Darren Collison Goes From Backup to Building Block With Pacers
But it certainly has given him the chance to become one.
When Collison was traded to the Pacers last week, he went from backup point guard behind All-Star Chris Paul to franchise building block in Indiana under legendary team president Larry Bird. Last week, after the deal, FanHouse reported that Bird may in fact make another trade before the season begins
It was like stepping out of the shade and into the sun.
"I think you could describe this as a great opportunity for me,'' Collison told FanHouse by phone Tuesday afternoon. "And not just for this season, but for many years to come.''
The Pacers aren't expecting miracles from Collison -- just something close to one. They expect him to lead them back to the playoff picture for the first time in four years, setting a tone for the future that could make them at least formidable again in the Eastern Conference.
"This team already has a lot of nice young players. Hopefully, I can help attract more,'' Collison said. "Why would you not want to play with a point guard you're comfortable with?''
Their long-term nucleus now includes forward Danny Granger, 27, center Roy Hibbert, 23, guard Brandon Rush, 25, forward Tyler Hansbrough, 24, and Collison, 22. There is a trait in all of them -- a youthful maturity that includes at least three years in college for each of them -- which is part of Bird's rebuilding plan.
Not only do the Pacers believe Collison greatly upgrades them at point guard -- they used Earl Watson and T.J. Ford last season -- they believe he could be key when they jump head first into free agency this next summer, expecting to have considerable salary cap space and a point guard who can make others better.
"I think this (trade for Collison) is a piece that we needed,'' Bird said last week at a press conference announcing the deal. "We've got a lot of young talent here. The vision I have for this franchise is to get the core group up and ready to go as quickly as we can. This piece here will accelerate everything.''
Although Collison came into the league from UCLA as just the 21st pick of the 2009 draft, and he expected to serve as a backup to Paul for several years, his value throughout the league soared after playing so well when Paul went out with an injury last season.
In those 37 starts without Paul, Collison averaged 18.8 points, 9.1 assists and 3.5 rebounds. As a starter, he also shot 49 percent, including 40.9 percent from the 3-point line. For the season, he averaged 12.4 points and 4.7 assists, getting named to the All-Rookie First Team.
The Hornets liked Collison so much, they even explored the possibility this summer of trading Paul, the face of the franchise. But eventually they traded Collison instead in a five-player, four-team trade that brought them starting small forward Trevor Ariza.
"It's one thing to play in this league. It's another to be a starter. I was fortunate. It's an opportunity to see your game grow, to see it flourish,'' he said. "I never thought I'd start as a rookie, but I took advantage of the opportunity to get where I am now.''
The Pacers still have a few veterans with expiring contracts they could trade (Mike Dunleavy, Jeff Foster, Ford) to continue building with youth. He hinted last week at the Hall of Fame ceremony that another trade could be coming. There also is the possibility of waiting until next summer to go well under the salary cap.
"I'm a player who keeps it real,'' Collison said. "I haven't done anything yet. I never thought I'd be traded, but now I understand why I was. I have to prove myself, and this is the perfect place to do it.''