Last April, veteran NBA center Jason Collins shook the sports world by coming out of the closet in a personal essay he wrote for Sports Illustrated. After that announcement, he has yet to play in a single NBA game. In a summer with plenty of high profile free agent signings, including Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Andre Iguodala, Brandon Jennings, Andrew Bynum, and Josh Smith, Collins stood as one of the more intriguing free agent candidates.
Pundits and analysts mulled over his homosexuality as a possible factor that might affect his future in the NBA, but that likely will have little effect whether or not a team will sign him. As we have seen in the recent past with players such as Kurt Thomas, Marcus Camby, Rasheed Wallace, Jermaine O’Neal, Chris Wilcox, Ben Wallace, and Lou Amundson, there is always room in the NBA for a big man. Despite seeing a steady decline in production and lacking any serious offensive game whatsoever, Jason Collins has a wealth of incredibly valuable experience, including twelve NBA seasons, eight playoff appearances as a starter, and two NBA Finals appearances as a starting center. He’s still in great shape, and even this far into his career, Collins continues to be an excellent post-up defender, a role that still has a great deal of value in today’s NBA. In addition, many of Collins’ past teammates have lauded his leadership skills as well as his ability to be an excellent teammate. Also, you just can’t teach seven feet.
That said, there are still a handful of NBA teams that could use Collins on their bench who can still provide valuable minutes on defense and leadership intangibles for young players. Here are the top five teams that should sign Jason Collins for the 2013-2014 NBA season:
5. The Washington Wizards
The Wizards are the most recent team that Collins has played for, and they are in serious need of an extra big man. Emeka Okafor, the Wizards’ starting center, is out indefinitely, meaning the Wiz will have spread minutes to the backups. Though Nene has had experience in the past at the center position, he works much better defensively as a power forward. Kevin Seraphin is a solid big man, but still fairly young. D’or Fischer, currently in the Wizards’ training camp, has yet to play an NBA game. The Wizards are a defensive minded team, and Collins would fit in perfectly to that.
4. The Boston Celtics
Jason Collins started the 2012-2013 season on the Celtics, and Celtics coach Doc Rivers absolutely loved having him on the team. With the Celtics currently in rebuild mode and full of young big men such as Kelly Olynyk and Vitor Faverani, they could really use the experience on their bench, at least to give new coach Brad Stevens a little help.
3. The Orlando Magic
Nikola Vucevic showed last season that he has tremendous potential at the center position and likely needs some veteran training so he can learn how to defend in the post. The Magic currently have Mickell Gladness and Solomon Jones signed, but Collins certainly is a better option as a backup based on his credentials and his playoff resume.
2. The Los Angeles Clippers
Probably the only team on this list with any chance of winning a title this season, the Clippers are full of experienced veterans and have a championship coach finally at the helm. Why sign Collins? As I said before, Doc Rivers loves having Collins on his team, and starting C DeAndre Jordan has yet to reach his true potential. A year with a veteran Center with NBA Finals experience could be exactly what Jordan needs to finally become the player he’s expected to be. In addition, Clippers backup C Ryan Hollins is inconsistent and not especially reliable, and F/C Byron Mullens plays much better at the 4 than the 5.
1. The Phildelphia 76ers
The Sixers are in full rebuild mode after firing coach Doug Collins, trading away an All-Star point guard (Jrue Holiday) for a rookie center who likely won’t play until February (Nerlens Noel), and letting Andrew Bynum go into free agency. The Philadelphia 76ers aren’t really going anywhere this season. If winning this year is not a priority for the Sixers and they need to spend money on somebody, why not sign Jason Collins? At the very least he’ll defend well and be a great role model for the young Nerlens Noel. At this point, the Sixers at the very least couldn’t do worse.
Collins still has some juice left to extend his career for another season or two, and his leadership skills and team-first mentality will make any team better in some way. Some teams may be concerned about the media frenzy that might come along with signing the first ever openly gay NBA player, but that shouldn’t dissuade any team for considering picking Collins up; at the end of the day, it’s all about winning, and Jason Collins knows how to win.