The Lakers-Nets game tonight at 6 p.m. at Staples Center don’t have any playoff implications for the purple and gold. Very little will be made of the Lakers’ 29th starting lineup that features Kendall Marshall, Jodie Meeks, Kent Bazemore, Wesley Johnson and Pau Gasol other than perhaps themselves.
But there is something that will take place that has some big picture implications.
Jason Collins will suit up with the Brooklyn Nets in what will mark his first NBA game since publicly announcing in a Sports Illustrated article last May that he’s gay.
“I hope one day if a player can play, he can play,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “If he can’t, he can’t. That’s all what we should be talking about. I know why we don’t. But eventually, that’s all that will matter. That’ll be a good thing.”
But for now, the Lakers provided public support on the 34-year-old Collins, who recently signed a 10-day contract with Brooklyn.
“I think Jason is judged on his basketball abilities,” said Lakers development coach Mark Madsen, who was one of Collins’ teammates at Stanford. “I think he realizes that and he’s kept his abilities at the highest level. I think Brooklyn realizes that and they’ll probably get him at a bargain price. New Jersey will get a skilled leader, a skilled defender at a bargain price. I think it’s a win-win for everyone.”
Nonetheless, it took 10 months for Collins, a former Harvard-Westlake standout, to sign on to an NBA team. He became an unrestricted free agent on July 1 without a contract. Collins didn’t receive any invitations to compete for a roster spot in an NBA training camp.
Reports suggest NBA teams weighed the potential media distraction in picking up Collins. But complicating that variable also entailed Collins’ on-court skill. He appeared in just 38 games last season with the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards.
But he became a valuable commodity after the trade deadline because he’s etched a niche as a physical interior defender.
“He was on the edge anyway,” D’Antoni said. “It could’be happened either way. I don’t think [Collins’ sexual orientation] influenced it either way. He was toward the end of it anyway.”
Still, Madsen took issue with reports that suggested Collins was out of shape.
“The funny thing is, we had dinner a few days after that quote and it looked like Jason had been out running 400s and in the weight room for three hours a day and on the court,” Madsen said. “He looked ready to go. He looked like he could go into an NBA playoff game. And not to point fingers or rumors or who said what, but Jason’s been committed to basketball.”
And that’s partly why the Lakers offered a collective shrug on a night that bears historical implications.
“When I see him, I see him as a great defender, a guy that protects the paint and finishes around the rim. That’s all I see when I’m out there,” said Lakers guard Kendall Marshall. “I think it’s the advancements we’ve made as people and will continue to make advancements. It’s just another step in the right direction.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org