Jason Collins’s barrier-shattering revelation that he is gay will have no influence on the Washington Wizards’ plans with him this offseason, a person with knowledge of the team’s thinking said Tuesday.
Bringing back a 34-year-old free agent center with limited skills was never among the team’s priorities — and that has not changed. That doesn’t mean Collins will not return to Washington, the person said, but if the 7-foot center wants to continue his NBA career it will likely be elsewhere.
Coach Randy Wittman rarely used the 12-year-veteran after acquiring him from the Boston Celtics at the trade deadline. Collins appeared in six of a possible 30 games with the Wizards, contributing just four points, eight rebounds, four blocks and 11 fouls; he never played more than 18 minutes in a game.
Starting big men Emeka Okafor and Nene, and Kevin Seraphin, the primary backup for both, are all under contract next season. The team also has three other young and developing power forwards — Trevor Booker,Chris Singleton or Jan Vesely on the roster, though one of them could potentially be traded this summer.
Collins’s announcement in a thoughtful, first-person Sports Illustrated story has created a conundrum for the NBA, which does not want to appear intolerant but whose teams could wind up passing on Collins this offseason. While he would represent a relatively inexpensive option for a team in need of a physical defender at the veteran minimum salary of roughly $1.35 million, Collins will turn 35 in December and is at a stage in his career when declining, low-impact players are generally pushed aside.
Collins expressed his desire to keep playing before the season ended. In an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Tuesday, Collins said, “I’m ready, and I think the country is ready for supporting an openly gay basketball player.”
Speaking with TNT during the telecast of Monday night’s Game 4 between Atlanta and Indiana, NBA Commissioner David Stern said he doubted that Collins hindered his future career opportunities as the first active openly gay male athlete in major U.S. professional sports.
“I think that our guys want to win. If he can help, he’ll be signed. If it’s viewed that he can’t, then he won’t be,” Stern said. “But it will not be on this issue. For sure.”
One Eastern Conference general manager, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he is certain that Collins will be able to latch on to a team next season because of his professionalism, basketball smarts and ability to defend in the low post.
ESPN.com’s Marc Stein spoke to 14 NBA teams to ask if they thought Collins would be back in the league next season. Six thought that he would, while the other eight felt that his age and lack of production would lead to his exit.
Collins’s agent, Arn Tellem, wrote in a separate Sports Illustrated piece that he hopes a team will sign Collins. “I’m confident that Jason’s unassailable determination and strength of character will evoke a sense of pride in him within the sports world and pave the way for other gay athletes,” he wrote.
Celtics Coach Doc Rivers told reporters on Tuesday that Collins’s declaration would “be a non-issue, eventually” and has repeatedly praised him for the contributions he made to the team. Rivers also is open to having Collins back in uniform.
Collins has received considerable support from current and former teammates and others around the league. Wizards guard Garrett Temple said he didn’t believe Collins would have a problem being welcomed back into the game.
“I definitely think it’s possible for a guy who has come out to be in the locker room, but it’s a matter of if the guys are just focused on basketball,” Temple said. “This is our job. We’re trying to win games and it’s all about basketball. It’s all about winning games. And if that’s what you’re focused on, you’re not going to be affected by anything else.”
In his Sports Illustrated piece, Collins wrote, “The biggest concern seems to be that gay players will behave unprofessionally in the locker room. Believe me, I’ve taken plenty of showers in 12 seasons. My behavior wasn’t an issue before, and it won’t be one now. My conduct won’t change. I still abide by the adage, ‘What happens in the locker room stays in the locker room.’ I’m still a model of discretion.”
Collins added that he expects to hear the occasional taunt. “Next season a few more eyeballs are likely to be on me. That only motivates me to work harder,” he said.