The Atlanta Hawks have a decision to make in the coming days regarding both the present and future of the franchise. More specifically, the team must decide how to proceed with John Collins as he’s set to hit the market as a restricted free agent this summer. They essentially have five options with Collins, which I’ll lay out here, in order of least to most preferable, in my opinion.
Let him walk for nothing in the offseason
While the Hawks do have the right to match any contract John Collins signs this offseason, they don’t have to if they feel it is too pricey. Hawks fans saw the restricted free agency process play out first hand with Bogdan Bogdanovic this past offseason. The Kings decided to gamble with Bogdanovic’s market and ultimately lost. They seemingly had a deal in place in the infamous sign and trade with Milwaukee, but that fell through, and they had to deal with losing a solid player for no return.
For the Hawks, a similar situation could certainly play out if they are unwilling to pay Collins the max. All it takes is one team to fall in love with the big man and offer the max he’s looking for.
This is certainly a worst-case scenario and would only come about if the Hawks genuinely don’t see a path to compete with Collins on a max or close to a max-deal. They’d essentially be harming the future to stay competitive for the remainder of the season.
Sign and Trade
If the Hawks finish out the rest of the season and decide Collins isn’t worth anything close to a max, which is very possible, they aren’t totally out of leverage. They could always threaten to match any contract Collins signs and force a sign-and-trade. They probably wouldn’t get back very much — potentially a late-first round pick or project young players — but it would be better than nothing.
Trade him for the future
I’d hate to see Collins go. His high energy and uber athleticism are perfect for a team that wants to win playoff games. The consensus reporting out there is currently that the Hawks are asking for at least a lottery-level first-round pick and a young player. Frankly, this would not be a bad return for the Hawks in a vacuum. The Knicks traded Kristaps Porzingis for two picks and a middling prospect just two seasons ago, and Porzingis was coming off of an all-star appearance. The problem is — teams that want Collins’ services the most are contenders right now who do not possess lottery-level picks.
Trade him to contend
Most reports seem to think the Hawks moving Collins would signal them looking towards next season. However, with the team’s recent uptick in play, they could actually move him with the goal of getting better now and in the future.
The reality is Capela and Collins do a lot of the same things. Gallinari is also a better shooter than Collins and doesn’t seem to perform nearly as well when coming off the bench. And the Hawks also have a rookie big-man in Onyeka Okongwu that figures to be a significant piece of the team moving forward. Since the Hawks are financially tied down to Gallo and Capela for the next couple of seasons, it makes sense to move Collins. However, instead of looking for picks, Atlanta could upgrade on the wing and really solidify a championship-caliber roster. This is the direction I believe the Hawks will go if they decide to move Collins.
The primary issue here is the salary matching situation. With John Collins only under contract for $4 million this season, it makes it extremely difficult to find a team that’s able to send out that little salary. Atlanta would almost certainly have to add another player to help match salary, and the most likely candidate for that would be Mr. Automatic AKA Tony Snell. The two combine for about $16 million in salary, which is much more moveable than Collins’ contract alone. However, I don’t see the Hawks wanting to move Snell if they aim to compete.
Pay the man
Is Collins the perfect fit next to Clint Capela? Not really. Could the Hawks find other players in the NBA making max money better than him? Absolutely. But is it realistic for Atlanta to find Collins’ level of production in the draft or free agency within their time frame of contention? I don’t believe so. He just does everything on a basketball court at a high level.
Suppose things go south and the team isn’t playing great next year, or it becomes obvious the Hawks cannot contend for a championship as constructed. In that case, Travis Schlenk can very easily trade him for fantastic value next year, barring some unforeseen circumstances. The payoff simply won’t be there at this deadline to justify moving him.