We’ve already talked a lot in this space about how the Los Angeles Lakers have a point guard problem, but the team may have found it’s solution, as according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, Darren Collison is mulling over coming out of retirement and joining one of the two teams that share Staples Center:
Story filed to ESPN: After a stunning retirement prior to free agency, veteran guard Darren Collison is considering a February return to the NBA – with the Lakers and Clippers emerging as his two preferred destinations.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 1, 2020
Collison himself even (sort of) confirmed this is going on right now:
So Darren Collison tweeted and deleted this? pic.twitter.com/cr2HuxKJJK— happy honidays (@HoniAhm) October 27, 2019
Let’s get into why his availability would be such a big deal.
How would Collison help?
Collison was productive for the Indiana Pacers during his 10th season in the NBA, averaging 11.2 points and 6 assists while shooting 40.7% from 3-point range. He wasn’t a star, but the UCLA product was still productive, and only 31 years old, with seemingly a few good years left in the tank.
The Lakers have struggled all year with finding a player who can reliably handle the ball and run the team’s offense when LeBron James sits. Rajon Rondo offers too many other drawbacks to be the solution against good teams that will scheme him out, Troy Daniels and Quinn Cook have never really provided that type of creative ability in the NBA, while Alex Caruso is helpful in a lot of ways, he hasn’t demonstrated that he can consistently shoulder the burden as the team’s primary floor general, even in limited minutes.
Collison isn’t a perfect player, but he could likely serve in that role better than any of the Lakers’ current options, provided he’s kept in reasonable shape.
My two thoughts on Darren Collison:— Darius Soriano (@forumbluegold) January 1, 2020
1. The Lakers could use him, but it would likely make a crowded guard rotation more crowded (depending on who they'd cut).
2. The Clippers could use him, but I don't see who he plays over in their guard rotation in meaningful minutes.
Why did he retire in the first place?
Unlike most players out of the league at 31, a catastrophic injury or natural decline isn’t why Collison decided to step away. In his retirement announcement for The Undefeated, Collison said he was hanging up his sneakers to focus on volunteering, his faith and his family:
Basketball has been my life since I was a child. I could never imagine finding anything that brings me more joy than I get from playing the game. While I still love basketball, I know there is something more important, which is my family and my faith. I am one of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and my faith means everything to me. I receive so much joy from volunteering to help others and participate in a worldwide ministry. The joy I feel is unmatched.
With that being said, I have decided to retire from the NBA.
In that letter, he specifically thanked LeBron James for his friendship, and names him as one of several players who “had a major impact on (him) competing at the highest level.” That is a connection that would certainly seem to be worth noting as the Lakers are in pursuit of Collison’s services.
Who would the Lakers cut?
The Lakers would have to free up a roster spot to add Collison, and while it’s not certain who they’d part ways with, there is one candidate that seems to be likelier than others: Troy Daniels, who is on a one-year, veteran’s minimum deal and has mostly fallen out of the rotation.
Another candidate that most will mention will be DeMarcus Cousins, considering that he’s likely out for the year, but remember that list of players that Collison thanked in his retirement letter? Cousins is also on it, with Collison writing “I either have a close relationship with those that I have mentioned or they inspired me to work harder.”
Collison and Cousins were teammates for three seasons in Sacramento, so between this and Cousins’ close friendships with Anthony Davis, LeBron James and Rajon Rondo, it would seem unlikely Cousins is the one ultimately cut loose here.
Speaking of Rondo, while he would likely be a popular choice among Lakers fans to be let go, he (likely) benefits from the same closeness with James, Davis and Cousins, and was additionally teammates with Collison in Sacramento. Both Collison and Rondo (not to mention Avery Bradley) are also represented by Bill Duffy of BDA Sports Management, and it’s unlikely that Duffy would want to facilitate a cut of one of his clients for another. Add in that the Lakers always rave about Rondo’s presence in the locker room and on the floor, and I personally would be shocked if Rondo is the one let go.
Quinn Cook has also been brought up, but given that his two-year deal is one of the more tradable contracts the Lakers have, it’s more likely that they’d rather wait on cutting him to see if they need him for that reason. Doing the relationship and salary math on this specific addition, it’s almost impossible to imagine it’s not Daniels who’s gone if they bring Collison aboard.
And as long as we’re talking about relationships, it’s also worth mentioning the Collison played for Lakers Head Coach Frank Vogel with the Pacers as well. Similarly, he’s played for Doc Rivers and the Clippers before, so it’s not like he only has Laker connections. Still, it would seem likely the Lakers can sway him because they can offer more, both in terms of role and money.
How much can the Lakers’ offer Collison?
I’ll let cap guru Bobby Marks of ESPN take this one:
We had Darren Collision projected in the midlevel range ($8-10M) before he retired this summer. Both LA teams would need to clear a roster spot. Both teams have the prorated minimum and LAL also has a $1.75M Disabled Player Exception that expires on 3/10.— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) January 1, 2020
That Disabled Player Exception that the Lakers received in the wake of Cousins’ likely season-ending injury in August may be the carrot that ultimately wins them Collison, because since it’s not prorated it would allow the Lakers to more money than the Clippers can. The Lakers could waive Cousins without losing the exception because it’s officially been granted, but likely won’t for the reasons outlined above.
Had the Lakers let Cousins go while their application was pending, they wouldn’t have been eligible for the exception. Now, the only way the Lakers can lose the exception is if Cousins is traded or returns to play. They’d still have to cut someone to use it to sign Collison, but it does allow them to virtually double what the minimum is for any other team for the rest of the season if they free up a roster spot.
Long story short, If Collison can still play, he would fix a lot of problems for the Lakers. Expect them to pursue him hard, and to hear more about this in the coming days.
This story will update with more information. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.