Brought in as the team’s “point guard of the future” during the summer of 2010, Darren Collison’s arrival in Indiana marked the beginning of a new era in Pacers basketball.
After a stellar rookie campaign that saw him capably fill in for the injured Chris Paul in New Orleans, the then 23-year-old Collison spearheaded the team’s youth movement together with freshly drafted rookies Paul George and Lance Stephenson to pair up with center Roy Hibbert as the Pacers looked to develop a nucleus for the future.
Collison, or “DC” as his teammates referred to him, played an active role in restoring a professional and winning culture around the organization while taking his rookie running mates under his wing. In his first year with the team, the Pacers returned to the playoffs after a four-year absence and gave the Chicago Bulls more than they bargained for in their opening round matchup, thanks in large to Collison who battled through an ankle sprain he suffered in Game 2 of that series.
In the ensuing offseason, the Pacers brought in Indianapolis native George Hill through a trade to back up Collison together with former New Orleans teammate, veteran power forward David West, whom Collison helped recruit and was acquired by the Pacers as a free agent.
But Collison would battle injuries anew toward the end of the ’11-12 season, and eventually lost his starting job to Hill whose solid play forced head coach Frank Vogel to keep him on the starting lineup throughout the Pacers’ playoff campaign. Opting to move ahead with Hill as their main man, the Pacers traded Collison to the Mavericks for back-up center Ian Mahinmi during the following offseason.
Last week, Collison returned to Indianapolis as the enemy and started in place of the injured Chris Paul for the Clippers in a game the Pacers won handily to sweep their season series. Collison heaped praises for his former team and teammates, and admitted that he wasn’t surprised by the development of the two former rookies he once took under in George and Stephenson.
“No, I’m not surprised,” Collison replied to this scribe when I asked him about his former teammates’ improvements. “Both (George and Stephenson) are hard workers, both enjoy playing the game. Those guys are going to be good for the Pacers for a very, very long time [...] they’re both winners.”
Of the things he likes about how the Pacers are playing, it’s their togetherness and chemistry that impresses him the most. “Just their ability to play loose and have fun,” Collison said and added, “a lot of guys, they play, but they’re not having fun. They’re having fun out there and that’s a good thing to see.”
Dennis is on Twitter @dRealSource.
- CLICK ON the video on top of the page to watch my interview with Darren Collison.