. The Spurs have been scouting Casspi for so long, they know all there is to know about him.

However, there is a long and growing list of prospects who have worked out or are believed to have worked out for the Spurs. Among them:

PGNic Wise of Arizona, Ben Woodside of North Dakota State, Kyle McAlarney of Notre Dame, Jeremy Pargo of Gonzaga, Donald Sloan of Texas A&M, Curtis Jerrells of Baylor and Nick Calathes of Florida.

SGDionte Christmas of Temple, Dwyane Collins of Miami, Alex Ruoff of West Virginia, Greivis Vasquez of Maryland, Va., Jermaine Taylor from Central Florida and Courtney Fells from North Carolina State.

SF/PF: Tyler Smith of Tennesee, Robert Dozier of Memphis and Leo Lyons from Missouri.

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