Sources: Pistons open dialogue with Collins

The Detroit Pistons have expressed exploratory interest in signing free-agent center Jason Collins, according to sources close to the process.

Sources stressed to that, while no formal offer has been made, Detroit has opened a dialogue with Collins, who in late April became the first openly gay athlete in North America’s four traditional major sports leagues.

The Pistons have aggressively remade their roster since the end of last season, highlighted by the acquisitions of Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings. One guaranteed contract shy of the league’s limit of 15, Detroit is said to be intrigued by the veteran know-how Collins possesses and views him as a potential insurance signing in support of its two blossoming big men: Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond.

Leaguewide interest in the veteran center has nonetheless been somewhat tepid during the first six weeks of NBA free agency, sources said, but that was not wholly unexpected given Collins’ recent play.

The 34-year-old signed a one-year deal with the Boston Celtics in mid-August before last season and had to wait until September 2010 to sign a one-year deal with the Atlanta Hawks before the 2010-11 campaign. Collins signed a one-year deal with the Hawks again in 2011 just a few days after the lockout was lifted in December.

Collins has continued to work out in his hometown of Los Angeles in hopes of a firm contract offer. Collins appeared in 38 games last season with the Celtics and Washington Wizards but averaged less than 2 points and 2 rebounds in 10.1 minutes per game.

“I look at it, honestly, like any other free agency in the past several years, where I know I have to stay patient,” Collins told The New York Times in July. “And I know that at this point in my career, you remain hopeful that there’s a job and an opportunity waiting for you once teams start to fill out their rosters.”

Back in late April, after Collins made his declaration on the pages of Sports Illustrated, only six of 14 teams surveyed that day told they expected to see Collins in the NBA next season.

The other eight teams surveyed that expressed some measure of doubt all cited Collins’ age and corresponding questions about his ability to make a productive on-court contribution as the overriding reason he wouldn’t find a job for his 13th season, not because of fallout from the announcement.

“The reality,” said one Western Conference executive at the time, “is that he’s been an end-of-the-roster kind of player for the last couple years.”

The 7-footer, who specializes in post defense, hasn’t averaged more than 15 minutes per game since 2007-08.

Said another veteran general manager in late April: “I don’t think he was going to be in the league next season no matter what. I don’t think [sexual orientation] is the issue. I think ‘Can he still play?’ is the issue.”

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