HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — It’s a painful year to be a point guard in Los Angeles. The Lakers have lost all three of theirs and the Clippers have been without Chris Paul since early January. Their backup and Paul fill-in, Darren Collison, is desperately trying to elevate his pain threshold.
Collison sprained his left big toe Saturday night. He’s played through it, although his plummeting stats would suggest it isn’t doing him any favors.
In the first six games after Paul separated his right shoulder on Jan. 3 in Dallas, Collison averaged 15.8 ppg, 7.2 apg and 4.0 rpg. He shot 55.7 percent overall and L.A. won five of six. Collison was also brilliant against the Mavs that night Paul went down in the third quarter. Collison drilled the team he played for last season for 20 points in the Clippers’ come-from-behind victory. On Jan. 15, he did it again against Dallas with 13 points and 10 assists in another comeback win.
But in a lopsided loss to Indiana on Saturday, Collison sprained his toe. In that game and the two that followed, Collison has shot 36.0 percent and averaged 8.7 ppg, 5.0 apg and 2.0 rpg. He had to sit out the end of Wednesday’s loss at Charlotte with the game hanging in the balance. L.A.’s lost two of the three games. Coach Doc Rivers suggested that Collison might have to sit, but according to the Los Angeles Times, Collison will attempt to play tonight as L.A. plays the fifth of a seven-game road trip at Chicago (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Collison’s situation as replacement starter is nearly identical to the one he found himself in as a rookie with New Orleans. As Paul’s backup, he took over the starting job when Paul was injured, and flourished. Indiana traded for Collison that summer to make him their starting point guard. By the end of his second season, Collison lost his starting job to George Hill.
Dallas, needing a starting point guard to replace Jason Kidd, traded for Collison the next summer to take over the job for the 2012-13 season with newcomer O.J. Mayo starting alongside him. It was a disaster. Dirk Nowitzki had knee surgery during training camp and didn’t return until a few days before Christmas. The team plunged 10 games under .500 and Collison shouldered loads of the blame for poor late-game execution and the mounting losses. He fell out of favor with coach Rick Carlisle early on and lost his starting job twice to aging veterans Derek Fisher and then Mike James. Dallas failed to make the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons.
“It’s a lot of things that went on last year,” Collison said when he made his return to Dallas earlier this month. “I think I was hurt, one, that we didn’t have a chance to make the playoffs. I think that hurt me the most and I took a lot of pride in trying to run this team the best way I can. Dirk was out for like 20-something games and we had a lot of dudes that were on one-year deals that were trying to like [come] together. I think that was the biggest reasons about this whole situation.”
It became obvious that Dallas had no interest in re-signing Collison last summer. He chose a familiar role as Paul’s backup, this time with the Clippers.
“As a competitor you look at it that way,” Collison said of feeling disrespected that Dallas didn’t want to keep him. “They had their situation. I’m just glad that I fell into a situation like the Clippers that’s given me an opportunity. Now I have a chance to play for a contending team that’s going to try to play for something more special.”
Collison signed a two-year deal with L.A and has been a steady reserve. He is earning $1.9 million this season and holds a player option for next season with a slight raise. If he continues to play well as the Clippers’ starter and then again when he returns to a reserve role, it will be interesting to see if Collison chooses to opt out, and if so, if another team attempts to make the third time the charm for the 5-foot-11 Collison as a starter.
It’s just one reason why Collison desperately wants to keep fighting through the pain.