NBA training camps opened Tuesday and the biggest name missing was Jason Collins, a free agent who has yet to get a contract offer. The fact that Collins is openly gay -- the first such active player in NBA history -- has led to a lot of speculation as to whether his sexual orientation is the reason he's out of a job.
Two excellent reports come down more on Collins' age (34) and diminishing skill set as the reasons, yet they do acknowledge that his being openly gay could be a contributing factor. From Marc Stein at ESPN.com:
There are simply no guarantees when it comes to Collins' NBA future, no matter how many of us out there wanted to believe that the 34-year-old would be back in the league come fall after announcing to the world that he's gay on the pages of Sports Illustrated in late April. The unpleasant truth about Collins' job prospects is that several teams don't think he can make a telling on-court contribution any more ... and felt that way long before his announcement.
This is echoed by Shaun Powell at Sports On Earth:
Collins is slow-footed, an average rebounder at this stage of his career and absolutely lost when he has the ball. At best, he can give the starting center a rest or be useful in a 10-minute spot against an opposing center who's a threat in the low post, although those types of centers are becoming rare.
Virtually all the comments on these two stories concur that Collins simply is not worth it as a player. But Stein does allow that the visibility of Collins -- rare for someone at the end of a team's roster -- could also be at play.
Any potential employer would undoubtedly prefer coping with that media sideshow after the regular season is underway, when there are plenty of other newsy team matters going on to keep press gnats occupied. Having Collins on the roster from Day 1 turns media day into Jason Collins day and creates an undeniable distraction in October at a time when obsessive coaches don't want to think about anything other than reinforcing the ins and outs of their offensive and defensive systems.
There is also a PR risk if a team cuts Collins after camp has started. For this reason, Stein thinks Collins is likely to get an offer well into the season, perhaps as late as February. He mentions the Washington Wizards, Los Angeles Clippers and Brooklyn Nets as possible landing spots; Collins has ties to players or coaches on all three teams and his twin brother, Jarron, is a Clippers scout.
Powell, on the same page as Stein, does allow that Collins being openly gay is a factor:
Because the NBA is all about talent and will give anyone a look, even those with long rap sheets, it's hard to imagine teams ignoring Collins if they thought he could be in the rotation. Right now, many don't. And some teams with a soft interest in Collins are probably unwilling to deal with the media attention and the possible -- possible -- risk of some teammates feeling uncomfortable in the locker room.
For his part, Collins is staying in shape and ready to answer the call. He is not naive about the interest in him playing, telling Powell: "I realize a lot of eyeballs will be on me when I do get the opportunity, and I will be ready for that."
I don't know why Collins does not have a contract. It's entirely possible that had he stayed closeted, he would be in the same position he is now. On the other hand, teams hate distractions and signing him will be exactly that. I spoke with an NBA beat writer this summer who guestimated that a half-dozen teams would shy away from Collins because of the conservative nature of their ownership. Even if true, that leaves 24 other teams. Whatever the reason, Collins does not have a job, so we might not be seeing the NBA's first openly gay player actually take the floor this season.