Sources: Nets eye Jason Collins
The Brooklyn Nets are giving strong consideration to signing Jason Collins to a 10-day contract that would position the free-agent center to become the NBA's first active openly gay player, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
Sources told ESPN.com that the Nets, after letting Thursday's trade deadline pass without making a deal for Los Angeles Lakers forward Jordan Hill, have identified Collins as a prime candidate to fill one of their two open roster spots and bolster a depleted frontcourt rotation via a 10-day deal.
No final decision has been made, but the Nets on Thursday night confirmed an earlier ESPN.com report that Collins was auditioned by the team in a private workout in Los Angeles earlier this week to assess the state of the 35-year-old's game.
Nets general manager Billy King acknowledged the workout in an evening conference call with local reporters after the passing of the trade deadline but said he did not attend it in person. When asked to share the feedback he received on Collins, King said: "He's in shape."
"He's one of the names on the list," King said of Collins. "We will look at anybody that's a free agent that's big that's out there. We're looking at any guys that are free agents and he's one of the guys. But we've got other guys that we'll look at."
"We're going to look to add a guy," King said, "that we feel will help us."
The Nets (25-27), three games behind Atlantic Division-leading Toronto entering Thursday's play, are one game into a five-game Western Conference swing. One scenario under consideration, sources said, is making a 10-day roster addition during the trip.
Nets coach Jason Kidd confirmed Friday on WFAN that Collins is one of multiple candidates that management could decide to sign.
"For me, it's about coaching the guys that I have or will have," Kidd said. "I think he's a possibility for a big that's out there, but we also have to look at other candidates too. So I can't say that he's not a candidate, but we're looking."
Collins' potential reunion with the franchise, for whom he played during his first six-plus seasons in the league, would put the 7-footer in line to become the first openly gay athlete to play in any of North America's four traditional major team sports.
University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam announced he is gay earlier this month in an ESPN "Outside The Lines" interview but wouldn't make his NFL debut until the fall. L.A. Galaxy midfielder Robbie Rogers became the first openly gay male athlete to play in a top U.S. professional sports league when he made his Major League Soccer debut in May 2013, just three months after coming out.
And John Amaechi, who spent five seasons in the NBA with Orlando, Utah and Cleveland, disclosed his sexual orientation three years after his playing career ended in a 2007 book titled "Man In The Middle."
Collins made his own announcement about his sexual orientation to Sports Illustrated in April 2013, in a story that ran in the magazine's May 6 issue. The 12-year veteran has said many times since that he has worked himself into the best physical shape of his career, but Collins -- apart from an August audition with the Detroit Pistons -- had been unable to persuade NBA teams to so much as invite him to training camp.
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The Nets, though, are an organization filled with Collins supporters and experienced players less likely to be fazed by the media blitz the signing inevitably will spark, which is among the factors most frequently cited to explain why it has taken so long for Collins to find a new team.
For starters, Collins would be reunited with Kidd, who played alongside the defensive-minded big man in New Jersey from 2001 to 2008, making two trips together to the NBA Finals. Collins also played with Nets guard Joe Johnson for three seasons in Atlanta and spent half of the 2012-13 season in Boston alongside Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett before being traded to the Washington Wizards. Collins is friends with injured Nets center Brook Lopez, who, like Collins, played alongside his twin brother at Stanford.
The Nets are looking for some added size and depth at the center position after losing Lopez for the season to yet another broken foot in December. Sources said that this week's trade of backup bruiser Reggie Evans to Sacramento, along with the Nets' decision Thursday against trading for Hill, created a further need in Brooklyn's frontcourt.
King scoffed at the suggestion that Collins was being considered for a 10-day deal for mere publicity reasons, saying: "We're going to bring in a basketball player. It's not about marketing or anything like that. ... We are trying to get a guy in who can play basketball at this point. That's my focus."
Yet King did concede that the media blitz that would likely engulf the Nets, at least to start, is something that has to be accounted for in the decision-making process.
"You look at it from every aspect when you add a player," King said.
Kidd said Collins would play just as big a role with the team as any other new addition.
"Well, it definitely can help," Kidd said on WFAN. "As you can see, everyone on the team plays. There's nights when KG can't play that we need another big to step up, so whoever joins our family, if anyone, will have the opportunity to play."
Kidd said Collins' sexuality would not be a factor in the locker room.
"It's not a worry," Kidd said on WFAN. "Jason for me is a teammate that I've played with and a friend. It's about basketball. And for him, [it's an] opportunity to help if it's the Nets or another NBA team, which I think he can do. I think it's a great opportunity for him and any team that does sign him."
King acknowledged that a well-rounded defender, as much an outright rebounding specialist, would appeal to the Nets, which would appear to enhances Collins' chances of landing at least a 10-day deal given that his specialties are positioning, pick-sitting and post defense. No Net could use a hand more than Garnett, who has been starting at center in place of the injured Lopez and anchoring the Nets' defense but could find himself rested in several games during the regular-season stretch run given Brooklyn's eight remaining back-to-backs.
Despite his modest career averages of 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds, Collins is a natural target for the Nets given his defensive know-how, history with the franchise and reputation as a great teammate. Trading for the Lakers' Hill, furthermore, would have added an estimated $17 million to the Nets' books when accounting for salary and luxury taxes, which would have spiked this season's financial obligations to nearly $211 million.
Collins was the 18th pick in the 2001 draft by Houston before being sent to the Nets in a draft-night deal. He has played for Memphis and Minnesota in addition to his stints with the Nets, Hawks, Celtics and Wizards.
When Sam made his announcement on Feb. 9, some three months before the NFL draft in May, Collins took to Twitter to call him "a great young man who has shown tremendous courage and leadership."
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