Jason Collins’ road from journeyman to household name

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Jason Collins was the kind of player NBA people like on their team, but not a guy who was a household name.

Until now.

Collins — a 12-year NBA veteran — came out as gay on Monday. He’s the first active major American team sport athlete to come out as gay.

At this point his game was not going to make him a household name. Here is what you need to know about Collins at this point in his career — the Boston Celtics didn’t want to trade him to the Washington Wizards this season. The two teams were talking about a deal to send Jordan Crawford to Boston, but the deal was going to fall apart if Collins wasn’t a part of it (so reports Marc Stein at ESPN).

Why? Because Collins is a great veteran presence in the locker room, and he can give you a few minutes a game of solid post defense. The Celtics wanted the size, the Wizards wanted a guy of Collins’ character in the locker room with their young players as they try to change that franchise’s culture. Collins said this about the way he plays in the article he wrote for Sports Illustrated:

On the court I graciously accept one label sometimes bestowed on me: “the pro’s pro.” I got that handle because of my fearlessness and my commitment to my teammates. I take charges and I foul — that’s been my forte. In fact, during the 2004-05 season my 322 personals led the NBA. I enter the court knowing I have six hard fouls to give. I set picks with my 7-foot, 255-pound body to get guys like Jason Kidd, John Wall and Paul Pierce open. I sacrifice myself for other players. I look out for teammates as I would my kid brother.

“He’s a pro’s pro. He is the consummate professional and he is one of my favorite “team” players I have ever coached,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said in a released statement.

Collins took a long road to get to this point, just not a road widely scene outside of NBA circles because he is not a star player. What he has been is a true professional at his craft — a guy who was certainly given gifts (he’s 7’0” and pretty athletic) but worked hard to polish those skills, he played to his strengths and with that carved out a nice 12-year NBA career that very well may continue on to a 13th season.

Collins and his brother Jarron grew up in Los Angeles and together they were stars at Harvard-Westlake High School — how good would your high school team have been if it had two seven-foot future NBA players on it? Exactly. They drew a whole lot of attention.

They were also good, well rounded students and decided to attend Stanford. Jason played four years there, along side future NBA players such as Mark Madsen and Brevin Knight. On the court the Cardinal made it to the Elite Eight one year and the Final Four the next and his senior year Collins averaged 14.5 points and 7.8 rebounds a game.

He was drafted No. 18 in the first round by the Houston Rockets but was instantly traded to the New Jersey Nets as part of a deal for Eddie Griffin.

Collins spent his first six seasons in the NBA with the Nets, coming into a good team led by Jason Kidd that in his rookie season reached the NBA Finals (Collins played 13 minutes a game off the bench for that Nets team that lost to the Lakers in the Finals).

Collins was a starter by his second season and an underrated part of those Nets teams — he provided a physical, defensive presence inside that provided a balance to the stars on that squad (Kidd, Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson). In his second season the Nets made the finals again but this time fell to the Spurs.

In 2008 Collins was traded from the Nets to the Memphis Grizzlies and that started the journeyman portion of his career — he has now played for six NBA teams.

What he has brought at every stop is what coaches love — a strong work ethic, a guy who can provide defense inside in the paint, and he’s been popular with teammates in the locker room.

Collins had been seeing fewer and fewer minutes in recent years; at age 34 he has been losing the battle with father time. He has racked up more fouls than points six of his last seven seasons. His role is pretty defined.

But there is a place for that role in the NBA, still. A guy who can provide defense and be good in the locker room can be a fit with a veteran team looking to make a playoff run, or a young team looking to show their players how to be a professional in the league (how to prepare your body and prepare mentally for games).

While Collins career was on one track, his personal growth and comfort with who he is grew as well and led him to this moment.

We’ll see if Collins sticks around in the NBA, he probably will for another season. But if not, he still had a solid NBA career, just not one that made him a household name.

Until now.

Dwyane Wade signs ‘lifetime’ deal with Li-Ning

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MIAMI (AP) Dwyane Wade has signed a lifetime contract with Chinese apparel company Li-Ning.

Wade made the deal official at an event in Beijing on Wednesday with the company’s CEO and namesake Li Ning, who is revered in China for his gymnastics success.

Wade’s relationship with Li-Ning began in 2012, after he previously was an endorser for Converse and Jordan Brand. In addition to the continued production of basketball and lifestyle apparel, the new deal calls for Wade to take “a greater role” in youth developmental camps and basketball clinics in China and other parts of the world over the coming years.

Wade finished last season with the Miami Heat. He has not decided if he will return to the Heat next season, which would be his 16th in the NBA.

New Bulls forward Jabari Parker: ‘They don’t pay players to play defense’

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Jabari Parker never found his footing with the Bucks. Parker’s injuries and Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s ascension left Parker – a top recruit then No. 2 overall pick – trying (and often failing) to to fit into a complementary role he clearly never envisioned for himself.

After signing a contract to become the Bulls’ highest-paid player, Parker is unapologetically embracing a new mission.

Parker, via 670 The Score:

I just stick to my strengths. Look at everybody in the league. They don’t pay players to play defense. There’s only two people historically that play defense. I’m not going to say I won’t, but to say that’s a weakness is like saying that’s everybody’s weakness. Because I’ve scored 30 and 20 on a lot of guys that say they play defense.

If you know the game, you also know that everyone’s a pro, right? And you know that certain guys have an average. No matter what you do, they still get that average. They pay people to score the ball, and I would hope that somebody scores the ball on me if they pay them that much. So, I’m not saying that to cop out or nothing. It’s the NBA. We’re professionals. Everybody scores. It’s just about limiting them as much as you can, trying to contain them.

A better offense wins a championship.

Parker is generally right. Scoring is rewarded far more than defense. If NBA teams don’t want to encourage that attitude, they ought to pay players more for other skills. Until then, players like Parker – who has no salary guarantee beyond this season – will continue to be drawn to scoring.

Parker is also correct that certain players get their points-per-game average no matter what. What he fails to explain: If that player needs too many shots to get it, he hurts his team. Good defenders force inefficiency from their opponents.

But, again, players who get theirs in the points column are often rewarded in salary.

So, expect Parker to hunt his points during his upcoming contract year.

These quotes only reinforce what we’d already seen from Parker. He showed glimpses of strong defense during this year’s playoffs, but that was rare for him. His skill set and approach are offense-first.

And great offense probably beats great defense. But offenses are rarely reliably great. Defense more often can be. The Warriors, as exceptional as they are offensively, are also elite defensively. I’m not sure Parker grasps that.

It’s on Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg to convince him, but managing this issue is easier said than done. Not only does Parker bring years of habits to Chicago, he’s playing to prove himself next season. The Bulls have a team option on him for 2019-20.

Parker will most positively affect winning by trying hard on both ends of the floor. He might most positively affect his bank account by saving his energy for offense.

You might not like him saying it, but it’s also reality.

Report: Kawhi Leonard warming to playing for Raptors

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Shortly after the Spurs traded Kawhi Leonard to the Raptors, word leaked he didn’t want to play for Toronto.

That stance is apparently softening.

Adrian Wojnarowski on ESPN:

They’ve been in communication with Kawhi Leonard’s camp. He’s going to play. He’ll be in training camp. He’s healthy. He may be at USA Basketball’s minicamp next week which Gregg Popovich is coaching. That’s possible.

But the one thing I was told today he’s started to warm to the idea that he’s going to a contender. He’s got a team that could be as good as anybody in the Eastern Conference.

And now it’s on Toronto to try to recruit him, keep him. But in his mind right now, he’s headed to L.A. next year.

Leonard has little choice but to get on board. If he withheld services from the Raptors, they could fine him – eventually all the way up to his entire $20,099,189 salary for next season. Perhaps even more catastrophically, if it was determined he withheld services for more than 30 days of the season, he could be denied free agency entirely.

Maybe he could have finessed using his injury as an excuse rather than explicitly holding out. It has been threatened before. But that’s hard to manage and would have hurt his stock among all teams, including his preferred destination(s).

The best way for Leonard to get everything he wants is going to Toronto, playing well then becoming a free agent next summer.

I’d advise Leonard to keep an open mind until then. It might have made sense to posture against the Raptors to discourage a trade. But the trade has happened. Maybe he’ll join Toronto and like it more than he expects.

Paul George didn’t expect to stay with the Thunder, but he considered them throughout the season and found a long-term home. I don’t expect that to repeat with Leonard and the Raptors, but it could. Why close the option?

If not, Los Angeles will always be waiting.

Report: Spurs wanted to declare Kawhi Leonard out for the season, but he wouldn’t let them

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In February, Gregg Popovich said he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard played again during the 2017-18 season. Leonard didn’t, but the Spurs never followed Popovich’s doubt with a clear statement on Leonard’s status. Instead, Popovich repeatedly deferred questions of Leonard’s health in the following months to Leonard’s “group.”

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Privately, officials within organization had hoped Leonard would let the Spurs declare him out for the season due to his injury, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. Believing he’d eventually return, Leonard declined each time

Did Leonard not realize this made him – not the Spurs – look bad? Especially once it leaked he’d been cleared medically. Especially when he told the team repeatedly and public once he’d return soon but never did.

Perhaps, this was just genuine competitiveness. Maybe Leonard really thought, or at least wanted to believe, a return was around the corner. This could have been him valiantly never giving up.

But there’s a reason teams usually err on the side of caution in long-term injury announcements. It’s to protect the player from looking bad for remaining out if he’s not quite ready as quickly as initially projected.

The Pacers received a disabled-player exception for Paul George in 2014-15, and he still beat the odds to return late in the year. The Celtics called Gordon Hayward out for this season and weren’t going to stray from that public stance until he suited up, even when – for a moment – it appeared he had a chance of returning.

Even if the Spurs publicly declared him out for the rest of the year, nothing would have stopped Leonard from playing. It’s not a binding resolution. Instead, he repeatedly missing targeted return dates and looked soft to many because of it.

And he insisted on the strategy that led to that perception!

This is just more evidence those around Leonard might not know what they’re doing.