Sunday Musings: Darren Collison, a breath of fresh air
There is a directness to Darren Collison. Yes, he is confident; most NBA players are. But there is more to it. Collison is a natural-born leader and has quickly found a home and a ship to steer in Sacramento.
When the Kings signed Collison to a free-agent deal this summer, I will admit to being skeptical, like many others. Isaiah Thomas, the Kings former starting point guard, was a feel-good story to which a struggling franchise like the Sacramento Kings could cling. Replacing him with Collison drew a major red flag.
But the 27-year-old point guard is growing on me, and I assume he is growing on Kings fans as well.
Collison is one of the main reasons for the Kings’ significant improvement. He has a calming influence on both ends of the court, and his positive attitude off the floor has teammates taking notice.
“It’s been great,” second-year guard Ben McLemore told Cowbell Kingdom. “He’s always communicating with me and always pushing me and telling me to keep getting better. He’s like a big brother to me right now.”
After bouncing around the league, playing for five teams in six seasons, Collison has found his niche in Sacramento. He quickly worked his way into the leadership circle, and the early results are impressive.
“I think we can make some strides in December,” Collison said on Tuesday morning following shoot-around. “The schedule is very favorable. November was probably one of our tougher months if you look at our schedule. To put a new ball group together this year and to come out 9-8 (with) a very tough schedule in November is pretty impressive.”
After eight seasons of losing basketball, the Kings are cautiously optimistic that their team has turned the corner. The cantankerous culture surrounding the team is gone, and the on-court chemistry of this group is growing daily.
“That’s probably one of the biggest surprises, to me, is how well we’re gelling so quickly,” Collison said of the early-season chemistry. “Usually teams that come together, they don’t really gel to early in the season. I think it paid off for us to come in early in September and DeMarcus and Rudy, they got a chance to spend a lot of time together with USA basketball, so all of that helped.”
Changing the culture of the Kings was priority number one for head coach Michael Malone when he took the job last June. While the team made strides a season ago, there was a manic feel to the team. When things were going well, the locker room was all smiles. But when the losses began to pile up, the tension in the room was palpable.
“When you’re in adverse situations (like) last year, things would go from bad to worse,” coach Michael Malone told Cowbell Kingdom. “This year, a lot of times, not all the time, it will go from bad to good, because we have guys that are preaching positivity and supporting each other. Instead of getting down on each other and getting on each other, we’re trying to build each other up.”
Malone cited not only Collison for the change in temperament of his club, but DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay as well. The selfishness that has plagued this team for years is dissipating.
“We have guys that are really not worried about themselves; they are thinking team first and what to do to help this team out,” Malone said. “Darren is a great example of that.”
Coming off a productive season with the Los Angeles Clippers, Collison appears comfortable and confident in not only his ability as a player, but his approach off the court as well.
“In life in general, you’re going to experience different negativity and adversity,” Collison said of his positive approach toward his teammates. “It’s not a time to put your head down or be negative. I think it’s a time to be positive, especially with our team. A lot of teams have the luxury of having three or four superstar players on their team. They’ve been together for so long. With us, all we have is each other. All we have is positivity. Any negativity that we have in our minds, any doubt that we have, we’ve got to let it go.”
After playing for four different teams in his first five seasons in the NBA, Collison signed a three-year deal this summer. He’s hoping that he has found a home long-term, and he is excited that the Kings’ core of Cousins, Gay, McLemore and himself are all locked in for the foreseeable future.
“It’s a beautiful feeling,” Collison said of the team’s security. “You think about this organization and how people used to look at this team, just even last year. I don’t think they can say that about us now. I think every team that’s come into this building knows that they are going to have to put up a fight for the next three years or however long we’re here. The more players, the better.”
The Kings are off to a 10-10 start after winning just 28 games a season ago. Instead of pulling in different directions, they are together and looking like the surprise team of the 2014-15 NBA season.
It’s not all on Collison, but he has been a breath of fresh air for a franchise in need of change. His unselfish play and positive attitude have the Kings playing at a high level for the first time in nearly a decade.