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Darren Collison returns to beat his old team

11/2/2014
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Cousins' Double-Double Powers Kings In L.A.

DeMarcus Cousins scored 34 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in the Kings' 98-92 win over the Clippers.

LOS ANGELES -- In a perfect world, Darren Collison would still be with the Los Angeles Clippers.

He would be living in his hometown with his wife, Keyosha, and his baby boy, Kinston, who just celebrated his first birthday.

He would be on a contending team in his backyard and finally settled in after being on four teams in five years.

But life isn’t perfect and so Collison finds himself in Sacramento instead of Los Angeles, on his fifth team in six years and on a team seemingly destined to miss the playoffs for the ninth straight season instead of on a championship contender.

And on Sunday, he found himself playing against his former team, and leading the Kings to a surprising 98-92 win while scoring 14 points and four straight key points to seal the win late. After hitting a 17-foot jumper to give the Kings the lead for good with 52 seconds left, Collison looked at the Clippers' bench and hit his chest.

“It’s just being competitive,” Collison said after the game. “That’s my former team. I have a lot of respect for them and the coaching staff. You want to come in here and try to get a victory by any means necessary. That’s a team that’s going to contend for the title so any way you can win it’s always fun to compete against them.”

When Collison was asked if he wanted to remind the Clippers what they were missing out on he smiled.

“I guess you can say that,” Collison said. “But I’m not going there.”

Last season, Collison made $1.9 million as the Clippers’ backup point guard and shined. When Chris Paul missed 18 games, the Clippers went 12-6 with Collison starting in his place, averaging 13.3 points and 6.5 assists in 32.6 minutes per game. When the Clippers came back from 22 points down in Game 4 of their second-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, it was largely because of Collison, who scored 12 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter.

Not surprisingly Collison opted out of the final year of his contract with the Clippers that would have paid him $1.985 million this season and not surprisingly the Clippers essentially shrugged their shoulders and went to Plan B afterward, signing Collison’s former teammate at UCLA, Jordan Farmar to a two-year, $4.2 million deal to be Paul’s backup.

Collison would go on to sign a three-year, $16 million deal with the Sacramento Kings that made him their starting point guard.

It’s a sequence of events that still rubs Collison the wrong way even though he ended up with the deal he wanted.

“Even before I even knew about the Kings, the plan was to come back here and continue to fulfill my role,” Collison said Sunday. “I had played so well with the Clippers and I gave it my all. My goal was to try and come back and help them win a championship. Then, when free agency started, that’s when the Kings pitched their idea and their thoughts of me, and they tried to build with me, along with the other players, for the future. That’s what you have to go with. You have to play with a team that really wants you, first. That’s where it starts off.”

The Clippers could have given Collison the same contract the Kings did but had earmarked that money for a small forward and/or a back-up big man. They eventually gave Spencer Hawes a four-year, $23 million deal. Meanwhile the Kings were the first team that called Collison once free agency began. Meanwhile, the Clippers had moved on after he had declined his option and didn’t recruit him.

“I think around that time, they were looking for a wing player,” Collison said. “At that point, I kind of had to make a decision quick because the market was kind of drying up. They were looking for a wing player; I was looking for a home at the same time. I thought it was going to be the Clippers, and it just didn’t work out.”

Doc Rivers, the Clippers' coach and president of basketball operations, said he knew Collison was gone after his stretch as a starter last season and didn’t go into the offseason envisioning Collison returning to be Paul’s backup with the options he would have in free agency.

“I knew it,” Rivers said. “We knew that midseason. You’re usually disappointed when you think you’re going to sign someone [and don’t]. When another team calls you and tells you they’re going to promise you the starting job, you’re probably going to lose him. That wasn’t a hard one. It was hard to lose him but it wasn’t a shock. I wanted to keep him. I thought he would have been perfect here forever but I know math."

Collison simply shakes his head when he is relayed Rivers’ explanation for not trying harder to re-sign him in the offseason. He said he didn’t care about starting or coming off the bench and thought his value to the Clippers was worth more of an effort on their part. Giving them a hometown discount was always an option in his mind.

“I don’t know why he’d think that,” Collison said. “Maybe because of how this business works, maybe he thought with me being competitive that I just wanted to start for another team. That just wasn’t the case. My biggest thing was winning first. If I had to go back to play with the Clippers, I would’ve done the same thing. Whether it was miscommunication or whatever the deal might’ve been, it worked out for everybody.”

While the Clippers like Farmar and think he will be a good backup for Paul, he isn’t able to do what Collison can do. The Clippers would often play Collison alongside Paul last season and used him as a defensive, on-the-ball defender. That’s something they can’t do with Farmar, which makes life more difficult for Paul.

“He was very versatile for us,” Rivers said. “He played the 1 and the 2, he can guard the ball at times and it could give CP at times some rest. So far we haven’t been able to do that so we miss that. Right now Jordan hasn’t defended the way DC defended. He just doesn’t have that speed so CP still may have to guard the best offensive player. When we played those two together we typically put DC on the better offensive player which allowed Chris in essence to rest while he played. I thought it made it easier minutes for CP.”

Collison ended up on the winning end against the Clippers on Sunday but knows he will probably lose more games than he wins this season on the Kings but likes the trajectory the team is taking even if they’re not ready to compete for the title quite yet.

“I think my team is committed to winning,” Collison said. “That’s always a good sign. When you leave a team contending for a championship, you want to make sure you’re going to a team that, if not doing the same thing, is committed to winning. We’re not where the Clippers are at, goal-wise, but everyone is committed to winning.”