Sam Smith's NBA news and notes | 02.24.2014

-- Jason Collins is back in the NBA despite ESPN. Some others as well, and that he averaged 1.1 points last season playing sparingly for Boston and Washington. The Nets Sunday signed Collins to a 10-day contract, which was labeled historic sports news and required commentary leading off most sports programs, and Collins played Sunday night in L.A. Collins disclosed last year he is gay. I understand the news of an openly gay man in professional sports—I actually don’t understand, but I accept in our society it remains an issue—which football player Michael Sam likely soon will be. There have been many gay men in pro sports, though none feeling confident enough to announce it in our too exclusionary society. Before too long fear of being a gay man in pro sports will seem as ridiculous as Jackie Robinson being afraid to be in the shower with white teammates or women reporters being afraid to be in a locker room. What exactly do people think goes on with sports teams? Guys play the games, get dressed and go out with their friends or families. No one’s hanging around waiting for an orgy, though I’ve only been in these locker rooms for 40 years. Collins is a marginal NBA talent at 35, so he may not make it to the playoffs. Though without more size up front, the Nets may not, either. So they could use him. I talked to many NBA executives this season who said they could have added Collins. But they didn’t want to be on ESPN all day about sexual orientation instead of basketball. It’s not just ESPN, of course, but as the face of sports in the American media, ESPN gets the credit and blame. The world, unfortunately, always has been too filled with hatreds based on race, religion and sexual orientation. As Seinfeld famously said in his TV program, “People, they’re the worst.” There is no sports league more socially conscious, progressive and fair minded than the NBA. There’s no better place than the NBA for this issue to be discussed and then accepted and forgotten. As Collins says, he hopes that will be the case after he graciously went through multiple interviews Sunday. It’s no longer a story when an African American becomes a coach, general manager or team owner. This soon will not be a story, either, though the world tends to mature slowly.

-- Really, a bigger story than the coming of Jason Collins may be the going of Ron Artest. With the Knicks working out a buyout of Artest’s contract, it certainly seems like Artest’s NBA career should be over. Artest has played little this season because of knee problems with a game that has been in decline for several seasons as he was given amnesty by the Lakers. He’s shot a bit under 40 percent the last four seasons and with his knee problems he’s lost the ability to be a top defender. It has been an impressive career since he was drafted 16th overall by the Bulls in 1999. He’s certainly most notorious for starting the worst brawl in NBA history when he ended up being suspended most of the 2004-05 season. I never refer to him by his changed name of Metta World Peace not only given that brawl but a subsequent career of some of the worst cheap shots and physical retaliation still in the NBA. He reclaimed his career and even made a big game winning shot for a Lakers’ title team and played in 85 playoff games. But given his physical issues, still occasional erratic behavior and tendency to be outspoken, it’s difficult to believe any team would take a chance on him again. After all, if you can’t hang on with the last stop for the most dysfunctional, the Knicks (Rasheed Wallace, Kenyon Martin), there no longer seems a place for you in the NBA.

-- It’s been a good year for Michael Jordan, and we know he’s had a lot of them. Jordan’s wife gave birth to twins and his basketball team finally appears to be producing like a baby’s smile. The Bobcats—to be renamed Hornets for next season—have moved to sixth in the Eastern Conference, three and a half games ahead of sinking Detroit in ninth. No one behind, either, seems to be playing well enough to make a playoff run. So it could be Charlotte’s second playoffs in franchise history. … The free agent nightmares continue with the Pistons as Will Bynum has been finishing games lately for Brandon Jennings. It seems to be breaking down again as after losing to Dallas Saturday, every starter cleared out before media arrived in the locker room. Plus, the Pistons are giving up 106 points per game since Mo Cheeks was fired. … On the subject of bad defense, the worst last week had to be the Pelicans allowing a Nene dunk basically at the final buzzer to win the game for the Wizards. They had rookie Jeff Withey in and he backed off Nene to try to help on John Wall driving. … The Knicks lost back to back in Orlando and to the Hawks without Paul Millsap, both after blowing second half double digit leads. Against the Magic, Tyson Chandler had a basket nullified when he reverse dunked and the ball hit him in the head, which is ruled offensive goaltending. Ray Felton then became yet another Knick to question Mike Woodson’s defensive plan. Woodson has been decent enough not to question their defensive effort. “It’s the same thing, different day,” said Carmelo Anthony after Saturday’s loss in Atlanta. “It’s starting to get tough to handle. It’s definitely testing me. The frustration has definitely sunk in just for the simple fact that we’re losing games the same way over and over. It seems like we’re just not learning from that.” By the way, how many rumors of Knicks trades did you read in the last two months? How many trades did you read the Knicks make? Or even come close to making?

-- OK, I agree. The 76ers are tanking. I’ve long argued it’s not a real issue, that no coach or player gives up. And certainly doesn’t endanger his job or next contract so the team might improve later on. The Bucks aren’t tanking. They’re bad. Same with the Kings and Jazz. There are just some bad teams. But the 76ers have begun to lose on purpose by basically trading Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes now for future second round picks. The Bulls traded Luol Deng for future considerations and to save money, which is not that unusual in this era with a harsh luxury tax penalty. You need to avoid it to keep free agency options open. I understand the Houston plan. GM Sam Hinkie worked under Daryl Morey in Houston and is betting his accumulation of draft picks will lead to someone dumping a star on him like James Harden in Houston. Yes, it can happen. It just rarely does. It was the Bulls plan under Jerry Krause as well in 1999. But what it mostly does promise is years of 20-win type teams. Plus, the landscape has changed with the new labor deal and some are slow to react. Teams aren’t selling off expiring contracts anymore and throwing in draft picks to get you to take contracts. You saw from the trading deadline zero first round picks traded. Not only because of the 2014 draft, but with the tax penalties teams want the low cost and fixed cost first on their payroll. Get ready to boo, Philadelphia. You guys are good at it. … There’s no doubt the Celtics listened to offers for Rajon Rondo, though teams listen to offers for all their players not named LeBron and Durant. But the always frank Danny Ainge explained to the Boston Herald how trading time really works in the NBA: “I do have issues with is people that call with really no intention to make a deal and just an intention of being able to say they called. Then the next thing you know, as soon as they hang up the phone, there’s rumors that they’re trying to get Rondo. So it becomes a story that’s talked about for seven days, when in fact they never really did want Rondo and we definitely had no interest in getting rid of Rondo.”

-- Perhaps because of inactivity or age, but in talking to players Artest doesn’t rank as the league’s goofiest these days. I’ve heard several mention Toronto’s Tyler Hansbrough. I saw it on several occasions against the Bulls last week when he grabbed players and pulled them down on top of him and then began yelling until someone actually challenged him and he began to run toward a teammate. Players say one of his oddball moves is to run head first into your elbow and then flop down. He is said to be officially changing his name to “Psycho.” … It was a game saving block by old timer Jermaine O’Neal last week on Chandler Parsons to beat the Rockets for the Warriors. But rather than get down on offense, O’Neal posed to the crowd and stuck out his chest and stared. So much for maturity. … LeBron James certainly gets people talking, and this Mt. Rushmore thing has become a big NBA talking point since James was asked about it in an All-Star weekend interview. Of course, it’s impossible to rate people among eras. But if you were trying to duplicate the spirit of Mt. Rushmore, you’d have to include George Mikan. Hardly anyone considers George Washington our best ever president. Many presidential scholars don’t rate him in the top 10. He was a soldier first, but the ultimate compromise figure to unite a very divided political country even then. Mikan was the first true star of the NBA, the first player to give the league credibility and the dominant figure by far of the founding of the league. He is the NBA’s George Washington, which makes an NBA Mt. Rushmore without him factually incorrect even if he couldn’t compare to anyone on everyone’s list. … The Spurs’ Gregg Popovich after the Austin Daye trade: Popovich on Daye trade: "I know there's a lot of publicity on the TV about the trade. Could change the balance of the West." Too bad it wasn’t a post-third quarter interview. That’s the real Pop. The Spurs were 6-3 on their annual trip to vacate their arena for the rodeo. In 12 years, they never have had a losing record on the arduous trip and are 71-29 overall, better than their combined winning percentage since Tim Duncan joined the team. And who even knew who was playing on this trip with Tony Parker supposedly having a bad body and Manu Ginobili always pushing his. Several regulars remain out and Patty Mills becomes a big scorer. They’ve played more than two dozen different starting lineups. So why isn’t Popovich coach of the year every year. Phil Jackson was the most successful. Why was he coach of the year just once? And the Bulls needed 72 wins to get it for him. It’s why it’s OK that Kevin Durant will be MVP this season. Sometimes the best doesn’t win. James is the best overall player, but he should not be MVP every season. Just as Michael Jordan wasn’t and the best coach isn’t coach of the year every year.

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