On his flight last Friday from Los Angeles to Boston, where he had to gather some belongings before joining the Wizards, newly acquired big man Jason Collins sat next to “American Idol” producer Nigel Lythgoe.
“He was a cool guy,” Collins said. “I was like, ‘Yo, that ‘American Idol’ thing…”
No need to worry about Collins taking a different career path, or seeing him stand in front of Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj to audition for the singing competition. Collins knows what he is, what got him here, and why he still remains in the NBA after getting selected in the first round of the 2001 NBA draft.
“Twelve years of being able to foul people,” the self-aware Collins said on Saturday with a laugh, shortly after joining his sixth team in the past five years.
Collins is the only player Washington acquired in the Jordan Crawford deal who will actually suit up for the team this season, with Leandro Barbosa out for the rest of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and resting in Brazil. But Collins doesn’t expect his role with the Wizards to be much different than it was in his previous stops in Memphis, Minnesota, Atlanta or Boston, where he mostly came off the bench to make big men like Dwight Howard work extra hard to score … and to deliver hard fouls.
“I’ve sort of found my niche role in the league, as far as being a solid low-post defender, go out there, box, rebound, be physical and use all six of my fouls,” Collins said. “You can’t take ‘em home with you.”
The 7-foot Collins has career averages of just 3.7 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.9 fouls and has recorded more fouls than points in six of his past seven seasons. In 2006-07, Collins committed 273 fouls and scored just 169 points. He joked that he wears No. 98 to give referees more problems when they have to use their fingers to submit his jersey number to scorekeepers after he commits a foul.
“The stats aren’t pretty. I do what I do out there,” Collins said.
The Celtics didn’t originally intend on including Collins in the trade, after initially putting former Maryland forward Chris Wilcox in the package before Wilcox used his no-trade clause to veto the deal. Collins has been traded four times in his career – Houston shipped him to New Jersey in a draft day deal in 2001 – and twice during the regular season.
But the trade from Boston was difficult, since he had to leave a playoff contender to join a team near the bottom of the NBA standings.
“Anytime you leave an organization like the Boston Celtics it’s tough,” Collins said. “It’s the nature of the business and in the NBA, there is a business side to the sport and you have to be ready for any situation.”
Collins has been forced to make adjustments to his game over his career, going from a starter on a team that reached the NBA Finals his first two seasons to now being a reserve for a lottery team. Along each stop, Collins has accepted his role without complaint, which has aided his longevity.
“That’s the nature of everyone’s career. Sometimes, you’re starting in the Finals and 12 years later, now this is your role and you continue to adapt, continue to stay in shape, continue to work hard and you just keep hanging in there,” Collis said. “I think that’s just in life, it’s adapt to survive. You learn that Father Time is undefeated. I’m 34 now, I can’t do what I was doing at 24. At the same time, I’m able to go out there to make plays to help the team win.”
Collins played for Coach Randy Wittman in Minnesota in 2008-09 and Wittman was pleased to be reunited with him.
“A quality, quality human being. Been in the league a long time,” Wittman said. “I think he’ll give our young guys an example and he can be an ear for them and help them understand the ups and downs of this league, being in the locker rom. And he’s a big body for us. To play against the centers that we still have to play against. Gives us another banger against those big centers.”
After getting dealt, Collins scrolled over the coaching staff and noticed some familiar faces from his previous stops, including assistants Jerry Sichting and Don Newman. “Kind of funny, I saw all the assistant coaches and was like, I was with you New Jersey, you in Minnesota, so I’ve been on several different organizations. You the NBA is sort of like of fraternity, along the different stops, you’ll see familiar faces.”
Collins added that the familiarity should help him have an easier adjustment in Washington.
“They know the kind of player and person I am. They’re not asking me to go out there and shoot threes or bring the ball up the court,” Collins said. “If I had to, I could dust that off…but nah.”