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UCLA Basketball: Darren Collison In-depth

Collison just signed a three-year contract with the Sacramento Kings for $16 million. He got his payday, but what's going on with his career?

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Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

Darren Collison, who played on three Final Four teams with the UCLA Bruins under Ben Howland, signed a three-year, $16 million contract with the Sacramento Kings.  After expressing his desire to stay with the Los Angeles Clippers, Collison, who was scheduled to make $1. 985 million, opted out, and the Clippers declined to match the Kings offer.

A casual observer would immediately wonder why anyone would willingly join the Kings organization, known to be one of the league's worst albeit with new, post-Maloof, ownership. Collison was with a contender, and now he will be with his fourth team in four years - clearly a journeyman.  What gives?  Is it Collison or reality of the league today?  Mostly the latter, I will say 10/90.  Here's why.

Collison is in the NBA middle-class.  There are roughly five castes in the NBA:

  1. The stars.
  2. The other (two) starters, solid role players plus, in the post-Heat/CBA era, the third option.
  3. The bench players, the sixth and seventh man (maybe the eighth) who get big minutes.
  4. The bench players who get few minutes.
  5. The bench fodder that never see the floor.

Collison is in the third category.  He's not in the top half of the league's point guards, but he is a solid backup who could start on some teams - probably not playoff teams.  The NBA beat writers didn't even report on the other teams interested in Collison - they are two busy following the eat/sleep/poop schedules of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.  The Kings already have Isaiah Thomas, but this article implies that the starting job was promised to Collison, and Thomas, a restricted free agent, will not be resigned.  Good luck, Darren, the Kings will suck for the foreseeable future.

The Clippers have one of the two best point guards in the league, Chris Paul.  They have a need for a scoring wing.  Having two good point guards is a luxury in the NBA today, so they passed on upping Collison's comp.

This brings us to the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).  Here's the Wikipedia post on the NBA salary cap, which says it best.  It's too complex and far reaching to do it justice in a few words, but here goes:  there's a salary cap based on league revenue (51%), individual player salaries based on years in the league, rookie scale according to draft order and minimums for undrafted players, a variety of exceptions to cap and salaries, restrictive rules for trades, and finally a luxury tax with revenue sharing if all else fails (usually incurred when teams resigns their legacy players).

Collison was a mid-level exception.  How appropriate!  He's basically in a box.  At 27, he is probably too young to think about playing for less to be with a contender.  Those folks are usually the stars or the older players nearing the end of their careers and who can play a very specific role. Collison did develop a little chip on his shoulder in Indiana, and now it's just business - he will take the money.

Psychoanalyzing anyone, especially someone you don't know personally and lives in a world, domestic professional basketball, beyond what the author could truly fathom, is treacherous, so take this deconstruction as a superficial observation - and with grain of salt.

I believe Collison had three detrimental turning points in his basketball career:  1) Ben slowed him down, 2) Derrick Rose exposed him, 3) and he lost his starting job in Indiana after an injury.

Collison came to UCLA in 2005, and was the backup at point guard to Jordan Farmar.  Collison played a lot of minutes as he subbed for Farmar, Afflalo and Bozeman, and played often with Farmer and Afflalo in a small lineup, including part of the stretch in the 2006 comeback against Gonzaga in the NCAA's.  This was my favorite Collison: slashing, breaking and stealing.  Ben didn't think so.  In 2006, Howland gave the keys to the kingdom to Collison.  In exchange, Collison slowed way down.  This is when the grumbles about the Howland offense began - the interminable dribbling, Ben screaming and the play-calling on every possession being the calling cards.  Though expected to be a lottery pick in the next year's draft, Collison was never the same.

In 2006, Collison began the season on the bench with a hamstring injury, and there happened to be an NBA point guard-in waiting, Russell Westbrook, there to start in his place. Fast forward to the 2007 Final Four against Memphis, Derrick Rose exposed Collison for all time.  Forget that Howland stubbornly left him on Rose instead of using Westbrook more, the fact was that Collison was not in the same league with Rose or even his teammate Westbrook.  This caused Collison to return for his senior team despite the humiliation of Howland saying Westbrook would be the starting point guard if he came back.  He didn't, and Collison led a boring team to a mediocre season.

Collison was selected #21 in the 2009 Draft by Chris Paul's New Orleans Hornets.  With Paul injured, Collison started for a good chunk of the season.  However, not caring about a backup for Paul, New Orleans traded Collison to Indiana, a team on the rise.  After starting 135 games and an injury, Collison lost his starting job to George Hill.  Collison was bitter, and wanted out of Indiana.  That was the beginning of Collison's journeyman career.  Don't expect him to be with the Kings for long if the new ownership can improve the squad with trades and draft picks.

Darren Collison is in the NBA middle class, a tough place to be under the current CBA.  Choice is minimal, but to the extent he has a choice, through free agency, Collison is maximizing his compensation.  As a matter of fact, if you are looking for a speaker for your event, check out his website.