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.”

Marcus Morris explains his change of plans from Spurs deal to Knicks

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Marcus Morris‘ move built up some hard feelings around the NBA. Players have verbally agreed to contracts with one team only to change their mind before, but in this case the Spurs had made roster moves — including trading Davis Bertans go to the Wizards — to clear out space for Morris, leaving San Antonio in a tough spot when Morris changed his mind and signed with the Knicks. The Spurs were pissed at the Knicks about this. Executives with other teams did not like the potential precedent the move set.

Morris offered his first explanation of what happened to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

It starts here: Morris’ agent at the time Rich Paul negotiated a three-year, $41 million offer from the Clippers at the start of free agency. Morris turned it down, and he admitted that was against Paul’s advice.

“All this stuff that (Paul) didn’t want me to go to the Clippers and didn’t want me to go against LeBron (James), that’s not true,” Morris said. “He never told me not to take the deal. For as long as I’ve known Rich — and that’s still someone I have love for and that’s still my guy — he has been great in terms of advice. He told me he wanted me to take the Clippers deal. He gave me his advice. It was my decision and I had to make the best decision for me and my family.”

Things moved very fast at the start of free agency (more than 50 contracts were agreed to in the first 24 hours) and that left Morris not wanting the music to stop without him having a chair. That’s when he accepted the two-year, $20 million offer from San Antonio. Morris said he didn’t expect another offer, but when the Knicks came through with one year, $15 million he wanted it and tried to be up front about the situation.

“I have a good relationship with those guys and I have so much respect for (head coach) Pop (Gregg Popovich), (general manager) RC (Buford) and (assistant GM) Brian Wright,” Morris told The Athletic. “The first thing that I did when I knew I would be going another direction, I called and made sure they knew. There was no shade. There’s no disrespect. I had great conversations afterward, and as long as I feel that I’m clear with them and gave them my truth, I feel good about moving forward.

“I was under the impression that I didn’t have anything left. I thought at the time that the Spurs deal was all that I had. The process wasn’t what I expected and it didn’t go the right way.”

Morris has split ways with Paul as an agent, reportedly over this incident.

Morris has now essentially bet on himself. The Knicks are not going to win a lot of games, but Morris is going to have a significant role and should get a lot of touches. Have a strong season and he will enter a much weaker free agent class next summer as one of the better players in it. That could lead to a bigger payday. Plus he makes more per year now.

 

 

Karl-Anthony Towns: “I’m planning to be in Minnesota for a long time”

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A few years back, Minnesota looked like a team on a fast rise in the West, mostly because Karl-Anthony Towns looked like a young dominant force starting to come of age in the league.

It hasn’t worked out that way, even though Minnesota finally made the playoffs back in 2018. Andrew Wiggins has not developed into a No. 2 options (even though he is getting paid like a No. 1 option), Towns has not consistently owned the defensive end, and under Tom Thibodeau there were a lot of chemistry issues highlighted by Jimmy Butler blowing up last training camp and essentially torpedoing the season before it started.

In today’s NBA news cycle, driven by rumors and speculation about player movement — and the player movement itself — all those issues in Minnesota has people looking at Towns. That despite the fact his five-year max extension just kicks in this season.

Towns isn’t looking to move. There’s a new coach (Ryan Saunders) who Towns has a good bond with, there’s a new head of basketball operations (Gersson Rosas) who is aggressive and who Towns likes, and the two-time All-Star center told Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic he is happy right now in Minnesota.

“The biggest thing when you have that conversation [about a star switching teams] is you say, ‘Is he happy here?’” Towns said. “I’m tremendously happy. I love my front office. I love my coaching staff. I think we’ve made great moves and great changes. I love the culture we have here. If you want to leave, you have to be miserable somewhere. I am not there. I’m planning to be in Minnesota for a long time.”

What makes Towns happy is he can see the plan now — and it’s finally to build around him. Towns is the top dog and this summer the Timberwolves made a push to land D'Angelo Russell to be his No. 2 (since it’s not Wiggins). That, however, fell short as Russell is in Golden State. (For now at least, if the fit with Stephen Curry is not right Russell could be on the move, and Minnesota would be interested.) Still, there was an organized plan of attack and a shuffling around of players to give Minnesota more flexibility. Towns says he is comfortable this is a franchise on the right path. Even if it’s going to take some time to get there.

In a deep West, Minnesota looks to be a team on the outside of the playoff chase that needs a lot of things to go right to get in it. They have some good players, but also a lot of youth and questions.

“We all can’t rush in and think we’re going to win 75 games right now,” he said. “We have to take it day by day. We have to be patient with the process and accept the process and go through the cycles. I think we’re going to have a really good team and we have to go out there every single night and try to accomplish it. My job as a leader, I’ve got to get the best out of every single player.”

Marcus Smart, Thaddeus Young reportedly added to USA Basketball training camp roster

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Elite NBA players have not dropped out of playing for Team USA like this since 2004, when nobody wanted to play for Larry Brown and rumors of potential terrorism in Athens had the NBA’s best backing out.

For the 2019 World Cup in China, USA Basketball has watched James Harden, Anthony Davis, Tobias Harris, Bradley Beal, Eric Gordon, and CJ McCollum all back out, robbing the American team of a lot of star power. Zion Williamson, who was projected to be part of the “select team” of young stars Team USA goes against also dropped out.

The Americans were down to 14 players heading into training camp (12 will be chosen to travel to China), and they needed more players. Enter Boston’s Marcus Smart and Thaddeus Young, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Don’t be surprised if another veteran name or two is added before training camp opens.

Smart and Young are a couple of smart selections, elite defenders who can shut down the best wing players on other teams (and in FIBA competition only a couple of teams have more than one top-flight wing player to handle).

So who is on the USA roster now? Let’s break it out by position:

GUARDS:
Damian Lillard
Kemba Walker
Kyle Lowry (questionable coming off thumb surgery)
Marcus Smart

WINGS:
Khris Middleton
Donovan Mitchell
Jayson Tatum
Harrison Barnes
Kyle Kuzma
Thaddeus Young

BIGS:
Andre Drummond
Myles Turner
Brook Lopez
Kevin Love
PJ Tucker
Paul Millsap

(We could argue about whether Mitchell is a guard or a wing, or other guys positions, but you get the basic picture.)

After Lillard, that roster does lack star power.

But the USA talent pool is so deep that it will overwhelm all but a couple of teams in the tournament. Serbia — led by Nikola Jokic and Bogan Bogdanovic — is the biggest threat to the USA and has good depth. Spain is impressive as well, but older.

The USA is and should be the World Cup favorite, but an improved rest of the world and a depleted USA roster is going to make things a lot more interesting in China.

USA Basketball is scheduled to begin its pre-World Cup camp in Las Vegas Aug. 5, with an intrasquad exhibition game at the T-Mobile Arena on Aug. 9. Then the team heads to Southern California for more training followed by an exhibition against Spain on Aug. 16 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. Then the team heads overseas for the World Cup, which begins in China on Aug. 31.

Tim Duncan joins Gregg Popovich’s coaching staff with Spurs

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The Tim Duncan era in San Antonio is over quite yet.

The future Hall of Famer has been added full time to Gregg Popovich’s coaching staff with the Spurs, the team announced Monday.

“It is only fitting, that after I served loyally for 19 years as Tim Duncan’s assistant, that he returns the favor,” Popovich said.

Duncan was around the Spurs practice facility a lot last season, helping out informally. Now it is formal.

Expect more bank shots from the Spurs big men next season.

Duncan was at the heart of the Spurs historic NBA dynasty the past couple of decades. The future Hall of Famer is a five-time NBA champion and three-time Finals MVP, 15 time All-NBA teams, 15 times NBA All-Defensive teams, 15-time All-Star, and way back when the Rookie of the Year. However, his impact was greater than just that insane resume, he was the guy who set the tone and the work ethic for those Spurs teams. Duncan worked as hard as anyone, won as much as anyone, but did it without trying to draw attention to himself. If fact, he wanted to deflect it.

The Spurs will be competitive for a playoff spot in the deep West this season — they still have LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan, plus Dejonte Murray gets healthy and returns — but are poised to start a rebuilding process in the coming years.

We will see if Duncan wants to be part of that, or if he is only around while Popovich remains the coach (somebody has to go to dinner with Pop). But he has earned the right to pretty much any role he wants.

The Spurs also announced that Will Hardy will be added to the bench as an assistant coach.

“Will Hardy is a talented, young basketball mind who has earned a great deal of respect from everyone in the organization thanks to his knowledge, spirit and personality,” Popovich said.