Former Thunder coach P.J. Carlesimo, now as assistant with the Toronto Raptors, sat courtside an hour before tipoff Friday night and discussed Nick Collison at breakneck speed, trying to find the proper words to do the player justice.
â€œI love Nick,â€ Carlesimo began. â€œHe's great to coach. He's a pro. He works his (tail) off. He comes to play every day, whether he's starting or coming off the bench ...â€
Carlesimo paused mid-sentence because Collison suddenly was within ear shot, having exited the court after his pre-game warm-up. Carlesimo raised his voice and his mood immediately changed.
â€œCollison's a jerk,â€ Carlesimo barked as Collison broke into a wide smile, took a quick detour and sat next to his former Seattle/OKC coach. â€œOf all the jerks I've ever met, he's the biggest.â€
And there you have it. Somebody who has worked alongside Collison finally said something bad about the guy. All in jest.
The Thunder's lone original team member since Sam Presti took over as general manager 3Â½ years ago, Collison likely will complete a 10-plus year career with the same organization. That rarely happens these days, particularly for a role player embedded in a turbulent franchise.
â€œHe embodies what we're trying to do,â€ Presti said of Collison, the 12th player selected in the 2003 draft. â€œA lot of things we're always talking about, he's been that.â€
That's why the Thunder gave Collison a three-year extension worth roughly $11 million and chipped in another $6.5 million â€“ all the money the Thunder had remaining under this year's salary cap â€“ as a signing bonus.
It takes someone uniquely ungifted to command that kind of payday at age 30 with career averages of 7.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 23.7 minutes.
Former Kansas teammate Keith Langford recently shared the following on Twitter: @keith_langford: I know I'm late, but hey I'm all the way in europe... Congrats to @nickcollison4 on ur deal... Still to this day best teammate I've had
Collison seemed embarrassed when asked if he saw the tweet. Why would Langford â€“ and many others past and present â€“ proclaim Collison as a great teammate if it weren't true?
â€œBecause they're on retainer, so anytime the media asks questions about me ... Nah, I don't know,â€ Collison said with a shrug. â€œI feel I've always been just about winning, trying to help other people when it's my place to help. I've been able to avoid any ulterior motives. It's the way I was taught to play. The further I've gone, I've seen that it's valuable for me to be that way.â€
Collison is a multi-tasker. He's a trash collector, cleaning up loose rebounds. He's an enforcer, doing all he can to keep the peace underneath at both ends of the court. He's a human sacrifice, taking 57 charges last season (second in the league to Jared Jeffries' 59) and has nine charges in 12 games this season. There's also a good chance Collison leads the NBA in floor burns and intangibles.
And now, more than ever, this former Big 12 player of the year has become a fully tenured NBA professor. He will be sticking around to help the young Thunder matriculate at the School of Collison while donning a uniform himself.
Collison doesn't speak often, and few words are wasted when he does.
Observe the next time Collison enters a game or emerges from a team huddle. He will make eye contact with at least one teammate and share a few words on what to do and where to go.
The pupil, usually 21-year-old Serge Ibaka or another young frontline player, (hopefully) will nod that he understands.
When Collison is in a game, there's a very good chance he's the smartest guy on the court.
â€œOh, he is,â€ All-Star Kevin Durant said without hesitation.
Professor Collison shakes his head at the thought.
â€œI don't think of it in those terms,â€ Collison said. â€œI think I have a good feel for the game. I make some stupid mistakes sometimes myself, but I feel I've had a good feel for what the team needs to get done â€“ where to be, angles defensively, anticipation, things like that.â€
The 6-foot-10, 255-pound Collison is a power forward, right up until the time you tell him to go defend a 7-foot center.
Kelly Dwyer of Yahoo! Sports had Thunder starter Nenad Krstic ranked No. 22 among NBA centers going into this season, and had Collison at No. 21.
â€œHe's a big part of the reason why we've had some recent success,â€ Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. â€œHe's top-notch, as competitive as they come.â€
Collison's father, Dave, was a longtime high school basketball coach and coached Nick for 11 years at Saint Edmond Catholic in Fort Dodge, Iowa. As a first grader, Nick became a fixture at his father's practices.
Nothing makes Dave Collison glow more than hearing a coach or teammate bragging about his son's intangibles. Then again, that's what Nick Collison is all about. He knows no other way.
â€œI think teams see value in me as a teammate,â€ Collison said. â€œIt's allowed me to stick around longer than maybe I would have if I wasn't (the way I am). I think guys respect that.â€
John Rohde: 475-3099. John Rohde can be heard Monday-Friday from 6-7 p.m. on The Sports Animal Network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.