by Matt George, Sports 1140 KHTK
Four head coaches, two general managers, an inexperienced owner, massive national media criticism, two arenas, and a revolving door of teammates. That’s what Indiana Pacers guard Darren Collison faced in his three seasons with the Sacramento Kings organization.
From opening night of the 2014-2015 season, to April of 2017, Collison wore Sacramento’s signature purple and black through a rollercoaster of on and off-court controversy.
Saturday, Collison sat down with KHTK and spoke on his time as a King, the last few months of the NBA offseason, and his decision to sign with the Indiana Pacers.
“People don’t give enough credit to the players and coaches that dealt with the turmoil that was being pushed on us for the last (three to four) years. It was unfair.”
Collison did not shy away from expressing how he and his fellow players and coaches felt during the organization’s ups and downs.
“Every player that dealt with that turmoil took the brunt of the blame. I give those guys credit for hanging in there.”
Collison mentioned the careers of many of his head and assistant coaches, “Some of (the chaos) messed with coaches’ careers. Those are the guys you never hear talked about, that stick with it through tough times.”
From the unexpected firing of well-respected head coach Mike Malone, to the drama-filled saga of George Karl, Collison dealt with a lot of fresh faces on Sacramento’s coaching staff. The Kings’ lack of consistency, or clear direction, even through as recent as last February, has received a lot of criticism, and a very toxic reputation, from national media and the rest of the league.
“When I was a King I took it personally. I didn’t like people talking about my organization the way they did. I know why people were doing it, but at the same time, I played for that organization. You take on the organization as home. You do take that personally.”
Yet, despite the negativity and uncertainty that surrounded the Sacramento Kings, Collison still found comfort in the team’s passionate fanbase.
“That was the fun part. The fans still came to the games. We still had sold out crowds. Even when things were going bad, they still supported us. And I wanted to support them.”
Heading into the 2016-2017 season, and the brand new, state-of-the-art, Golden 1 Center, the Sacramento Kings had a clear goal in mind; make the playoffs by any means necessary. Led by DeMarcus Cousins, and new head coach Dave Joerger, the Kings felt confident that their over decade-long playoff drought was coming to an end.
“The goal was to make the playoffs. It’s been over a decade. The fans wanted to see the playoffs, especially with a new arena. DeMarcus had been pushing to get this team to the playoffs. Regardless of who we would have played or how we would have done, getting to the playoffs was the first step.”
However, the plan drastically changed at the NBA All-Star break in February, when the Kings traded Cousins away for a youth-driven rebuild. At the time, the Kings were still well in contention for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Originally, Collison was surprised by, and angry at, the sudden change of plan.
“It was a bit of a shell shock. You have to change your game and mentality towards the team. It became so much about the young players.”
As the team’s superstar, and expected leader, DeMarcus Cousins took a lot of heat throughout his near seven seasons with the Kings. The trade came as a huge surprise to the big man, who had expressed his interest on multiple occasions to re-sign with the team and spend his whole career in Sacramento.
“He took it very well” Collison said, having talked to Cousins only hours after the trade had been announced. “Obviously he was hurt and disappointed. They told him one thing and did the other. He still handled himself the way he should of and said all the right things to the media. He didn’t get a lot of credit for handling it the way he did. I was happy to hear him say all the right things because I know, in that position, it wasn’t easy.”
For Collison, the mid-season change to a youth-focused development wasn’t something he was afraid of as a veteran.
“Guys our age, for players that are younger than us, we need to be there to help teach them the ropes if we really respect the game. Because I care so much about the game growing, I was willing to give any advice to help them get better.”
The Sacramento Kings finished the season 33-49, good for 10th in the West. Collison’s contract had come to an end, and with a lot of money to be had in the free agency market, he had a tough decision to make.
“As a player well in his prime, you have to start to think what your next and best option is.”
Knowing that this could be his last major contract, Collison was weighing his two major options; stay with the Kings and sacrificing wins to teach and mentor young talent, or, leave for a potential contender and get a chance at playoff-level competition.
“I still felt like being a Sacramento King after the year was done was my best option. I’m not the type of person to run and go join another team. It wasn’t until I felt like the Kings didn’t make an offer, or any type of communication, when I had to change plans.”
Collison told KHTK that he and his camp had reached out to the Kings, and even delayed other offers in anticipation of one from Sacramento. No word came.
“We were trying to work with (the Kings) to see what we could come up with but I guess they had other plans and we respected that.”
Disappointed in the Kings’ lack of interest, Collison received and accepted an offer from the Indiana Pacers, where he had spent two seasons earlier in his career.
“In this game, you have to go to a team that appreciates what you do and what you bring to the table. Indiana was one the first teams that I was with, first time in my career. So, they knew me and knew exactly what they were going to get.”
Pacers President of Basketball Operations, Kevin Prichard, told Collison that, despite the loss of all-star Paul George, Indiana is looking to contend right away.
“I think Victor Oladipo is better than what people think. I think he will have a phenomenal year. I think he has the potential to be an all-star. Miles Turner is another young player starting to come on the radar. I think he has the potential to be an all-star. Those will be our two best players. We have some experience. I am definitely excited for what we have on the team.”
Although he is excited to be a Pacer, Collison admits he will miss playing for the Kings and their loyal fanbase. He looks forward to the opportunity to return to Sacramento next season and play in front of the Golden 1 Center crowd again.”
“It’s going to be fun when I play against the Kings. I know the story behind the Kings, what it meant to play for the Kings. I dealt with a lot as a King. I am still going to go out there and do what I am supposed to do.”