The Kings were the NBA’s only team with three players to average at least 20 points last season.
They won 28 games.
This offseason, the Kings’ goal was not to add All-Star talent, but to bring in players who were fine not scoring and who could impact games with defense, desire and effort.
The Kings moved to add such a player Thursday, agreeing to a three-year, $16 million contract with veteran point guard Darren Collison, league sources confirmed.
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The deal cannot be signed until July 10, when the NBA moratorium on transactions is lifted.
By adding Collison, the Kings will get less scoring from the point guard position but should receive a boost to the overall offensive flow.
Isaiah Thomas, the Kings’ starting point guard for most of the past three seasons and currently a restricted free agent, could still return to the team but it’s unlikely with the addition of Collison. Thomas has received interest from several teams early in free agency.
The Kings want more defense and less scoring from the point, especially with scorers such as DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay on the team, and players such Ben McLemore and Derrick Williams needing more touches to be effective.
McLemore played better at the end of his rookie campaign last season with backup Ray McCallum at point guard. McCallum is entering his second season, and the Kings wanted a veteran point guard.
Collison, 26, is entering his sixth season and is known to be a solid defender.
In terms of on-court harmony, Collison’s addition makes Cousins and Gay the Kings’ clear top-two options on offense. Though teammates loved the leadership and grit of Thomas, some privately complained his scoring took away from their offensive game and that he did not look to set up teammates enough.
With Cousins and Gay locked into big salaries, Thomas became the odd man out.
The Kings made it a priority to find a point guard who wasn’t primarily a scorer. That began with Sacramento’s pursuit of an extra draft pick to select Elfrid Payton in last Thursday’s NBA draft. When the Kings were unable to land Payton, their attention turned to free agency.
Part of the team’s strategy was to see what Thomas’ market value was around the league while also searching for a point guard who might be able to help stabilize the offense as a facilitator and a ball-stopper on defense.
The Kings like Thomas more as a scorer off the bench.
Collison, a 6-foot, 175-pound former UCLA standout, averaged 11.4 points and 3.7 assists as Chris Paul’s backup for the Los Angeles Clippers last season. Collison started 35 games during the 2013-14 season.
His numbers aren’t as impressive as Thomas’ 20.3 points and 6.3 assists per game, but the Kings believe 20 points a night is not what’s needed from their point guard.
“The Kings were the most aggressive team by far in the free agency, and I respected that on all levels,” Collison told the Los Angeles Times. “Of course, I was trying to make it work with the Clippers and tried to re-sign with them. But I didn’t think they really made me their first priority like the Kings did.”
Collison has been a part of the playoffs three times, which is important to the Kings’ front office, which is trying to shake up a losing culture and pick up players more accustomed to NBA success. He was a first-round draft pick of New Orleans in 2009 and also has played for Indiana and Dallas.
Collison has started 254 of 376 games played. He has career averages of 11.9 points and 4.9 assists. He started all 79 games he played in for Indiana during the 2010-11 season, helping the Pacers reach the playoffs. He was injured late in the following season and lost the starting job to George Hill. Collison played a season with Dallas before joining the Clippers last season.
Collison, a Southern California native, told the Orange County Register that leaving the Clippers was “bittersweet.” But a chance to run his team’s offense as a starting point guard was too sweet to pass up.
“I liked their vision for me,” he told the Register. “… Sacramento is giving me the keys to help this team and try to turn it around.”
If he uses those keys to unlock years of stagnant play on offense and improve the defense, the Kings will be happy.