Chorus of praise from Obama, others for Jason Collins shows times, they are a changin’

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Six years ago retired NBA player John Amaechi came out and announced he was gay after a four-teams-in-five-years NBA career. The reaction was decidedly mixed within the basketball community. What we all remember most was Tim Hardaway saying, “I hate gay people” (a stance he has since recanted).

There was a smattering of hate when Jason Collins came out as a gay man on Monday, but the tone was largely different — like polls have shown America’s attitude has shifted on the issue of gay and lesbian rights, the attitude of the NBA community has shifted. Collins spoke with Amaechi before making his announcement, but the reaction — including some very thoughtful journalism — is the sign of the steps we as a nation are taking toward acceptance, particularly among younger generations. And NBA is a young man’s game. There are many more steps to take, but some have been clearly taken.

In a sign of that, a number of players — including Kobe Bryant, a guy once fined for using a gay slur on the court — quickly came to Collins’ support. Then there was the call Collins got from President Barack Obama.

Hours after Collins disclosed his sexuality in an online article, Obama reached out by phone, expressing his support and telling Collins he was impressed by his courage, the White House said.

In the past couple years I was in an NBA locker room pregame (along with another reporter) speaking casually with guys getting ready for warm-ups when the topic of having a gay teammate came up (no, I’m not naming the players in an off-the-record conversation). One player said he would uncomfortable with an openly gay teammate. But the guy at the next locker looked up and piped in with a question “Can the guy play?” And among younger players that seems to be the focus — if he can contribute they don’t care what he does off the court. NBA players are protective of their privacy and are willing to extend that courtesy to others.

There has been a reaction from some that “is this a big deal?” But it is because unlike going into law or medicine or insurance sales, the professional team sport locker room was one last inhospitable work environment for gays.

Collins has helped changed that. You can bet there are other gay athletes right now in other American team sports who feel empowered by what Collins did. Amaechi told the AP that younger gay athletes also saw what Collins did and it gave them hope.

“I’m getting tons of messages right now from people talking to me about him, about what he’s done,” Amaechi told The Associated Press. “I’ve spoken to a couple of college athletes in the States and a couple of high school athletes who are very good who have been immensely buoyed by this news. They feel a weight lifted off them even if they aren’t out and they aren’t going to come out at this point.”

It’s another step in the march we as a nation are taking on the issue. Not everyone is going to come along but the path the nation is on with this issue is pretty clear. (Why do you think so many career politicians are changing their views on this? Self-preservation is a strong political instinct.)

Collins has taken a bold step. But the tone of the reactions just six years later shows how many steps we have already taken on this issue.

Watch the top 60 clutch shots from last NBA season

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It’s that time of the year when there is no basketball, so we fill the time with idle Kyrie Irving speculation and video highlights of last season.

Along those lines, above you can out the top 60 clutch shots from last season, as determined by the folks at NBA.com.

The great thing about the clutch shot list is the ball is in the hands of stars at the ends of games, so there is plenty of Russell Westbrook, John Wall, LeBron James, Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and more. Personally, I would have switch No. 1 and No. 2 on the list, but it’s all fun to relive.

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert: Pacers ‘could have done better’ on Paul George trade

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Kyrie Irving has requested a trade. LeBron James could leave next summer. The Cavaliers keep churning through general managers, the newest – Koby Altman – the reason for today’s press conference.

But Cavs owner Dan Gilbert looked past his own team’s turmoil and potential turmoil to take a shot at the Pacers, who traded Paul George to the Thunder for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.

“I will say Indiana could have done better than they did,” Gilbert said after Altman refused to directly address a question about George trade talks and shifted the discussion elsewhere.

This didn’t strike me as Gilbert trying to distract from Cleveland’s troubles. He just seemed to want to take a shot at a foe, something he’s no stranger to doing. The Cavaliers are particularly salty about their trade offer for George, which included Kevin Love, not being accepted.

For what it’s worth, Gilbert is right. The Pacers should have done better. Oladipo is now on a lucrative contract extension, and Sabonis spent his rookie season showcasing the reasons people doubted him the draft. That’s a piddling return for a star, even one on an expiring contract with dreams of joining the Lakers.

Report: Kings meet with former Magic GM Otis Smith about front-office job

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The Kings lost Scott Perry to the Knicks, so Sacramento is seeking someone else to aid Vlade Divac in the front office.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Former Orlando Magic general manager Otis Smith has met with Sacramento Kings officials about the franchise’s vacant vice president of basketball operations job, league sources told ESPN.

Smith has plenty of experience, which Divac lacks. But it’s not all good experience.

Running the Magic, Smith made numerous errors – including drafting Fran Vazquez (who has never played in the NBA) No. 11, overpaying Rashard Lewis and then trading Lewis for Gilbert Arenas’ even worse contract. If Smith’s Orlando tenure is predictive, he’ll indulge the Kings’ worst tendencies to mortgage the future for the present.

That said, Smith might have learned from his time with the Magic (though working under Stan Van Gundy with the Pistons the few couple years isn’t exactly the best place to hone long-term-planning skills). What amounts to an assistant general-manager role might be a better fit for him, too.

Usually, this opening wouldn’t garner so much attention. But Perry was lavished with praise for Sacramento’s offseason, raising the profile of this job – which already carried relative prominence. The No. 2 in the Kings’ front office is now perceived, somewhat fairly, as more important than the typical assistant general manager.

Lakers sign Tyler Ennis to minimum contract

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Jut before the trade deadline, the Lakers took a flier on Tyler Ennis, who had struggled in two-plus seasons with the Suns, Bucks and Rockets.

The former No. 18 pick finally looked like an NBA player in Los Angeles, so he’s returning.

Lakers release:

The Los Angeles Lakers have signed guard Tyler Ennis, it was announced today by General Manager Rob Pelinka.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

This is fantastic value for the Lakers. Ennis is probably worth a minimum salary, and if he is, they have him for two years at that price. If not, they can drop him for no cost next summer, when their cap room will be at a premium. This is the type of bet smart teams make, which bodes well for the Magic Johnson regime.

Ennis’ productivity in Los Angeles might not be sustainable. He shot well above his career marks on 3-pointers and free throws in a small sample. But he looked more comfortable on the court, showing some of the savvy he was expected to bring from Syracuse. He’s also just 22, and point guards tend to develop later than other positions.

The Lakers still have their room exception, which they could use on another point guard. So, it’s uncertain whether Ennis will back up Lonzo Ball or fall to third string. I’m not sure any remaining free-agent point guards – Ty Lawson, Deron Williams, Brandon Jennings, Ramon Sessions – will command more than the minimum or playing time over Ennis, though.