What the hell is happening in Atlanta? They went on a Cinderella-esque run in last season’s playoffs, reaching the Eastern Conference Finals. This year? They currently sit 12th in the East, out of the Play-In Tournament, and 22nd in the entire NBA. During the summer of 2020-21, the Hawks happily went over the cap to put together a competitive roster around Trae Young. This summer, they chose to keep the band together by handing out a five-year, $125 million extension with John Collins, a $46 million extension to Clint Capela, and a five-year, $207 million max extension for their star, Young. All three, the agreed-upon core of the Hawks, are on the book till at least 2024-2025. Yet here they sit, at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, ahead of the Pacers and behind the Knicks, two fellow underachievers. So what to do?
The best bet is to move their disgruntled second fiddle, John Collins, who has seemed to have a chip on his shoulder with the organization for years. Collins is akin to other secondary stars throughout the NBA who are being paid to be cornerstones but either can’t stay healthy or play with their best ball with their superstar costar: Kristaps Porziņģis, Jaylen Brown, Paul George, CJ McCollum, and Ben Simmons. Perhaps a change of scenery would do everyone some good. Specifically, Collins, who just doesn’t have that next gear needed to be a dependable second scorer in crunch time. He is neither an elite athlete or a decision-maker. He registers above average on all metrics but seems not to be able to reach elite status on any one of them. So let’s look at potential swaps between the Hawks and other underachieving teams, and see if there isn’t a deal to be done to boost at least the long-term potential of Atlanta’s competitiveness. This feature will explore three trades the Hawks can make involving John Collins, without sacrificing short-term competitiveness or long-term sustainability.
Why The Hawks Do It: The Hawks get to try out what every NBA2K fan has dreamed of — a Ben Simmons small-ball five surrounded by shooters. Simmons could take over the five, moving Capela to the bench or all together this summer, with Harris at the four, surrounded by Bogdan Bogdanović, De’Andre Hunter, and Young. This would be a deadly attack on offense and would solidify the Hawks, once Simmons addresses his issues, as an elite defensive unit. Simmons was never able to pull off the small-ball five look in Philly, due to Joel Embiid occupying the middle, so to do so in Atlanta, surrounded by shooters is a mouth-watering proposition.
Why The 76ers Do It: The 76ers add depth to the frontcourt, allowing Embiid more time to rest while giving the reins to Collins to lead the offense when Embiid sits. The 76ers have a plethora of guards to initiate the offense in Simmons’s absence and this move would solve a lot of the rotation question marks left by Simmons Philly stand-off. As well, It clears a ton of big, long-term salary off the books and allows the 76ers to go after another guard once Gallanari’s salary is off the books after next season.
Why The Hawks Do It: The Hawks get a floor-spacing five, making their offense deadlier than it already is. Porziņģis might be making more money annually than Collins but he’s on a shorter contract, giving the Hawks a chance to do something different in a year or two. Hardaway comes back to Atlanta, a place where he played well a few years ago, to contribute off the bench.
Why The Mavs Do It: The Mavs are becoming stagnant with Luka Dončić. It feels like they need to do something major to at least prolong the inevitable trade demand out of town. With the Knicks owning their 2023 pick, they are limited on what assets they can send out in trades, and it’s time for them to move past Porziņģis. This trade inserts athleticism into Dallas’ starting unit, with Collins able to play the four or as a small-ball five. Gallinari makes sense in Dallas since the organization has loved overstocking on Euro white guys for 20 years. Sharife Cooper gives them a contingency plan in case unrestricted free agent Jalen Brunson can’t come to an agreement with the Mavs this summer.
Why The Hawks Do It: This is a swap of the team’s two cornerstone bigs, to see if a change of scenery can make an impact. Sabonis is clearly the better of the two players, hence a pair of picks going back to Indiana, but it could be worth it with Sabonis giving Young the perfect pick and roll partner. Sabonis can stretch the floor and provide dominant inside scoring on the block, as well as someone head coach Nate MacMillian is familiar with as the former coach of Indiana. Sabonis is capable of having the offense run through him while Young sits, a luxury the Hawks need to reduce wear and tear on the young guard’s body.
Why The Pacers Do It: Indiana is clearly looking to break up this iteration of the roster, and this trade helps them get faster and younger while providing center Myles Turner with a better fit in the front court. Collins can cover more ground on the floor, and won’t clog the middle, allowing for a two-headed athletic monster to exist between the two bigs. As the lesser talent, Collins helps them walk the tightrope between Play-In competitor and Lottery hopeful while praying the Atlanta picks cash in at the right time.