Why Hawks' John Collins isn't an ideal trade option for Celtics

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Chris Forsberg
·4 min read
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Forsberg: Is Hawks' John Collins a realistic fit for Celtics? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Atlanta Hawks are in Boston for a double dip this week and fans antsy for Danny Ainge to upgrade the Celtics’ roster will have their eyes locked on John Collins.

Collins reportedly turned down an extension in excess of $90 million before the season and is set to become a restricted free agent this summer. The Hawks, after splurging this past offseason on veteran talent to complement their young core, are faced with a prickly decision of whether to move Collins before the March trade deadline or roll the dice this summer when a bunch of deep-pocketed suitors could make a strong bid for his services.

Collins seemingly checks a lot of the boxes for the Celtics. He’d bring size (6-foot-9) and shooting (41.1 percent on 3.5 3-pointers per game this season), and would infuse athleticism into the 4 spot. What’s more, his rookie scale salary is so manageable ($4.1 million) that the Celtics wouldn’t even have to utilize the Gordon Hayward trade exception to add him. (Either sending out a young player to make salaries match, or using the Enes Kanter trade exception to absorb Collins in exchange for draft capital would work.)

So a Collins pursuit seems like a no-brainer, right? Not exactly.

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The Hawks, in their quest to become a legitimate Eastern Conference contender, cannot afford to sell low on Collins. A report from The Athletic suggested the Hawks are seeking a “high first-round, lottery-level pick” as part of any trade package. The Celtics have only their own future picks -- with this year’s currently projected at No. 19 after the team’s recent rough patch -- and the Hawks undoubtedly will be seeking a hefty overall haul to part with a 23-year-old with high upside.

The Celtics would have to pay that steep price just to get Collins in green, all with no guarantee that they’d be able to retain him, this after he’s hinted he views himself as a max-salary player.

Chris Forsberg's TPE wish list, Version 1.0

Sign-and-trade possibilities this summer could mitigate the risk if the acquisition cost came down. But Boston would still be rolling the dice and would have to at least be prepared for the possibility of paying Collins upwards of max money to retain him if he got a monster offer sheet.

Remember, Jayson Tatum’s max-salary contract extension kicks in next year. Having Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker, and another max salary on the books is untenable, even if Boston is a surefire championship contender. The Celtics would be pushing the luxury tax threshold with the bloated salaries of just those four players and Marcus Smart.

Not much green to spare?

Total salary for Walker, Tatum, Brown, Smart ('21-'22)

$103.3M

Projected luxury tax threshold for 2021-22

$136.6M

Variation

Double

All of which would take any substantial activity with the Hayward trade exception out of play. The Celtics also would be hard-capped by acquiring any player via sign-and-trade and it would add another layer of difficulty in roster construction. The only path to roster mobility then would be moving Walker -- no easy task given his salary. What’s more, retaining Smart long term is likely out of the question as well.

Ultimately, any move to acquire Collins could essentially bind the Celtics to a Brown-Tatum-Collins core and requires a whole bunch of gymnastics to add impact talent around them. Does Collins yearn to be more of a focal point? Would he be content to be a third option alongside the Jays? Is that trio enough to contend with limited means to add complementary talent?

Collins is undeniably an intriguing option but there might simply be too many potential long-term pitfalls. The Celtics can still acquire a big-ticket player before the deadline but one whose contract status leaves the team flexibility to better shape the roster moving forward, especially as Walker’s contract is closer to coming off the books. That player may not have the same upside potential of Collins but might fit better with the current construct of the roster.