Free agency has begun in the NBA, but teams aren't exactly falling over themselves for a 34-year-old center with career averages of 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. That means Jason Collins, the NBA's first openly gay player, could become NBA's first openly gay player to not have a job come October.
Let's just say it very clearly: Jason Collins is not Dwight Howard. Howard, who went from the Orlando Magic to the Los Angeles Lakers, where he did not mesh with Kobe Bryant, had the entire sports world (including his own teammates) speculating on which team he'd sign with once free agency began. Billboards around Los Angeles begged him to stay, Rockets forward Chandler Parsons asked him to come play in Houston, and pitches came from owners like the Dallas Mavericks' Mark Cuban. In the end, Howard chose Houston, for which Bryant stopped following him on Twitter.
Collins is not being courted to any such degree, because he's not nearly as good as Howard. Nor is he as skilled or productive as the next crop of players, like Andre Iguodala and Nikola Pekovic, nor as sought-after as center Omer Asik, who is making a stink about losing his starting spot to Howard. To add insult to injury, Chris Kaman—a perpetually injured, serviceable center past his prime—was picked up in a rush by the Lakers after they lost Howard.
Plain and simple, the free agency season is, as of right now, more about basketball than sexual orientation. And the longer Collins goes unsigned, the less the idea that a team would sign him as a token player or a marketing tool (a possibility discussed in the wake of his coming-out) looks like a real possibility. That's at least in part because the thunder of Collins's announcement, made in a Sports Illustrated article in late April, has been overshadowed by bigger stories affecting the LGBT community, such as the recent Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and Prop. 8.
So, with both his skills and marketing potential diminished, it's maybe not all that surprising that Collins is not on a roster just yet.
"I look at it, honestly, like any other free agency in the past several years, where I know I have to stay patient," Collins told The New York Times's Howard Beck. "And I know that at this point in my career, you remain hopeful that there’s a job and an opportunity waiting for you once teams start to fill out their rosters," he adds. A recent report in the Daily News had Collins possibly going to the Brooklyn Nets.
Collins and his agent, Arn Tellem, remain optimistic that he'll get picked up, less for his stat line than for his comportment and potential positive influence on teammates. Beck points out that he is well known for his intelligence, strong work ethic, and sense of humor. "Those traits make him the sort of prototypical locker-room leader that teams often seek in a 14th or 15th man. Such players practice hard, dispense wisdom to younger teammates and help keep everyone on track. In a pinch, they can contribute on the court," Beck writes, adding that "Collins knows the drill well. Boston did not sign him until July 31 last year. In 2009, it took until Sept. 2 before the Atlanta Hawks gave him a one-year deal." In other words, he still has time.