Column: Dwight Howard, Yes, But How About Collins?
The Los Angeles Lakers want Dwight Howard so badly they put up billboards urging him to stay in town, then got Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash to get on bended knee before him.
The Houston Rockets want Howard pretty badly themselves, promising the free agent everything but a Texas oil well and bringing in Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler to try to seal the deal.
Around the NBA there’s a rush to lock up talent just a few days into the free agency period. Indiana will keep power forward David West for another three years, Martell Webster agreed to a four-year deal to stay with Washington, and Minnesota filled a key need by agreeing to a deal with shooting guard Kevin Martin.
Interestingly enough, no one is talking much about Jason Collins, whose signing could be very important to the NBA for reasons that have nothing to do with basketball. The veteran center would be the first openly gay player to share a locker room in the league, should a team come forward with a free agent offer.
But for now Collins goes to the back of the line because of what he is, not who he is: a backup center just hoping to get a job.
"It’s strictly basketball," said TNT analyst and former Phoenix general manager Steve Kerr. "A team will sign a guy like him for basketball reasons, but it will more than likely happen late because you can always sign a guy at the league minimum."
The good news for Collins is that he’s a 7-footer known as a smart and physical center who can play defense. His numbers last year for Boston and Washington were minuscule - averages of 1.1 points, 1.6 rebounds and 10.1 minutes per game in 38 games - but he’s a role player who can fill a final position on a team that has specific needs. And at the veteran minimum of $1.4 million, he comes relatively cheap.
Kerr believes a team in the Eastern Conference may sign Collins just to have him on the roster in the playoffs to guard someone like Indiana’s Roy Hibbert on the inside. He said the Suns did the same thing when he was running the team by signing Collins’ brother, Jarron, on the theory they needed someone to guard San Antonio’s Tim Duncan in the playoffs.
"I think Jason probably fits in that mold somewhere," Kerr said. "He’s well regarded around the league and I think he still has some life left in his legs. You can sign a guy for one game, one matchup, and it becomes worth it if it works."
The question then becomes whether it’s worth it for a team to pursue Collins when factors other than basketball come into play. Though his announcement in April that he was gay was widely acclaimed throughout the league, there’s a lot of attention that will come to any team he plays for simply because of the fanfare it received.