Opinion: In his current role with Atlanta, John Collins isn’t worth a max contract

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John Collins has been a fan favorite since entering the league. He’s easily the most likable player on the roster, given his maximum effort and team-first attitude whether he’s on the floor or not. Collins never makes it about himself and rarely looks down or has a negative attitude; he’s really just a great person — apparent in receiving the Sekou Smith Award, which annually honors the player on the team’s roster who best represents themselves and the franchise with professionalism and integrity in their interactions with the media. Everyone loves him, inside and outside the organization.

“I told John yesterday that I was extremely proud of the way he played this year. He made a decision to go to restricted free agency last fall. A lot of times, that can impact a player.” Travis Schlenk told Sarah Spencer of the AJC. “I think what you saw from John, he wasn’t playing for his numbers. He was out there playing for the team to win. A lot of cases when guys are going into free agency, you can see the opposite. We didn’t see that at all in John this year. I think that speaks very highly of his character and what he’s about. He’s about being on a winning basketball team. I don’t have anything negative to say about John Collins.”

There is obvious interest, which Schlenk confirmed in the same interview, “I don’t know why there wouldn’t be.” JC is a true 20 and 10 guy, as he proved last year, but with a more talented roster, his numbers dipped this year — averaging 17.6 points and 7.4 rebounds. He’s ultra-efficient in what he does, and as I said before, Collins is a team-first guy, so he’ll do whatever he needs to help the team win. Unfortunately, that is not worth a max contract. I want to preface this by saying, I don’t even think a max contract is on the table, but NBA teams are notorious for overpaying players, which could very well happen with Collins.

Tony Ressler, the Hawks majority owner, has made it clear that he is not afraid of the salary tax if the team is competing for championships, but he also realizes just how crippling a max contract can be.

“Not every player should have a max contract, and great players should and will,” Tony Ressler said to Chris Kirschner of The Athletic. “I still make the argument that you could send two very clear messages, which is we do not expect to be financially constrained and, not or, we fully expect to be reasonably smart in our approach to running the business. If that means we’re committed to fair contracts, please accept me in that category. We are not committed to bad contracts. We are not committed to spending when not appropriate.

The only decision that needs to be made regarding Collins is whether the Hawks match any offer sheet the power forward signs. If the number is too high, the Hawks may not match it. You don’t want to be paying a player like Tobias Harris or Rudy Gobert over $40 million, which both will eventually earn on their current contracts. It is not conducive to winning championships. Obviously, Trae Young will sign a supermax deal in the near future, but giving Collins a similar amount of money could present problems in the future.

The only issue with not matching a max contract offer and letting Collins walk is the opportunity to break into the Luxury Tax threshold, which can only be done by re-signing a team’s own players. If the Hawks were to let him walk, Atlanta would have to comply with the regular $112.4 million salary cap. If Schlenk were to push into the hard cap by signing Collins, it would essentially allow the Hawks general manager to spend more on the roster — equating to bringing in more talent. Though I don’t believe Collins is a max contract-worthy player, this situation may call for Schlenk to overpay slightly to open up some more cap space.

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