By Steve Lichtenstein
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For the second year in a row, Nets general manager Billy King failed to rectify his club’s most urgent weakness at the trade deadline.
Sure, he acquired from Sacramento 6-foot-3 guard Marcus Thornton, who will hopefully be more effective as a long-range backcourt threat off the bench than damaged Jason Terry was.
But the Nets’ bugaboo, especially since coach Jason Kidd opted to remove the traditional power forward position from his starting lineup, has been rebounding.
The Nets are near the bottom of the league in every metric of this category.
I watched with incredulity as the Nets were getting wiped on the glass by the Andrew Bogut/David Lee-less Warriors in a 93-86 loss on Saturday. The effort again showed how limited this club’s potential will be should it even reach the postseason.
The Nets were done in by 35-year-old Golden State center Jermaine O’Neal, whose throwback performance included 23 points and 13 rebounds, five of which created additional possessions on the offensive end.
O’Neal even got the better of Nets center Kevin Garnett, who is normally a defensive rock. Garnett played his 20 minutes as if he were mourning the loss of his blood brother Reggie Evans after the 33-year-old was deported to Sacramento with Terry in the Thornton deal.
King’s reasoning behind that trade was “to get younger.” King was reportedly spurned by the Lakers before Thursday’s trade deadline in an attempt to pry 26-year-old power forward Jordan Hill from their payroll. Then, having been reduced to scouring the streets for a big man, King reportedly finished in second place in the “Big Baby” sweepstakes on Sunday, with the 28-year-old Glen Davis signing with the Clippers.
So, King settled on Jason Collins, a 35-year-old center who hasn’t played all season. Even in his peak years when he averaged about 30 minutes per game, Collins never topped 6.1 boards per game while being just as offensively challenged as the uber-rebounding Evans.
Of course, that has nothing to do with why the Collins’ signing is making headlines.
Collins is the first openly homosexual player to sign a contract in the four major professional sports in the United States. He was to be in uniform for Sunday night’s game at the Lakers. It is clearly a terrific day for NBA fans who cheer the league for being progressive when it comes to tolerance.
However, as a Nets fan, I find it to be another disappointment in a seemingly endless line since their move to Brooklyn.
This signing is not of Jackie Robinson equivalence. As the Brooklyn Dodgers’ general manager after World War II, Branch Rickey had the foresight to understand how Robinson’s integration would — and did — slant the pennant race in the Dodgers’ favor. Most baseball clubs at the time were so blinded by color they couldn’t conceive that African-Americans had the talent and desire to compete and thrive in the majors.
There are no illusions as to the player Collins is at this time or what he’ll do for the Nets. And his sexual preference has nothing to do with it. He’s going to be the 14th man, below rookie Mason Plumlee on the depth chart.
Collins won’t even have to deal with the thorny issue of winning over the locker room.
While many Dodgers initially were opposed to Robinson’s inclusion on the roster, there were no such outbursts made publicly by Collins’ new teammates.
I also disagree with those who call this a publicity stunt by the Nets, at least not in the normal sense. The Nets don’t need a distraction as they fight down the stretch for playoff positioning. That’s why this Collins contract is limited to 10 days.
No, my view is that King chose Collins to obfuscate his failures to construct a championship-caliber team in Brooklyn.
King will rightly be declared as a champion for the rights of all to play NBA basketball, which might make it harder for many to judge with clarity his other moves in this, his second tenure as chief architect of an NBA franchise.
King’s had some tough luck, especially with all the injuries Brooklyn has incurred since its move prior to the 2012-13 season.
But he’s also had quite a few foibles here, like failing to lottery-protect a draft choice sent to Portland for free agent-to-be Gerald Wallace, hiring the neophyte Kidd over an experienced coach for a team with lofty aspirations, and trading three future first-round draft choices (plus options to change positions in two other drafts) in the megadeal for Garnett, Terry and Paul Pierce. (Full disclosure: I supported the trade at the time, under the assumption that Garnett could still play somewhere near the approximately 30 and 35 minutes per game, respectively, that he tolled in the 2012-13 regular season and playoffs. That should have been part of the discussion when the Nets got Garnett to waive his no-trade clause. They either knew or should have known that Garnett would be this much a part-timer, which changes everything).
Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov gave King all the money in the world to bring a title to Brooklyn. King’s remodelings haven’t gotten them anywhere near that goal, which the franchise came closest to reaching when Kidd led the then-New Jersey Nets as a player to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003.
It’s being reported that signing Collins was Kidd’s idea. Even if true, this is not a democracy. King’s rule is the law when it comes to Brooklyn’s roster.
King could have found a hungry D-Leaguer to fill this slot. Someone that would have really gotten after it and created a niche for himself in the show. It happens all the time.
Look, I agree with the sentiments of Nets like point guard and face-of-the-franchise Deron Williams, who was all for the signing if Collins can help the Nets win.
The problem is that his skills, not his sexual orientation, suggest he can’t.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter at @SteveLichtenst1
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