Out with the new, in with the old?
The Dallas Mavericks signed 38-year-old point guard Derek Fisher earlier this month to bolster a position they had supposedly addressed in the offseason with Darren Collison. After losing his starting job to Fisher and struggling over the past few weeks, the question must be raised:
Does Darren Collison have a future with the Mavericks?
Fisher is chasing a championship alongside his new Maverick teammates, and his stay in Dallas will be a short one. He's in town to help mentor younger players, provide veteran and timely leadership and also prove that he can play a valuable role on a team in the title hunt.
Dallas acquired Collison from the Indiana Pacers in a sign-and-trade for Ian Mahinmi. Dahntay Jones was also included in the deal coming to Dallas.
Collison was the point guard of the future for this team after one week, a week that included an opening-night win over the Los Angeles Lakers and a 4-1 start. Now, Collison's coming off the bench and losing head coach Rick Carlisle's trust as a starter.
Is it merely a kick in the pants for the 25-year-old point guard, or something much more?
TNT analyst and former three-point marksman Reggie Miller smells trouble.
It's never good when you have to go and sign a 38yr old point guard (Fisher) to replace your 25yr old (Collison).— Reggie Miller (@ReggieMillerTNT) December 6, 2012
Miller isn't alone in his sentiments. For a team that wanted to get younger at positions of athleticism, this is a step in the wrong direction. No doubt Fisher is a gamer—he has five championship rings and another two Finals appearances.
But for Collison, a youthful guy that has the potential to toe the line with the top-tier point guards in the NBA, to be sitting on the bench to start games, something must be wrong. Collison noted his frustration to ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon, after he felt he didn't get a fair shot at the starter minutes.
“Regardless of how I feel about the whole situation, at the end of the day, it is what it is,” Collison said. “I can thrive in any situation as long as I’m playing basketball and I’m trying to help us win the game, I can be effective.”
ESPN analyst Tim Legler agrees with Reggie Miller and Collison himself, as noted on this network discussion of whether or not Fisher should assume the role of starter upon his arrival.
Fisher has only been around for four games. Dallas is 3-1 in those games, with the exception of a blowout loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Is it a coincidence that Collison had one of his worst games as a Maverick in that loss? DallasBasketball.com writer Michael Dugat explores that notion.
Captures the feel of this game: when Fisher was in at PG, Mavs actually outscored Clippers by 2. W/ Collison in, they were outscored by 24.— Michael Dugat (@mdug) December 6, 2012
You can't tell me that Carlisle and Mark Cuban don't recognize that kind of trend. Collison is still young, but Dirk Nowitzki is not, and with the All-Star-like performances O.J. Mayo has been putting in, Dallas can't afford to waste prime years from its top-two scorers.
Even more troubling—Fisher hasn't lit the world on fire through four games. He's averaging six points on 25.9 percent shooting, but the wins (three in four games) have kept any idea of Collison returning to the starting lineup well off the burner.
Are the Mavs prepared to let Collison walk this offseason after just 20 games of evidence?
Collison has a $3.3 million qualifying offer for next year. If extended, he'll be a restricted free agent and the Mavericks will have the option to match any offer he receives. Based on his role right now, it's hard to see Dallas matching any offer that is close to max money or a long-term commitment.
With Mayo on a player option for just $4 million, it's much easier to see Dallas negotiating with its new star shooting guard than Collison. The Mavericks have made a concerted effort to free up flexibility for the next two summers, and the ball doesn't stop with Collison—no one is safe.
Still, Collison is averaging 12.3 points and 5.9 assists per game. His PER is at 15.18, a quality number good for fourth on the team. He played well Saturday night against the Houston Rockets, pouring in 12 points, five assists, four rebounds and two steals, as Mayo out-dueled James Harden.
The biggest problem for Collison has been costly turnovers. With a 2.5 per game average, he isn't exactly the worst player in the NBA in giving the ball away.
But the five-turnover game against the Clippers is becoming a trend. Collison has at least four turnovers in six games, including being a big part of the meltdown against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Where will Collison be this time next season?
The title question isn't an easy one to answer. The season is still young, and with a string of good games, the youngster from UCLA can work his way back into good graces with Carlisle and back into the starting lineup.
But as the season progresses, and we understand what kind of role Collison has on this team, we can start to use that as a window into the thinking of GM Donnie Nelson and the front office. A once-bright future is now clouded again, and there isn't a clear answer for Collison's future.
For now, Dallas is more worried about pairing Mayo and Nowitzki together upon the big German's return. Until then, it's hard to make any predictions about a team missing its franchise leader and struggling to stay afloat in the Western Conference.
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for B/R's Breaking News Team as well as the lead writer for the Dallas Mavericks page.