After failing to acquire a frontcourt player before the NBA's trade deadline passed Thursday afternoon, the Brooklyn Nets' focus shifted to a list of free-agent big men they could sign and plug into their rotation down the stretch.
On that list was one particularly intriguing name: Jason Collins.
Collins, a 35-year-old center, drew attention last spring when he announced that he was gay, just weeks after finishing the regular season with the Washington Wizards. It was a landmark moment: There has not been an openly gay athlete in the four major North American sports leagues.
Despite his desire to continue his career, Collins was unable to find a team willing to sign him for this season. If he does join the Nets, his first game would represent another pioneering event.
The Nets have two open roster spots, and general manager Billy King said Thursday, hours after the trade deadline, that the team would look to sign a free agent to buttress its frontcourt rotation. King said Collins was an obvious candidate but emphasized that discussions about several possibilities, including players in the Development League and ones based abroad, would continue over the coming days.
"We're looking at any guys that are big, and he's one of the guys," King said of Collins. "But we've got other guys we're going to look at."
King was not present when Collins worked out for the team last weekend in Los Angeles. Asked if he had received a report on Collins after the workout, King said, "He's in shape."
Collins, who has played for six teams during a 12-year professional career, spent his first 6 1/2 seasons with the Nets, who were based at the time in New Jersey. He has played alongside Jason Kidd, now the Nets' coach, as well as Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce during a stint last season with the Boston Celtics. In his career, Collins has averaged 6.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per 36 minutes.
In an interview in October with The New York Times, Collins re-emphasized his belief that he could help a team. Although he declined to speculate then whether opening up about his sexual orientation had limited his opportunities, he said, "I feel there are players in the league right now that, quite frankly, I'm better than."
Collins has continued to work out in Los Angeles, and in that interview, he seemed to foresee a situation like this one.
"This is not an unprecedented situation, as far as being a veteran and not joining a team until later in the season," he said. "So there are a lot of ways that this can play out."
The Nets, who acquired guard Marcus Thornton on Wednesday, are looking for help down the stretch, particularly with rebounding and on the defensive end. King said that he had discussions about a number of potential trades before the deadline but that he could not find a deal that he felt would benefit the team.
Asked about the attention the Nets would gain if he signed Collins, King said the team considered all aspects and ramifications of signing a player during the decision-making process. But he insisted that it ultimately would come down to what a player could do on the court.
"It's not about marketing or anything like that," King said. "If we're bringing somebody in, it's because we feel like they can help our basketball team."
He added, "We're beyond doing something for gimmicks."
New York Times