SACRAMENTO -- This isn’t your typical lost season in Sacramento. Yes, the Kings are going to miss the playoffs for the 10th consecutive season, but there are a few silver linings.
Rookie Willie Cauley-Stein is developing in front of our eyes. Seth Curry looks like a legitimate NBA player. DeMarcus Cousins will probably grab an All-NBA first team selection and while he hasn’t been great on the defensive side of the ball, Rajon Rondo played much better than expected.
And then there is Darren Collison.
The 28-year-old point guard has been a consummate professional throughout the season despite having his starting job handed to Rondo during the offseason. The Kings didn’t even give Collison a fair shot at winning the spot, which is a conversation for another time.
Collison is a blue collar worker by NBA standards. He has some flash to his game, but the former UCLA star brought his lunch pail and hard hat to work everyday and he’s given 100 percent effort in all 72 of his games that he’s played in.
“I’m impressed with what he’s done throughout the season and nothing has changed down the stretch for him,” Casspi said. “He’s a fierce competitor. He’s the type of guy that everytime he steps on the court he’s trying to win a game, whether we’re playing game no. 82 or game no. 2.”
While plenty of the Kings players cashed in the season a weeks or even months ago, Collison continues to grind away. Since the All-Star break, he’s averaged 14.4 points and 4.9 assists per game in 32.9 minutes per night.
“Even when you’re mathematically out of the hunt, you play for the respect of your peers,” Caron Butler said. “It’s been real refreshing. He’s been one of the true bright spots on the team this season with his consistency.”
Consistency is really the name of the game for Collison. He’s been asked to play both the point and the two. He’s come off the bench and started. Despite the ever changing roles, he brings the same energy and effort each night.
Off the court, Collison has been a professional. He took his demotion in stride, although it’s very clear he would prefer to start. He’s morphed his game to match what the team needs, sacrificing parts of his game with the hopes that it would help change the trajectory of the season.
But down the stretch, the normally reserve Collison has been more vocal with the media. He’s not happy about the way this season has played out and he hasn’t been shy about putting his opinion out there.
“I think it’s just frustration not being in the playoffs for the second straight year,” Collison said. “I play this game to build a legacy, not for myself, but for the organization that I play for. The only way you can create that type of legacy is winning games in the playoffs.”
Collison would love to see the team get together early and often during the offseason. He even suggested that the players get together to watch a few playoff games as a team. He’s willing to try anything to build the camaraderie necessary to win at the NBA level.
“It definitely has to change, we can’t have another season like this,” Collison said. “I don’t want to spend another season like this. It’s been a tough season for me, despite what I may do individually. I might have had one of the best years of my career here, but as far as the team goes, it’s been real frustrating.”
The Kings fell apart in similar fashion last season, but Collison wasn’t around to deal with the carnage. He sat the final 33 games of the season after tearing an abdominal muscle. After undergoing surgery to correct the issue, the seven-year vet came back in great shape and has played 72 of the Kings 78 games this season.
He’s healthy and he’s hungry. He’s also a little confused with the way the Kings have rolled over and played dead following the All-Star break. He sat out Tuesday night’s game to “rest.” Clearly that wasn’t his decision and he still chose to wear his uniform as he sat on the bench.
“I don’t understand it,” Collison said. “I guess for whatever reason you have to do it and whatever teams are doing it for, that’s their business. My business is to go out there on the court and compete for the fans.”
Collison has created plenty of value for himself. He’s under contract next season with the Kings at $5.2 million, but he’s a player that would love to make a home in Sacramento. He’s made friends and his family has settled in.
“He’s one of the guys that you can tell loves to be in Sacramento and loves and appreciates the love he gets from the fans and he wants to repay them every night he steps out there,” Casspi said. “I’m proud of him and I look up to him.”
The 2015-16 Sacramento Kings season has been a disaster, like so many before it. But it’s also been a season where the growth has occurred. The Kings have won 31 games, which is more than they have strung together since the 2007-08 season. But it’s not enough. It’s not enough to make the playoffs and it certainly isn’t enough for a player like Collison. He wants and expects more.