MIAMI—Veteran center Jason Collins became the first openly gay player in NBA history after signing a 10-day contract Sunday with Brooklyn.
“It’s great. He’s a great guy. He’s had a great career. He’s been a good player in the league for a long time, so I’m happy for him,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I just know Jason as a person and as a player, and that’s what I’m happy about. He’s earned it, he deserves it, he’s a great guy. I think it’s good for the league. Just go from there. The important thing is just to judge him as a person and a basketball player.”
Thibodeau recalled that the Bulls showed interest in signing Collins prior to the 2012-13 campaign.
“We talked to him one time,” said the coach, whose friend Doc Rivers coached Collins in Boston. “I know people who have coached him and I know how highly thought of he is, so it’s great.”
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement, “Jason told us that his goal was to earn another contract with an NBA team. Today, I want to commend him on achieving his goal. I know everyone in the NBA family is excited for him and proud that our league fosters an inclusive and respectful environment.”
Collins announced that he was gay last spring, but wasn’t signed by any team as a free agent last summer or earlier this season.
Thibodeau wants more from Augustin, Snell
Thibodeau was critical of the play of backup point guard D.J. Augustin and rookie swingman Tony Snell—who started Sunday’s game in place of Jimmy Butler, who missed the contest with a rib injury suffered in Friday’s home win over Denver—against the Heat.
“He can do better,” the coach said of Snell, who was coming off a career-high scoring outing against the Nuggets.
“We have some guys that aren’t experienced and they’re holding on to it when you’ve got to drive the ball and get it up on the rim. So that’ll come,” the coach said, seemingly alluding to Snell, when discussing the Bulls’ multiple shot-clock violations.
Snell scored six points and shot 2-for-10 from the field.
“The rebounding was a strength in the first half and the first five minutes [of the second half], they were getting three, four cracks at it and you’ve got to stick your nose in there. You’ve got to play tough. You don’t play tough, you can’t win in this league,” he went on to say about substituting Snell out of the game in the third quarter, when Miami made an 11-0 run to build a critical lead.
Of Augustin, who scored two points and shot 0-for-10 from the floor, Thibodeau insisted that the floor general can be effective even when he’s not scoring the ball well.
“There’s other things he can do. We’ve got other guys. Taj scored effectively. Jo scored effectively. I thought Kirk did. Mike was good early in the game,” he explained. “So we’ve got other guys that can score. There’s other things you can do.”
Bulls open to roster additions
While shot-blocking big man Jarvis Varnado—signed to a 10-day contract, he’s coincidentally a former member of the Heat—is currently the Bulls’ 13th man, the organization is exploring signing a more established NBA veteran. Several players have been waived or bought out of their contracts recently and it’s likely that more transactions will happen between now and March 1, the deadline for players to be eligible for the playoffs.
The Bulls had interest in power forward Glen “Big Baby” Davis, who was bought out by the Magic and subsequently signed with the Clippers. The team also reportedly has interest in the likes of Danny Granger and Antawn Jamison—the forwards were traded last Thursday, from Indiana to Philadelphia and from the Clippers to the Hawks, respectively—if and when they become free agents.
Thibodeau spoke in general terms about the Bulls signing a player who could become available on the market.
“Again, it’s a process that you go through, and the same thing happens every year. And then if something is a good fit, it makes sense, then you move forward with it. But as I’ve said many times, the group that we have I feel very good about. That’s what we’re locked into. If we can make an addition that will help us we’ll do that as well, but I like the core of our team,” the coach explained. “Yeah, you could say that shooting is always a need and you can never have enough shooting, but I also think you have to look at the players that are available, and if something fits and it addresses something you may need you go with that. At this time of the year you’re looking for insurance if you have guys that are nicked up. Or if you have a specific need that can be addressed then you weight the two things and move forward from there.”
Asked whether he would personally solicit a player to come to the Bulls, he acknowledged that he would be willing to do so.
“Yeah, when they become free agents, certainly,” he said. “Right now we’re in the season, so I want to lock into the guys we have.”
Oden starts for Heat
Miami started center Greg Oden in place of reigning MVP LeBron James, who missed the contest with a broken nose suffered in the Heat’s win Thursday over Oklahoma City.
For oft-injured Oden, the No. 1 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, it was the first game he’s started since 2009. A Heat offseason acquisition, he entered the game having played in 10 games this season, averaging 2.8 points and 2.2 boards in 7.8 minutes per game.
Oden, who had five apiece of points and rebounds in nearly 13 minutes of action, was matched up with Bulls’ All-Star center Joakim Noah, reprising their 2007 NCAA title-game battle, in which Noah’s Florida team beat Oden’s Ohio State squad.