Nets Gains and Losses

By Lenn Robbins | @lennrobbins

February 24, 2014

My mother has a favorite saying she is fond of repeating. And repeating. And repeating.

"Show me your friends and I'll show you who you are."

In the last few days we have learned who are Jason Collins' friends. If that doesn't make you proud to be a Nets fan and a Brooklynite, then you are one tough customer to please.

Collins, of course, signed a 10-day contract with the Nets on Sunday and played in the team's 108-102 win over the Lakers in Los Angeles, making him the first openly gay athlete to play in any of the four major professional leagues in America.

It's critical to note that the signing of Collins was a basketball decision, not a promotional one or one to send a social message.

The Nets (26-28),going into Wednesday night's game at Portland against the Trail Blazers, have been vulnerable on the boards and in the paint. The 7-foot, 255-pound Collins is a smart, tough player who relishes making his physical presence felt.

Any Nets fan that watched Jermaine O'Neal score 23 points, many on unchallenged dunks, and grab 13 rebounds, must have been yearning for a player to close the lane.

Collins can be that player.

So the Nets signed him and tangentially made history. Collins is the first openly gay player in any of the four major U.S. sports markets.

Such a signing might have sparked discontent or awkwardness on other teams. But listen to what Collins' friends on the Nets had to say.

Paul Pierce: "He is a regular person. You have people who make their choices. I think, along our society, we tend to think of each other and make rules and say what's right and wrong, and that's not fair, to say what's right and wrong. As long as it's not against the law or something where you're violating other people's rights, then so be it.

"This is America. You have freedom of speech, you have the freedom to do a lot of things you want to do here. We welcome him with open arms, and I'm happy he's the one that I know and has the courage to be able to come out and say it.

"The good thing about this team is that we've embraced him. I think the NBA has embraced him. I think the sports world has embraced him, and that's going to be good moving forward."

Deron Williams: "It's a big moment. It's definitely a big moment. I'm happy for him. I know he's been sitting around waiting for a job, and I'm happy to see him on a team, and I'm happy he's on our team."

Collins said Williams was the first player to welcome him Sunday morning at the Nets' team breakfast. Williams, and his lovely wife, Amy, have known Collins for years. Williams and Collins immediately began disparaging each other's golf game.

Kevin Garnett: "I think it's important for anybody who has the capabilities and skill level to have a chance to do something he's great at or one of the things he's good at. I think it'd be biased and, in a sense, racist, if you were to take that opportunity from a person." Joe Johnson said the Nets would welcome Collins, "with open arms."

"Everybody here is pretty much comfortable in his own skin."

Perhaps the greatest tribute the Nets paid Collins was not paying him any tribute at all. He was merely the latest acquisition, a player on a 10-day deal brought in to plug a big hole.

"He's just another guy on this team,'' said Andrei Kirilenko. "He's no different that anyone else.'' Collins isn't a difference maker in terms of his offensive skill or intimidating shot blocking. He does a lot of things that don't show up in a box score, like setting screens and talking on defense.

He commits the foul that makes opposing players think twice before going to the basket. In other words, he does the things that often determine playoff games.

That's what this season has been about for the Nets – winning playoff games, and, ultimately, the NBA title. The only consideration in the Nets' locker room in regards to Collins is that he might help them achieve that goal.

Those are Jason Collins' friends. And that is your team.

MAN ON FIRE: Last season Deron Williams received platelet rich plasma and cortisone injections in both ankles. He also went on a juice diet and lost weight.

With the inflammation in his ankles quelled and the hop in his step back, Williams had a great second half of the season.

This season Williams got to the All-Star break with his ankles right but his mind wrong. The three sprained left ankles he suffered in the first half of the season made it impossible for Williams to find a rhythm. His confidence took a hit.

Williams said he would take the All-Star break to get away from the game and get his mind right. He should bottle whatever he did because the results have been astounding.

In the first three games back after the break, Williams averaged 23 points per game on 48.9-percent shooting, with 6.7 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 2.7 steals.

REBOUNDING FOOL: Andrei Kirilenko is known for being one of the most cerebral players in basketball. His passing is remarkable and his ability to defend four positions is almost unheard of.

But Kirilenko has been making his mark of late. He's grabbed 22 boards in the last three games, including a season-high 10 in the win over the Lakers.

HOW THE WEST WAS WON: The Nets are 7-2 vs. Western Conference teams since Jan.1. With three games left on this six-game West Coast road trip, the Nets have a legit chance at coming back with a winning record.

The Nets have a tough game in Portland Wednesday night against the Trail Blazers but then they have the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets are 25-30 and recently got called out by coach Brian Shaw after their 117-89 loss to the Chicago Bulls.

"It felt like tonight we had some guys who just decided they weren't going to play, they weren't going to put forth any effort to get the job done," said Shaw. "It's unfortunate. This is a nationally televised game, and we're professionals. As a staff, we have to beg guys to give effort when we play."

The Nuggets have lost 7 of 8. Their only win was over the Milwaukee Bucks, the last place team in the Eastern Conference and the team the Nets finish this West Coast trip with.

THE LAST WORD: Pierce had one other insightful view into the signing of Collins.

"In a society we live in, this was going to happen eventually. This is the normal. He is a guy who is going to open the door for athletes. Maybe not just in America but all over the world, the sports world.

"That's going to be key. It doesn't matter your race, your gender, your sexuality, or any of that. It's about being part of a team. It's about caring for one another. That's all that matters at the end of the day.

Nets Central

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