Jason Collins’ coming out as gay shouldn’t affect his free agency

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When I read Jason Collins’ story in Sport Illustrated coming out as gay, my first thought was: good. This is an exciting moment, a historic declaration by Collins, who is tearing down the homophobia that once permeated through American team sports.

Much later, my another thought kicked in: dread.

As Collins notes in his story, he’s a pending free agent who still wants to play in the NBA. What he doesn’t say: he’ll turn 35 next season, his offense is practically non-existent, and he rebounds poorly.

If no NBA team signs him this summer, the narrative will surely shift into basketball’s small-mindedness. Collins will become a martyr, and NBA teams will be vilified.

That would be unfair to everyone involved.

Collins will surely be compared to Jackie Robinson, who baseball didn’t run out of the game simply because he was black. But Robinson was 28 when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers and had Hall of Fame-caliber talent. Collins’ premier NBA accomplishment is leading the league in fouls in 2004-05, and he was a much better player then.

Collins is an extremely limited player – he’s has more fouls than points in six of his last seven seasons – and he’s declining, as nearly all players do, with age. He made his late-career mark for defending Dwight Howard, but Howard shot 6-for-8 and scored 19 points in 24 minutes against Collins this year. Collins’ most obvious physical comparison is his twin brother Jarron, who last played in 2011.

The Celtics and Wizards allowed fewer points per possession with Collins on the court, so there’s certainly potential he can still contribute. But signing any 34-year-old, especially a big man, comes with significant risk.

After watching closely as his Nets gave the Pistons fits in the playoffs a decade ago, I developed a healthy respect for Collins, who was definitely underrated while starting with Jason Kidd, Kerry Kittles, Richard Jefferson and Kenyon Martin.

But no player can outlast father time, and it’s at least possible Collins time has passed as an NBA player for no other reason than he’s no longer good enough. That’s totally OK.

Please don’t make Collins’ free agency – without evidence of malfeasance – part of the case that professional basketball isn’t accepting of gay players. (If there is reliable evidence, please make a huge deal out of it.)

Yesterday, Collins wasn’t lock to stick in the NBA, and the same is true today. It’s great to celebrate Collins’ announcement for what it is – a monumental moment in not just sports, but American, history. But, when the time comes to judge Collins’ playing ability, let’s do so for what it is: right on the border of NBA level.

If an NBA team signs him this offseason, great. If not, that’s fine too. That’s what happens to players like Collins. Let’s not taint his legitimate basketball ability by making his free agency about today’s announcement. As Collins writes, he wants to “show that gay players are no different from straight ones.”

Joel Embiid upgrades himself from 69% to 81%: ‘Shoutout to Jalen Rose’

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A story in three parts:

1. After posting 46-15-7-7 in a win over the Lakers, frequently injured 76ers center Joe Embiid declared himself to be 69%:

2. ESPN analyst Jalen Rose called that joke “unprofessional:”

3. Embiid upgraded his status to 81% with a “shoutout to Jalen Rose:”

In case you didn’t get the joke.

Celtics’ Kyrie Irving: “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

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The Celtics established themselves as one of the NBA’s elite teams, a contender for the Eastern Conference title, during their 16-game win streak.

However, that hot streak to start the season will matter as much as Thanksgiving leftovers in the back of the refrigerator in April by the time the playoffs roll around. This is a team that still has work to do.

Which is what Kyrie Irving was getting at in this post-loss quote from Friday night, via Israel Gutierrez of ESPN.

“There’s still a lot to accomplish going forward,” Irving said. “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

This team still needs to get better and more consistent. The Celtics had to come from behind in the fourth quarter in eight of the 16 wins, and while the team defense was impressive the offense still can be hit and miss. Al Horford and Kyrie Irving play well off each other, but this is still the 20th ranked offense in the NBA. They are taking more long midrange jumpers than most coaches want, but the bigger challenge is they have not been finishing around the basket.

Titles are not won in November. Irving gets that. Jayson Tatum will hit the rookie wall at some point (they all do) and he needs to prove he can break through. Al Horford is playing maybe the best ball of his career and needs to keep it up. The Celtics need to keep their defensive focus (the fundamentals are there to have a top five defense). I could go on but you get the point, and so does Irving — there is a lot of work for this team to do.

Boston is off to a fantastic start, but it’s just that.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: I’ve never seen injury like Kawhi Leonard’s

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Gregg Popovich is a basketball lifer.

He’s the NBA’s most experienced active head coach. Before that, he was the Spurs’ general manager. Before that, he was an NBA assistant. Before that, he was a college head coach and assistant. Before that, he was a college player. Before that, he was a youth player.

The San Antonio coach has seen everything.

Except the right quadriceps tendinopathy suffered by Kawhi Leonard, whom Popovich said more than a week would return “sooner rather than later.” Yet, Leonard still hasn’t played this season.

Popovich, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

“Never, never,” Popovich said when asked whether he has seen such a condition hampering one of his players. “What’s really strange is that [point guard] Tony [Parker] has the same injury, but even worse. They had to go operate on his quad tendon and put it back together or whatever they did to it. So to have two guys, that’s pretty incredible. I had never seen it before those guys.”

“I keep saying sooner rather than later,” Popovich said jokingly. “It’s kind of like being a politician. It’s all baloney, doesn’t mean anything.”

The 26-year-old Leonard is one of the NBA’s biggest on-court stars. He might be the league’s best defender, and he has built himself into an offensive force. The Spurs (11-7) have fared fine without him so far, but they’ll need him to accomplish their main goals – this year and beyond.

Hopefully, Leonard’s health is better than it sounds here, because Popovich’s answer sure isn’t encouraging.

Tim Hardaway Jr. calls fallen ref safe rather than defend shot (video)

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The Knicks went on a 28-0 run.

They earned the right to showboat late in their win over the Raptors last night.

Tim Hardaway Jr. called a ref, who slipped on the baseline, safe rather than contest Serge Ibaka‘s 3-pointer. Perfection!