When Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti included a $6.5 million signing bonus with Nick Collison's four-year contract extension last November, the extra cash essentially was a reward for services rendered.
This is the only franchise the 30-year-old Collison has ever known as a pro. Since being drafted 12th overall in 2003, the Kansas product has endured double-shoulder surgery his first season, franchise relocation from Seattle, four straight losing seasons, and all while busting his tail without making a peep.
"He embodies what we're trying to do," Presti said of Collison. "A lot of things we're always talking about, he's been that."
Collison is still rendering his services, particularly during this Western Conference semifinal against the Memphis Grizzlies, a best-of-7 playoff series that figures to be a shoving match until the final bell.
The series stands 1-1, largely because Collison still works hard for his money. If not, the Thunder very easily could be trailing 2-0.
In Game 1, Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph (34 points, 10 rebounds) and center Marc Gasol (20 points; 13 rebounds; four assists; three blocks) overwhelmed OKC with a 114-101 domination at Oklahoma City Arena.
Collison played 15 minutes in the contest, which Thunder coach Scott Brooks publicly admitted was a mistake.
In Game 2, Collison wound up playing 25 minutes for multiple reasons, the most significant being his ability to force Randolph away from his comfort zone and into 2-for-13 shooting from the field.
"I just wanted him to get his catches further out on the block, try to be physical with him," Collison said of his success against the 6-foot-9, 260-pound, left-handed Randolph. "He's going to score. He's going to make shots. He's going to be tough the rest of the games. I'm sure he feels like he could play better.
"He's as good as there is in the league in getting position and playing physical. You have to be ready at all times and not be surprised by that physicality."
With Serge Ibaka temporarily sidelined after bumping knees just before halftime of Game 2, Collison started the third quarter and played nonstop for 17 minutes, 15 seconds. When he departed after getting his fifth personal foul with 6:45 left in the game, the Thunder owned a 94-75 lead.
At 6-foot-10, 250 pounds, Collison is too big to qualify as a "pest," nor does he deliberately try to get under an opponent's skin, but being defended by Collison no doubt is frustrating. He leads the Thunder in charges taken with 53. James Harden is next with eight.
"I'm not really big into mind games," Collison said. "I've just got to concentrate on what I'm doing out there. Strategically, you just want to make every catch more difficult, and over the course of the game, you're better off that way. In the playoffs, they let you play a little more physical. I think that helps, too. The biggest thing is to not let anything happen easy out there."
Collison will do his best to make things difficult for Randolph the remainder of the series, continuing with Game 3 at 4 p.m. Saturday in Memphis.
Collison's contributions are all-encompassing, yet rarely fill up a box score. If intangibles somehow could be measured, he would rank among the league leaders. That's precisely why Collison received a flattering – and creatively structured – $6.5-million perk despite modest career averages of 7.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 23.7 minutes at the time.
At a salary of $13.25 million this season thanks to the signing bonus, Collison makes at least twice as much as every teammate except Nazr Mohammed ($6.88 million) and roughly $7.2 million more than Kevin Durant ($6.05 million).
"We really value him," Durant said of Collison. "He's a big part of our success. For us to keep getting better, Nick is going to have to be an important piece. He's playing well for us."
53 – Nick Collison
8 – James Harden
3 – Russell Westbrook
2 – Nazr Mohammed
1 – Serge Ibaka, Eric Maynor, Thabo Sefolosha, Royal Ivey
Source – Thunder coaching staff