Darren Collison will suit up for the Kings next season as their starting point guard. He says the front office has told him they want him to be aggressive on both sides of the ball and be a leader.
Collison, who signed a three-year deal worth $16 million with the Kings on the second day of free agency last month, is willing to take on that leadership challenge, at least based on some of the things he is saying: He doesn't care who takes the last shot of the game, but is open to taking it himself. He says he learned a lot about the importance of ball movement under Doc Rivers last season while he was with the Clippers and wants to bring that to Sacramento. Even though it is pretty much a lock that he will be the starter come October, he said he isn't concerned about being the starter.
One of the first things he did after he signed with the Kings was text his new teammates to introduce himself and begin building chemistry. He seems to understand that that is a process when entering a new environment.
"I just wanted to welcome myself, introduce myself into the family. You just can't come in and start the leadership stuff, that is part of the being a point guard, but you've got to introduce yourself and try to get to know your teammates one by one and try to go from there," Collison told Sactown Royalty. "I understand what it takes to be a leader."
Collison, of course, has backed up Chris Paul on two different occasions. Last season with the Clippers he filled in quite well after Paul was injured. During that time he helped the Clippers to a 12-6 record while averaging 13.3 points and 6.5 assists. He also backed up Paul in his rookie year in 2009 with the then New Orleans Hornets.
Collison says he has learned a lot in the leadership department from Paul.
"He's one of the best leaders we have in this game today. I got a chance to see him interact with all of his teammates, every single day. That's one of the things I will take with me," said Collison, who started in 35 games last season. "I've been a leader for all of my basketball career, starting from UCLA all the way up until now. Even though I wasn't the main attraction last year for the Clippers, I was one of the most vocal guys on the team."
He must do something right in the way he conducts himself around his teammates. Steve Perrin of Clips Nation recently told Sactown Royalty that Collison was well liked in the Clippers locker room.
The Kings are hoping Collison, who averaged 11.4 points, 3.7 assists, 2.4 rebounds and 1.2 steals in 25.9 minutes per game for the season with the Clippers, can push the tempo on offense and bring some defense to Sacramento. Head coach Michael Malone, who coached Collison when he was in New Orleans, was recently on KHTK 1140 with Grant Napear and had this to say.
"In Darren, we have a great push guard who will get the ball up the court in a hurry so we can look to attack and score early before the defense can get set."
The front office must have a lot of faith in their new 6'0" point guard, who is going into his sixth season and turns 27 later this month, because according to Collison, the Kings were aggressive about signing him.
"They were one of the few teams that called right as soon as free agency started. They made an aggressive pitch. They were the most aggressive team by far throughout the whole free agency process," Collison said. "That attracted me because I felt wanted."
Collison comes into this role as Isaiah Thomas exits for Phoenix. The comparisons between the two and the reasons for the front office's switch at the point guard spot haven't stopped and probably won't stop through next season.
The Kings wanted more ball movement, less dribbling and to run at a faster pace. Grantland's Zach Lowe recently pointed out that Thomas dribbled the ball nearly 200 more times than Collison did per 36 minutes last season. Lowe also pointed out, however, that the Kings played at a faster pace with Thomas on the floor last season than the Clippers did with Collison. And let's not forget Fireplug's very eloquent fan post about how Collison is a more willing passer than Thomas.
There's plenty more to analyze in terms of comparisons between the two guards, but the bottom line is there are questions about whether both of them are better served as a sixth man rather than a starter. Collison is now getting his third chance to be a starter on his fifth team. And while being on the same team as Chris Paul will force pretty much any other point guard in the league to the bench, he did lose the starting spot to both Derek Fisher and Mike James in Dallas (He averaged 12 points and 5.1 assists that season).
But despite his reputation as a backup, Collison has started more games over his career than he has come off the bench. Specifically, he's started in 63 percent of the 405 NBA games he has played in.
Defense and ball movement aren't his strongest suits, but he is capable of doing both. Offensively he is often credited with being able the push the tempo, which is certainly what Malone wants out of him. Collison said having Malone as the head coach of the Kings played a big role in his decision to sign with Sacramento. He referred to Malone as a "player's coach."
"I just remember telling the owner and GM of the Kings that Michael was a big part of my decision. I know he's one of the best up-and-coming coaches now, a good defensive-minded coach, that's what attracted me," Collison said.
Defense is what Malone wants to hang his hat on and with Collison he gets a player who may not be a stellar on-the-ball defender, but can apply decent pressure on the opposing ball handler as they bring the ball up the floor.
"On the other side of the basketball, I know that Darren can be a pest defensively," Malone told 1140. "He can really get after guys and harass the ball up the floor and not allow other teams just to walk it up and be in a comfort zone."
Collison, who plans to be in Sacramento after Labor Day, knows how important defense is going to be, especially in the stacked Western Conference.
"If we don't play defense, we're not going to win, it's plain and simple," Collison said. "We have talent, but if we do not play defense as a team then we're not going to have a good team...we have a lot of young players that can get up and down the floor defensively."
Malone wants the Kings to defend and rebound at a high level and then score easy baskets on the break. Collison said he proved that he can do that last year because the Clippers ran a similar type of style. It might have been a little easier on a Clippers roster built for a championship, though. The Kings and Clippers are at opposite ends of the spectrum right now, but the playoffs is where Collison and his new running mate DeMarcus Cousins want to be.
Cousins has yet to come close to sniffing the playoffs in Sacramento. He has said that he thinks Collison will be able to run the team well and "knows how to get guys involved," saying that Collison told him he would run through a brick wall for him if he asked him to, according to Cowbell Kingdom.
Collison told Sactown Royalty that in his conversations with Cousins, the big man told him he wants the team to play the "right way."
"DeMarcus said he just wants us to play the right way. He understands that after a few years of not making the playoffs, they had guys that weren't necessarily trying to play the right way," Collison said. "He just wants guys to be all in...to me I think that shows maturity."
The other focal point of the Kings is Rudy Gay and he has said that Collison "is a great pickup for us, he's a competitor...and he's shown that he can lead a team."
On a team begging for cohesiveness, there will be a relatively high amount of pressure on the UCLA product to lead the Kings from the point guard position next season and be a key piece of the puzzle. Collison believes the Kings are on the right track.
"I think we have a very, very good team despite whatever everybody else thinks, and we have a chance to do something real special," he said. "Individually, I have one goal, that's just to win. And team-wise I have one goal, that's just to win."