Box out. Re-position. Battle for a loose ball. Knock down a mid-range jumper. Dive on the floor. Take a charge. Rinse. Repeat.
Nick Collison knows his role and he lives in that space every time he steps on the basketball court – expending every ounce of energy bubbling under his skin until the final buzzer sounds. Those moments of effort aren’t altogether noticeable. In fact, compared to the fluidity and grace of Kevin Durant, the careening and soaring of Russell Westbrook and the precision and dexterity of Serge Ibaka, Collison’s grit and technical execution can get missed by the naked eye.
Those minute details, however, are what have made Collison not just a successful player in the league, but an integral part of the Thunder organization and its history. Like many of his teammates this year, however, Collison’s workmanlike play also took a physical toll, which resulted in a minor knee surgery this offseason that he has been rehabbing from at the INTEGRIS Thunder Development Center.
The trainers, doctors and support staff at the Thunder facility have helped Collison with his rehab plan in his own facility, which means he can strengthen his knee and work on his game all at the same time.
“They’re the best at it and they know my history too,” Collison said of the Thunder staff. “To have everything at our facility with our training staff, the weight room and the little bit on the court I’m doing now. It’s all in one and it’s the best place for me to be to do my rehab.”
While Collison has been the bastion of consistency during his 12 years in the NBA, he and his teammates will have someone new at the center of their huddles this year. Billy Donovan, the Thunder’s head coach after 19 years at the University of Florida, has spent the last few weeks getting integrated into the Thunder’s culture by meeting players, assistant coaches and staff. An added bonus of Collison being around the facility is that he’s been able to meet with Donovan on several occasions, helping to get him acclimated to the organization.
“He’s a very sharp guy. I think he’s going to do a good job,” Collison said. “He’s learning more and more about our team and what we can get better at and learning more about our players.”
Collison has been in the league longer than any other player on the Thunder roster and has spent his entire career with the organization. That gives him a unique perspective on how teams grow and develop, where they must improve and how the little things make a world of difference throughout a season. In order to continue advancing as a program, Collison knows that he and his teammates must be ready for different ideas and concepts in order to apply them effectively.
“For players, it’s important that we’re receptive to new things and buy into new things,” Collison explained. “We’ve done things one way for a long time. A lot of things are going to be different. It doesn’t do any good to waste time fighting that. We need to come in with the idea that we’re going to be open minded, we need to get better and we need to buy into whatever the staff wants to do.”
“There are so many different phases of the game that we can get better at,” Collison continued. “We need to be receptive to that. If something is done differently, it could be better. We have to be open to that and we’ll see specifically what those things are when we get there.”
The tactics and the way the program is run on a day-to-day basis will certainly be important to the team’s success during the 2015-16 campaign, but with the roster assembled, there is plenty of reason for optimism based simply on the personnel. Although the Thunder battled through an adversity-riddled season that saw nearly every player miss extended time with an injury, the team looks ahead with confidence in what it can accomplish next season.
With core players Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka leading the group and vital role players like Anthony Morrow, Andre Roberson and Steven Adams around them, Collison sees a talented, diverse team that can be hard to contain on offense and potentially devastating on defense if it improves in certain core areas.
“There’s no guarantee that everyone is healthy all the time but we’re looking forward to having everybody back and are excited to play with the full squad again,” Collison explained. “We have a ton of talent. We have a great roster. It’s going to hopefully be a really good year for us.”
“It’s getting better at execution,” Collison continued. “If we can really execute on both ends and really get our defensive game back to where it was and become a good defensive team, we can be hard to beat.”
As for the rest of his summer, Collison will spend some time with family and relaxing, a crucial part of any NBA players’ offseason. The 82-game NBA schedule can be grueling and a grind, so coming into training camp refreshed with an attitude of excitement and a clear head is perhaps the most important part of embarking on the journey that is each season. Collison will balance out his work on the court and in the weight room with rest and time away from the game so that he’s ready to roll by the fall, eager, as the elder statesman, to join his teammates and new head coach.
“I have a good idea feel of what I like to do and what kind of shape I like to be in when I come back in September,” Collison said. “I’ll stick to that. That’s one of the good things about being around a long time. You start to figure your body out and figure those things out.”
“When you’re in your 30’s, like the wise old man that I am, I think I have that figured out pretty well, a good mix, and I’ll be ready to go when camp starts,” Collison concluded with a wry smile.
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