When Darren Collison signed with the Sacramento Kings over the summer, he said he had one goal individually and for the team: win.
The Kings began the season meeting those expectations with a 9-5 start. But a couple of injuries/illnesses to DeMarcus Cousins and a coaching change later, and the Kings find themselves sitting in fourth place in the Pacific division with only four more wins than the Los Angeles Lakers. Despite the team's troubles, Collison, who signed a three-year deal worth $16 million with the Kings, continues to have a positive impact both on the floor and in the locker room this season.
Now with his fifth team, Collison has solidified himself as a starting point guard in the NBA and as a leader. Just ask Kings forward Jason Thompson.
"He's a great floor general. I've been a guy that's been through a lot of point guards over my years and that's a guy that I've got a great relationship with; talk to him daily about him being one of the leaders of the team and also what he sees on the floor offensively, defensively," Thompson told Sactown Royalty. "As a big, at times I can't see behind me and he always has my back, so definitely a guy that puts a lot of pressure on the defense and makes the extra pass too."
Collison is putting up good numbers this season (16.5 points on 46 percent from the field, 5.9 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.6 steals), which are middle of the pack when compared to the rest of point guards in the league, but he gets those numbers consistently and combines it with energy and hustle. The ever-approachable guard brushes his individual accomplishments aside when asked about it, instead focusing on the task at hand, his passion for winning still burning strong.
"That's why we play this game, that's what I care about. What are we here for? We're here just to win games," Collison told Sactown Royalty. "I'm not much of that guy to just worry about myself individually. I understand that I am playing well and I do have some success individually, but it doesn't mean nothing if we're not winning."
It is this fighting spirit, which has led Collison to regaining a starting role, that his former head coach Doc Rivers applauds him for.
"I love the guy, he's just a fantastic kid. Basketball-wise he's been great here [in Sacramento] too, but I'm just happy for him," Rivers told Sactown Royalty. "He was a starter, almost an All-Star I think for one year in Indiana, and then all the sudden he doesn't even play and he goes to Dallas, and he ends up with us, and you don't see a lot of resurrections in our league and he's resurrected his career. So we're very happy about it. I wish he was with us still, but he's not. But he's a great, great kid."
Collison indeed was in the All-Star conversation in 2012 when he was with the Indiana Pacers. But then he got traded to the Dallas Mavericks where he was benched for Derek Fisher and Mike James and then later played backup for Chris Paul (for the second time). So he's seen his fair share of adversity. And adversity struck the Kings locker room in December when Michael Malone, who Collison had said was part of the reason he signed with the Kings, was fired and replaced with Tyrone Corbin. It was admittedly difficult for Collison to deal with the transition after it happened, but that has since changed.
"It was at first, but now I've kind of moved on. There's nothing we can do about it. Coach Ty is our coach right now and that's something we've got the embrace," Collison said.
Collison has moved on to the next chapter in the Kings saga and continues to put up good numbers while juggling the changes in the lineup that have repeatedly occurred as a result of a steady flow of injuries to multiple players. Embracing the coaching change and providing guidance to his teammates is what you will hear out of the UCLA product these days. His backcourt mate this season, Ben McLemore, can attest to that.
"He's helped me a lot throughout the course of the season. Just helping me move without the ball, getting my shot. Little things like that, just telling me where to be on the floor," McLemore said of Collison. "Very vocal, like every day, telling me, ‘be aggressive. Just go out there and give it your all,' trying to get me to talk up more and stuff like that, just stuff that vets do."
With wins coming sparingly and the early season hopes of making the playoffs slowly floating down the Sacramento River and into the Delta, Collison has a specific goal for the team as a whole for the rest of the 2014-15 campaign: continue to play together at a competitive level.
"Just making sure that we compete and don't fall to that temptation because we may not make it to the playoffs that everybody just starts playing for themselves. I don't want to play that type of basketball. I want us to continue to grow all the way up until next season so we can get better," Collison said.
With nearly a decade of losing seasons in the rear view mirror for this Kings franchise, a team full of guys playing for themselves is the last thing the fans want to see. So good on the new point guard they call "DC" for making that a goal moving forward.