EL SEGUNDO — On Monday night, I went down to El Segundo to check on the South Bay Lakers’ newest addition, Darren Collison. When the final buzzer sounded, the squad had just concluded their best impression of the parent franchise, suddenly squandering a double-digit lead down the stretch and flipping what would have been a comfortable win into a loss. After the final buzzer, with the sour stench of an ugly defeat still lingering, I met with Collison to talk about where he’s been, and what he has in store.
Ever since calling it quits in 2019, he’d had been linked to his hometown Lakers for a potential comeback, until finally, the two parties made it happen. Under suboptimal circumstances, Collison filled in for the Lakers while the Omicron variant ran through their roster in December.
In 37 minutes across three NBA games this season, Collison recorded four points on seven shots to go along with a pair of assists and four boards. His brief tenure actually ended early, separating from the team before the expiration of his 10-day contract, being listed as inactive for his final two games on the roster. The accumulation of rust from his time league had apparently eroded some of the skills that allowed for the savviness and broad competency that underscored Collison’s previous 10-year NBA tenure.
And yet, he’s somehow found himself back inside the franchise once more, but now as a member of the South Bay squad. In his first game, Collison came off the bench, but chipped in an efficient dozen points in two dozen minutes. Then, he went off for 20 in 37 minutes as a starter on a steady 8-13 night from the floor. However, that extended run may have proven to be too much, too soon for the 34-year-old, as he’s now been stuck on the sidelines for a game-and-a-half due to the hamstring tightness that forced him to exit his third game with South Bay after only 11 minutes of action.
In our brief conversation, Collison told me he’s kept himself in shape despite being unrostered by training players at his own facility in Irvine — Pro’s Vision. With regular work alongside “little kids all the way to professional athletes,” Collison has had the benefit of in-house sparring partners, a boon for a guy who hasn’t had a permanent home in the league since the 2018-19 season.
When I asked him about his short return to the NBA as part of the current roster’s parent team this winter, Darren lamented the brevity of his tenure, he hinted at the possibility of a return to the league, “Unfortunately, it wasn’t something that lasted long, but we’ll see in the near future.”
He also stressed how important it was to him to seize the opportunity to play alongside a living legend, “Obviously, it was unexpected as a Covid call-up, but I got a chance to be around one of the greatest players who ever played this game in LeBron and just kind of learn from him.”
He continued, “Any time you get a chance to be that close and just kind of learn his ways and his habits, what makes him great, it’s always a plus for me.”
When I redirected to ask him about the reunion with his former UCLA Bruin teammate, Russell Westbrook, Collison touched on Westbrook’s tendency to end seasons stronger than he starts them.
“Russ is cool, man. He’s a Hall of Famer himself. I think he’s gonna do a good job of finishing out the season strong, and [the Lakers have] a nice chance to be in the play-in game and make it into the playoffs.”
Just as I was about to ask Collison about his outstanding hoop dreams, he was beckoned by a stern voice calling his name from beyond the confines of the court.
He turned away, nearly ending our interview as quickly as it began. But with one burning question to go, I shot my shot, showing off my best impression of a big league sidle.
Hustling alongside him as he exited, I asked, “What are you hoping to achieve this season and beyond?”
In response, Darren repeated a refrain from earlier, giving me the G League comeback equivalent of Michael Jordan’s infamous “I’m Back” announcement of his own return.
Then, he qualified, before vanishing behind a pair of double doors to presumably re-join his new teammates in their locker room.
“[I’m] taking it step by step,” Collison said.