The waiting game is not easy to play. You either use patience as a negotiating strategy or it becomes necessary when the market is flooded with talent. The two differences are monumental, and they are exacerbated when dealing with basketball players.
Darren Collison defies the typical stereotype of a basketball player. Sure, he would love to have more money or have the starting spot on an NBA team. But none of that was on the forefront of his mind when he entered free agency this summer. Winning. That’s what possessed Collison ever since he started playing basketball.
“My thing was that I’m 25, about to head into my prime years, why not be on a team where I can compete for a championship,” says Collison. “With free agency, there is a pecking order. You kind of have to wait for that point guard before you and all the 29 teams are waiting on him. It was tough but definitely a humbling experience.”
In 2005, Collison went to UCLA, a university that expects NCAA championships. That’s why Collison returned for his senior season, too. He wanted to bring a championship back to campus. That winning attitude is also a major reason why he signed a two-year deal with the Los Angeles Clippers this summer.
“I can’t wait,” he says. “This is the first time that I can get on a team that can do something special. It’s just that feeling that helps enhance your game throughout the entire summer. Most players play well on winning teams, some players don’t play better on winning teams. I’ve always been a player that needs to be on a winning team because I never took losing very well. I never took losing well throughout my whole career and now, finally, I get to be on a team that can really contend for a championship.”
Winning with the Clippers might have seemed like an anomaly years ago, but between the rise of Blake Griffin and the addition of Chris Paul in 2011, they have legitimacy now. L.A. took another step forward this summer by adding Doc Rivers as head coach and bringing in swingmen J.J. Redick, Jared Dudley and Reggie Bullock to bolster a linuep that finished fourth in the Western Conference last season.
That opens questions over what offense the Clippers will run this season. Collison gave no hints, but he did elaborate on what he’s working on this offseason, a possible indication of what the team is stressing.
“I’ve definitely been trying to perfect my 3-point range and trying to keep the ball at a more consistent level,” he says. “The number one reason is I’ll have the opportunity to play with Chris Paul, who is one of the best passers in the game, and if I get the chance to play alongside of him, I’ll have to be able to shoot the 3-point ball. The other reason is that teams are playing to my quickness so if I could shoot the ball well I could give teams a lot of problems.”
This isn’t the first rodeo for both Paul and Collison. Both were teammates on the New Orleans Hornets during Collison’s rookie season in 2009-10. That was the only season in which Paul missed more than 30 games, a knee surgery knocked him out halfway through the year. That gave Collison an opening, and he didn’t disappoint. He averaged 18.8 points and 9.1 assists in his 37 starts.
The Hornets saw Collison as a jewel that needed to be cashed in immediately, so after that phenomenal rookie season, the team traded Collison to the Pacers in a four-way deal that brought Trevor Ariza to New Orleans. Regardless, both Paul and Collison remained close.
“He is still like my long lost brother,” Collison says. “We’re at the point where we respect each other so much that we understand each other’s game and as a person. It is different than last time, though. Before it was just a learning thing and trying to prepare with him. It’s not too much of a learning experience this time. It’s more about just going out there and complementing each other with our play.”
The trip back to California is somewhat of a homecoming for Collison, who grew up in Rancho Cucamonga, which is less than 50 miles away from the Staples Center. The return home comes after playing for three different teams in four seasons. The constant change of teams has given Collison a broad understanding of different offenses, which could be a boon to a team moving on with Doc Rivers as coach.
“When Doc called me up and said that he really wanted me on the Clippers, he mentioned the possibility of me playing with Chris,” Collison says. “I’m just going to take it in stride and whatever happens, happens.”
The chances of the Clippers playing with a two-point guard lineup seems relatively small because of the team’s focus on accumulating shooting guard talent this offseason. Collison seems best fitted to work in an Eric Bledsoe role where he comes off the bench to provide a spark and push an uptempo offense.
“It’s a role I’m kind of used to and I think it’s going to help me to know what to do when I come off the bench,” says Collison. “It’s not about starting the game. It’s about ending up on the floor at the end of the game. And that’s always going to be my goal when I come off the bench.”
Collison knows a great coach when he sees one after working with Frank Vogel and Rick Carlisle. Collison has had only short interactions with Rivers so far, but says that he seems to be a “player’s coach.” That was key in bringing Collison home again.
“I talked to Doc Rivers and he basically said everything on my checklist: Going home, playing for a championship team, and playing with good teammates,” Collison says. “And we have a chance to do something special, even though I’m not starting. It’s part of the process that I’m willing to go forward with.”
What role will Collison have in Los Angeles?
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