Darren Collison, who went from hot-shot rookie to journeyman, may have found niche with Kings

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BOSTON – Darren Collison lost a job because he played well. He lost a job because he got hurt. And he lost a job because he played poorly.

The point guard has moved around the NBA at nearly an unprecedented rate for someone with his early career credentials, but maybe, just maybe, he has found a place he can stay for a while.

The Kings gave Collison a three-year, $16 million contract in free agency last summer – even though that meant casting aside incumbent starter Isaiah Thomas, a player many (myself included) thought was superior to Collison. Collison has rewarded their faith, posting career highs in points per game (16.4), assists per game (5.9) and PER (18.7).

There’s little stability in Sacramento – where the coach just got fired despite exceeding all reasonable expectations, the owner has his own crazy ideas and the franchise player is brooding – but Collison has potential to stick. His speed equips him to run the up-tempo, jazzy system Vivek Ranadivé wants, and Collison’s bond with DeMarcus Cousins gives him a powerful ally.

“The opportunity is definitely here,” Collison said last week. “It just seems like everything is all coming together. I’m more confident.”

Collison has long had reason to be confident in himself, though not always his fit with his team.

He broke in with the 2009-10 New Orleans Hornets, getting a huge opportunity when Chris Paul got hurt. In 37 starts, Collison averaged 18.8 points, shooting 48.5 percent from the field and 42.9 percent on 3-pointers, and 9.1 assists per game – All-Star-caliber numbers. Of course, no matter how well Collison played, the Hornets weren’t going to choose him over Paul.

They dealt him to Indiana, where he became a full-time starter and helped the Pacers end their longest playoff drought of his lifetime (four seasons). Reggie Miller comparisons didn’t seem outlandish. But Collison got hurt during his second season in Indiana, and George Hill Wally Pipped him in the starting lineup.

The Pacers sold low on Collison, trading him to the Mavericks. Dallas initially started Collison, but he lost the role to Dominique Jones, then Derek Fisher, then Mike James after Rick Carlisle expressed frustration with Collison’s defense. By the time the 2012-13 season ended, the Mavericks didn’t even extend Collison a qualifying offer.

He signed with the Clippers, taking a pay cut from his rookie-scale contract. Full circle, he was once again backing up and sometimes playing with Chris Paul. After the season, he opted out seeking a raise.

That’s when the Kings came calling, becoming Collison’s fifth team six seasons.

Just two other players have made an All-Rookie first team since the NBA-ABA merger and played for so many teams in their first six seasons:

  • Marc Jackson, 2001 (Warriors, Timberwolves, 76ers, New Jersey Nets, New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets)
  • Ron Mercer, 1998 (Celtics, Nuggets, Magic, Bulls, Pacers)

Jackson was out of the league one year later, and Mercer lasted only one more than that. The 27-year-old Collison certainly hopes he won’t suffer a similar fate.

That’s why Collison appreciates his opportunity in Sacramento.

“That’s all it is, really,” Collison said. “There’s a lot of good players in this league, but they don’t necessarily have the opportunity. Sometimes, they’re with a team, and they still don’t have an opportunity. They’re not going out there playing their games. I think, this year, I have a chance to do that.

“When I was with previous teams, it was hard to fit in. I couldn’t play my game, necessarily. So, this year, has been good for me.”

And good for the Kings’ offense.

They’re posting their best offensive rating relative to league average in a decade, and Collison is steering the ship.

Prior to this season, Collison has never had a dramatic effect on his teams’ offensive outputs. They’d all scored within two points per 100 possessions with him on the court as they did with him off.

But Sacramento’s offensive rating jumps from 95.6 with him off to 107.8 with him on.

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Some of that success can be chalked up to Collison spending most of his minutes with Cousins, Sacramento’s top player. But credit Collison for quickly learning how to play with the star center. Cousins scores better by volume (26.8 to 24.2 points per 36 minutes) and efficiency (51.7 to 46.4 field-goal percentage) when Collison is on the court rather than off.

The key to meshing with Cousins?

“Give him the ball, and let him work,” Collison said. “…It’s that easy.”

Collison’s deferential attitude aside, he’s not merely riding Cousins’ coattails. When the center missed 10 straight games with viral meningitis, the Kings still scored much better with Collison on the court than off (103.7 to 94.7 points per 100 possessions).

In fact, pair Collison with any teammate, and the Kings score better with Collison on the court. Here’s Sacramento’s offensive rating with each player and Collison on the court (purple) and off the court (black), sorted by minutes played with Collison:

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(Eric Moreland, who barely played before suffering a season-ending injury, is excluded from the visualization.)

Player Min. with Collison Min. without Collison Off. rating with Collison Off. rating without Collison Diff.
Rudy Gay 966 200 109.1 99.0 +10.1
Ben McLemore 874 254 108.5 95.5 +13.0
Jason Thompson 682 157 105.1 91.9 +13.2
DeMarcus Cousins 550 195 111.9 98.6 +13.3
Carl Landry 263 358 103.7 92.8 10.9
Reggie Evans 238 185 105.7 96.0 +9.7
Derrick Williams 206 243 111.3 98.4 +12.9
Omri Casspi 155 300 108.6 96.0 +12.6
Ryan Hollins 144 58 98.1 83.6 +14.5
Nik Stauskas 141 330 105.4 96.1 +9.3
Ray McCallum 71 205 110.7 91.7 +19
Ramon Sessions 33 394 107.4 97.4 +10
Eric Moreland 1 1 200.0 166.7 +33.3

At some point, the common denominator becomes clear: Collison.

He knocks down pull-up jumpers from mid-range, not exactly an analytical hotbed, but a part of the floor that opens thanks to his pick-and-roll probing. He has improved working off the ball, spotting up for corner 3s. And he keeps the ball moving.

In a conference where half the Kings’ opponents start a former All-Star at point guard, Collison doesn’t exactly stand out. But he’s brining credibility to the position in Sacramento.

“He’s comfortable,” Kings coach Tyrone Corbin said. “He’s gotten his confidence back. His speed, pushing the ball down the floor. He knows he’s going to be on the floor for a certain amount of minutes, so he’s relaxed and just playing at a pace that’s favorable to his style of play.”

It’d be foolish to say Collison, just 31 games into his Sacramento tenure, has found a home. His previous teams have struggled to determine whether he should start or come off the bench for fair reasons, and toeing that line has made him expendable.

But this season, Collison is showing he’s a quality starter.

“This year, I definitely proved that,” Collison said. “So, now, it’s not even about proving to be a good starter. It’s about leading the team now.”

Knicks reportedly very interested in Anunoby, if Raptors make him available

Toronto Raptors v Golden State Warriors
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The Toronto Raptors are the one team that could move this trade deadline from a dud to shaking up the playoff race. There are 29 other GMs waiting to see what Massai Ujiri will do, and when they called, they’ve been told “the franchise will make a decision about being a buyer or seller – or standing pat – near deadline day,” reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

If Toronto does decide to trade a player beyond the expected Gary Trent Jr., then the Knicks want to be at the front of the line for defensive wing O.G. Anunoby, Charania reports.

The Knicks and Suns are among the interested suitors in Raptors forward O.G. Anunoby, sources say. New York has shown a willingness to offer multiple first-round picks for Anunoby, according to those sources. The Suns, meanwhile, have control of all of their first-round picks — eight in total —through 2030. SNY first reported the Knicks’ interest last week.

There would be a lot of teams in line for Anunoby, but he is a very Thibodeau-style player — an All-Defensive Team level wing stopper who can finish and is averaging 16.9 points per game — so you can see where the interest comes from. Anunoby also is just 25 and is locked in next season at $18.6 million. While the demand for wings in general is lower this trade season — point guards and centers are more in demand — a lot of teams could use a player the quality of Anunoby. Including the Knicks.

Getting him won’t be cheap — two unprotected first-round picks (or lightly protected) with matching salary would be the price range.

All of that is moot if the Raptors don’t make him available, which is what everyone is waiting to see.

Report: Bucks have been given permission to talk to Jae Crowder

NBA 2022 Playoffs - Phoenix Suns v Dallas Mavericks
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Jae Crowder may be the most likely player to be traded at the deadline. The Suns need a shake-up (and to get Devin Booker back), and they are sitting on a $10.2 million player that is not helping them on the court and has yet to bring back any trade value they want.

We may have movement on that front, based on reports from Shams Charania of The Athletic.

In a new development, the Suns have given permission to the Bucks to meet with Crowder and they met over the weekend, league sources tell The Athletic. The Bucks are believed to be the only team that has received permission to visit one-on-one with Crowder, those sources have also indicated…

Both the Suns and Bucks have engaged in serious trade talks for months, with current proposals surrounding Jordan Nwora, George Hill, Serge Ibaka and second-round draft compensation to Phoenix for Crowder, according to sources. The Bucks and Suns have searched for a third team to provide Phoenix with a forward – so what outcome will emerge between now and next Thursday?

Those talks between the Bucks and Crowder likely focused on his role on the team this season (backup four) and possibly re-signing him after this season (he will be a free agent).

Crowder has sat out the season after asking for a trade but is still a Sun because Phoenix head of basketball operations James Jones had a very specific ask in the trade — a forward with a similar skill set to Crowder. It’s tough to trade like-for-like in the league, so nothing has happened. It’s also why that offer from the Bucks doesn’t seem the fit the Suns want. Nwora is a forward but a fringe rotation player, Hill can help with some backup point guard minutes, but nothing really moves the needle for Phoenix. The problem is the Suns have waited so long to get a trade done that Crowder’s value has gone down — by the time he is traded, works his way back into game shape, then steps on the court for his new team he’ll be lucky to play 30 games in the regular season. Teams aren’t going to give up as much for a rental.

The report states the Heat also are interested, which is not a shock they want a P.J. Tucker-like player at the four and Crowder fits the bill, but putting together a trade that works for both sides is difficult (unless the Suns suddenly fell in love with Duncan Robinson, which would be a bigger trade). The Hawks come up, but there is a growing sense around the league that the new Landry Fields-led front office is less inclined to trade John Collins, and they may ride with him at the four.

It’s likely Crowder gets traded somewhere at the deadline and the Bucks maybe make the most sense, but this deal could have been done long ago if the sides wanted to.

Free agent Candace Parker announces she will sign with champion Aces

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The WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces are about to get better.

Two-time MVP and two-time WNBA champion Candace Parker announced she plans to sign with the Aces when free agency opens on Feb. 1

The WNBA champions just got better — a starting frontcourt of Parker and reigning MVP A’ja Wilson (with Kelsey Plum in the backcourt) could make Las Vegas the best defensive team in the league. While Parker may not be the scorer she once was, she can serve as a fulcrum for the offense, get the ball to the other players on the deeply talented Aces, and make them a serious threat to repeat.

Still, a cloud hangs over the Aces organization after what Dearica Hamby alleged after she was traded to the Sparks. Hamby said she was “lied to, bullied, manipulated, and discriminated against” by the Aces front office surrounding her pregnancy and contract. Those are serious allegations, and the WNBPA is looking into the matter.

On the court (if the investigation results don’t weigh them down), the Aces have to be title favorites now. However, when WNBA free agency comes on Wednesday that could shift, depending on what Breanna Stewart chooses to do (along with other key free agents). There has been speculation Stewart could head to New York to team up with Jonquel Jones, Betnijah Laney and Sabrina Ionescu on a Liberty team that would instantly be the biggest threat to the Aces (if not the outright favorite).

Stay tuned, it’s going to be an interesting WNBA free agency.

Three things to Know: Giannis Antetokounmpo puts up 50 spot in 30 minutes

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Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Giannis Antetokounmpo puts up 50 spot in 30 minutes

Before the ball was even tossed up at center circle Sunday, this looked to be a long night for the Pelicans: No Zion Williamson (strained right hamstring), no Brandon Ingram (toe injury) and no CJ McCollum (sprained right thumb).

Then Giannis Antetokounmpo went to work early, scored 18 points in the first quarter, 29 in the first half, and went on to have an efficient 50 on 20-of-26 shooting on the night, including hitting 3-of-4 from 3.

The All-Star Game captain is having a “down” season by his insane standards, but he is still averaging 31.3 points and 12 rebounds a game, shooting 64.5% in a season where he has had to take on more offense load because of Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday missing time. He’s still one of the best in the game, and if healthy the Bucks are still a postseason threat (even if they could use some depth at the four).

This was eight straight losses for the Pelicans, who are 3-11 in January and have fallen all the way to the No. 8 seed in the West. New Orleans has looked like a dangerous team on the rise when healthy this season, but the injuries have caught up with them and now they are scrapping to stay in the play-in in a crowded middle of the West.

2) Hornets get 31 from Rozier, upset sleepy Heat team

It will be hard for Miami to hold onto the No. 6 seed in the East (and avoid the play-in) if they don’t win the games they are supposed to win.

Miami looked sleepy for the 1 p.m. start in Charlotte, didn’t play good defense down the stretch, and fell to the Hornets. Charlotte got 31 from Terry Rozier, 27 from P.J. Washington, LaMelo Ball scored 13 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, and Gordon Hayward was 7-of-7 shooting for 20 points. Charlotte snapped Miami’s three-game win streak with the 122-117 victory.

To be fair to the Heat, sometimes it’s about when you catch teams and the Hornets are playing their best basketball of the season having won 4-of-6. Jimmy Butler scored 28 points for Heat, Tyler Herro added 24.

This was the start of a four-game road trip for the Heat and things are about to get tougher with games at the Cavaliers, at the Knicks (a key game in the chase for the No. 6 seed) and at the Bucks.

3) LeBron James, Anthony Davis out in Brooklyn Monday night

The epidemic — and league-wide PR problem — of stars sitting out will continue Monday night as LeBron James and Anthony Davis will rest as the Lakers face the Nets (officially, LeBron has a sore left ankle and they are watching the foot injury that sidelined Davis for 20 games). This is the team’s one trip to Brooklyn this season. It comes a day after Kawhi Leonard and Paul George sat out in Cleveland (the Cavs blew the Clippers out as a result), and the list goes on and on all season long with Stephen Curry, Jimmy Butler and other stars seemingly resting more than ever before.

There is no easy answer here. Coaches and team medical staffs tasked with ensuring their players peak for the playoffs are resting guys during the season (and on back-to-backs) to avoid injuries and fatigue. Top players have their personal trainers monitoring them and weighing in on these decisions. The NBA schedule is still too long — but reducing that number is a financial mess — and there is nothing in the upcoming CBA that will change this trend.

But fans are noticing. Keep showing them the regular season doesn’t matter and they will respond in kind.

In LeBron’s case — and he hasn’t missed much time this season — this pushes back the timeline for him to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time NBA scoring record to Feb. 7 against the Thunder or Feb. 9 against the Bucks, both games in Los Angeles at the crypto.com Arena. If you want to think that’s a coincidence, go ahead, but I’m a little more cynical than that.