Darren Collison is back where he was three years ago. Heading into free agency. Seeking a multiyear contract. Convinced he is a legitimate starting point guard in this league.
Intrigued by the Kings.
But is the feeling mutual? Check back in a week.
With the massive rebuild and roster shakeup continuing during the offseason, the extent of the Kings’ interest figures to be affected by which rookies they select in next Thursday’s NBA draft. General manager Vlade Divac has made no secret of his desire to select a point guard with the fifth or 10th pick, and he has his favorites.
He loves UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, who is not expected to be available at No. 5, and is impressed by Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox, who could still be on the board unless the Suns pluck him at No. 4 or the Celtics, Lakers or 76ers become involved in trade scenarios and shake up projections.
Collison, who turns 30 in August, is just as closely monitoring the mock drafts because the outcome very likely will affect his future – and his zip code. After playing in New Orleans, Indiana, Dallas, Los Angeles (Clippers) and enjoying his longest tenure in Sacramento, the eight-year veteran is waiting to hear whether it’s time to contact the moving company or establish long-term roots in his Granite Bay neighborhood.
Collison is developing an increasingly upbeat attitude. He was among the veterans who were initially disappointed when Divac traded DeMarcus Cousins during the All-Star break, essentially committing to an aggressive rebuilding process even though the Kings were only 1 1/2 games out of the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings.
But Collison’s perspective shifted during the final weeks of the season for a few reasons, beginning with the sense of stability in the front office.
“For a while, I didn’t know what they wanted to do,” he said this week. “But after talking to Vlade late in the season, I got a much better sense. I think management has a definite plan in place and I think what he’s doing is smart. They have a goal they want to reach. They want a good locker room, because it starts from there. They have a good coach in Dave Joerger, and the young players, when I look at what they did late in the season, you realize these are guys you can play with and eventually win with. That’s my gut feeling. And then after the (Cousins) trade, when we got away from playing two bigs and played faster, I feel like my skills fit better. So, no, I wouldn’t mind coming back at all.”
Collison, who split time at point guard with Ty Lawson, also a free agent, still envisions himself as a starter, but insists he would accept a backup role if it benefited the team. And regardless of whether Collison, Lawson or another free agent is signed, the veteran point guard role will include mentoring an heir apparent.
Another determining factor, of course, is contract terms. Collison figures to command a higher salary and more years than Lawson. Both have had off-court issues, between Lawson’s numerous relapses with alcohol and Collison pleading guilty to misdemeanor domestic battery, resulting in an eight-game suspension last season. Some league sources project Collison, who averaged 13.2 points and 4.6 assists last season while shooting a career-best 41.7 percent from 3-point range, earning in the $8 million annual range and landing a three- to five-year deal.
His agent, Bill Duffy, expects him to attract considerable interest, but added, “Sacramento is very high on his list. Darren loves the community, feels like the young guys are coming along, and we both think that Vlade is giving the Kings an identity.”
Collison, an excellent mid-range shooter – a lost art in the NBA – wants to become more adept at creating for his teammates. He has spent his offseason analyzing every playoff game and studying tapes of premier playmaking point guards, primarily Steve Nash, John Stockton and Magic Johnson.
Nash, also a Duffy client, recently had a lengthy conversation with Collison and, among other things, advised the speedy, 6-foot former UCLA standout to temper his rigorous offseason training routine in an attempt to prolong his career.
“Steve won MVP awards at 29 or 30, and I am going to be 30 this year,” Collison said. “He offered some interesting insights. He talked about the importance of stretching, not putting too much strain on your body. I used to work out three to four hours a day during the summer, and he said to cut down a little bit.”
Many of the Kings veterans will be elsewhere when the 2017-18 season opens. Rudy Gay is a free agent and has indicated a desire to sign with another team, Anthony Tolliver’s option was declined, Arron Afflalo’s status is unclear, Ben McLemore is unlikely to be re-signed and Kosta Koufos is a marketable big man with a reasonable contract.
The youth movement is here to stay, which in reality precludes any pursuit of a shortcut to the playoffs. So, again, why does Collison sound so upbeat about his current organization?
“This is a very important draft. But they will need some solid veterans around to speed up the process. And what I really want – more than anything at this point – is to be in a real team environment, be around guys that want to play together, and we’re moving in that direction,” he said.