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Nets make history before beating Lakers

The Nets became the first team to sign an openly-gay player in Jason Collins Sunday before playing the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Nets became the first team to sign an openly-gay player in Jason Collins Sunday before playing the Los Angeles Lakers.
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The Brooklyn Nets made another headline-grabbing move before taking the floor in Hollywood on Sunday night.

Under the bright lights of Los Angeles, the Nets signed free agent center Jason Collins to a 10-day contract. Collins became the first openly gay athlete in the four major professional sports to sign a contract. After inking the deal in the afternoon, Collins took the floor against the Lakers.

The Nets won a 108-102 decision against the struggling Lakers, courtesy of Deron Williams’ first 30-point game of the season. Paul Pierce added 25 points while Collins grabbed two rebounds in 10:37.

While Collins’ journey certainly makes for a feel good story, his basketball skills at age 35 will come into question. He does not boast any of the qualities that make for a successful center in this league. Collins does not run the floor well, cannot shoot at a high clip, and displays little athleticism or offensive acumen.

While Collins provides inspiration to millions, he will likely offer few solutions to the Nets’ interior woes. The Lakers bigs still had their way with the Nets in the paint. Pau Gasol went for 22 points and 11 rebounds, Jordan Hill notched 11 points and eight rebounds, and Chris Kaman tallied eight points and four rebounds. The three players combined to shoot 17-for-28 (60.7 percent).

Fans and pundits will dissect Collins’ game in order to find all the positives he brings to the team, but the Nets always preach championship. Maybe Collins can galvanize a locker room or play a few sparing minutes, but he cannot impact the game like other free agents or players already on the Nets’ roster. Current free agents like Glen Davis and Ivan Johnson bring more to the table at this point in their respective careers. Those aforementioned players would not help much, either.

“The decision to sign Jason was a basketball decision,” King said.

Historically, Collins has never averaged overwhelming numbers. General manager Billy King pointed to purely basketball, but the hard evidence does not point to an impactful contributor.

Collins posted the following numbers throughout the previous four seasons:

2010: 2.0 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 49 games
2011: 1.3 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 30 games
2012: 1.2 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 32 games
2013: 0.7 ppg, 1.3 rpg, six games

Collins’ lengthy stay on the unemployment line pointed more to a lack of production than his sexual orientation. At least publicly, most professional athletes rightly favor the ability for anyone to play the games at the highest level, regardless of race, sexuality, creed, and so forth. The former Net never displayed an abundance of talent when he last played with the organization 10 years ago in East Rutherford, though. He certainly hustles and sets hard screens, but most fans and analysts wanted Reggie Evans jettisoned out of town for virtually the same skillset.

Mason Plumlee, a spry albeit green rookie, notched four points and five rebounds by his lonesome in the first quarter against the Lakers. And Plumlee can run the floor, play above the rim, and consistently rebound. If neither player can catapult the Nets to championship glory, shouldn’t they operate with the younger and more productive player?

Whether intended or not, the Nets put themselves back in the public conscience. This time, they generated positive reviews. If Collins can help the Nets win, then suit him up and put him in the game, coach. Despite the feel-good story, that scenario appears contrary to all the available evidence.

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