Why the Boston Celtics Should Sign Jason Collins

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July 9 2013 11:52 AM

The Boston Celtics Should Sign Jason Collins

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Jason Collins has worn Celtic green before.

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Dear Danny Ainge,

John Swansburg John Swansburg

John Swansburg is Slate's deputy editor.

Life-long Celtics fan here, writing to you with a suggestion. I read in the New York Times this morning that Jason Collins, the journeyman center who revealed that he is gay in an April Sports Illustrated essay, is still a man without a team. You should sign him to the 2013-14 Boston Celtics. Here’s why:

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1. It’s true, as the Times piece noted, that Collins’s skills are in decline: He’s not the player he was five years ago, and even that player was never a star. If you were spoiling for an 18th banner, I’d understand if you were to pass on Collins. But you aren’t building a championship team; you’re angling for a lottery pick. You traded your beloved coach for a draft pick. You traded two of your best players—one of whom is arguably the best pure scorer in Celtics history—for draft picks. Your one remaining star is on the shelf with an ACL tear. As far as you’re concerned, the more atrophied Collins’ skills, the better. Also, he’ll come cheap, which is essential for a team trying to maintain maximum cap space and flexibility.

2. Though Collins has shortcomings as a player, he seems to be universally regarded as a fantastic teammate, the kind of guy who plays hard in practice and relishes the opportunity to mentor young players. (“Jason was one of the most professional, hardworking guys that we had in our organization or that I've ever been around”—you, in April.) Though next year’s team will feature a bunch of spare parts who will ultimately be discarded by the time the Celtics make their next playoff run, you also have some promising young talent, and what’s more, two of those talents are big men: Jared Sullinger and your first pick in this year’s draft, Kelly Olynyk. Wouldn’t it be great to add a veteran big man to your roster to help bring along these raw assets who might well become integral parts of a revived team?

3. Related: You just hired Brad Stevens, a 36-year-old coach whose CV, impressive as it is, consists of taking a midmajor college team to two NCAA championship games. Aren’t you going to want a wise vet to buoy the team with his 12 years of experience across the league—including his experience in last year’s Celtics locker room, where he earned the admiration of Doc Rivers and his teammates, who rallied around him when he came out in April?

4. Your job is to guide the Boston Celtics back into title contention. But as I’m sure you know from your many years in Boston, running a sports team in the Hub comes with more responsibility than a similar position in, say, Phoenix. For better and worse, the city’s sports teams play an outsized role in Boston’s civic life, and you have an opportunity to do something important here for the city. Boston does not have a terrific reputation when it comes to civil rights; the shadow of the ugly busing crisis still hangs over the city. (Also, remember when the Wellesley cops pulled their guns on Dee Brown?) It would be great for Boston to be associated with a civil rights triumph, and making Collins the first active, out-of-the-closet NBA player would be just such a triumph. Also, a good way of thanking Boston’s gay community for, among other things, making the South End such a nice place to visit.

5. Tanking is an ugly business, as M.L. Carr can tell you: It’s very hard to maintain team morale, and it’s asking a lot of fans—Boston fans especially—to keep their chins up as you send their favorite personalities off to Los Angeles and New York. Signing Collins would be a happy storyline among the unhappy ones that are a necessity in this summer of reconstruction. (And not that this is your job at all, but man, in the wake of the Aaron Hernandez horrors, Boston sports writ large could really use a happy storyline.)

6. The Celtics play the Indiana Pacers multiple times next season. The Pacers are a rising power in the East, and your old teammate Larry Bird just reassumed his position in the team’s front office. You know you’re not going to beat the Pacers with the scrubs you’re sending out onto the parquet this season. But you can’t let Larry off that easy. Don’t you want to see the look on Roy “No Homo” Hibbert’s face when Jason Collins checks into the game?

Sincerely,

John Swansburg

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