In a deal that delivers the franchise dramatic financial flexibility, the Atlanta Hawks are trading forward John Collins to the Utah Jazz, sources told on Monday.
The Hawks are acquiring forward Rudy Gay and a future second-round pick for Collins, who is owed $78 million over the next three seasons, sources said. The swap creates a $25.3 million trade exception for the Hawks the largest in the NBA. Atlanta has a year to potentially use the exception to take on a player’s contract.
The deal to acquire Collins, 25, brings the Jazz a versatile forward to play on a front line with All-Star Lauri Markkanen and All-Rookie center Walker Kessler. Also, Utah used the ninth pick in Thursday’s NBA draft to select Taylor Hendricks, a power forward out of Central Florida. The Jazz were an offensive revelation under first-year coach Will Hardy, and Collins’ arrival could help Utah return to the Western Conference playoffs next season.
The Hawks and Jazz have discussed numerous iterations of the deal for over a year, but the realities of the looming changes in the league’s new collective bargaining agreement left the balance of Collins’ contract difficult to move for a return of assets similar to the Golden State Warriors’ recent unloading of Jordan Poole and the $130 million-plus owed him.
Nevertheless, the Hawks are expected to remain in deal-making mode this offseason, and ownership has given general manager Landry Fields the OK to move into the luxury tax should it be necessary to improve the roster, sources said.
The departure of Collins also gives Atlanta a fuller opportunity to navigate possible contract extensions for three young core players: Dejounte Murray, Onyeka Okongwu and Saddiq Bey.
Collins’ departure will also open up an opportunity for forward Jalen Johnson to take on a more prominent role in his third season. Atlanta clearly held onto Collins for too long. Collins looked like a steal when the Hawks selected him with the No. 19 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft out of Wake Forest, but after a strong first three years of his career, both his role and production started to regress. Collins’ scoring average has dropped each of the last four seasons, and he’s slipped a bit as a three-point shooter and rebounder, too. The Jazz clearly believe they can rehab his value in return for nothing more than picking up his contract.
The move to acquire Collins is especially interesting for the Jazz given that they’re still at an early stage of their rebuild. Markkanen turned into an All-Star last season and plays the same position as Collins, but he’ll be difficult to extend because Utah can’t give him a big enough raise under the CBA rules. It’s possible the Jazz could flip Collins or even Markkanen down the road for more draft assets.
Are there more cost-cutting moves on the horizon for the Hawks? Both Clint Capela and De’Andre Hunter were in trade rumors around the draft with younger, cheaper replacements waiting in the wings. The trade of Collins feels so similar to the Hawks letting go of Kevin Huerter ahead of last season before his breakout campaign with the Sacramento Kings.
Why did the Hawks move on from John Collins?
Trade speculation has been frequent around Collins over the past few years, basically since he signed his five-year, $125 million extension that soon became a questionable asset. At his best, Collins is an excellent rebounder who can stretch the floor, attack the paint and hold his own on defense. Unfortunately, his numbers have taken a step backward since the Hawks entered playoff contention.
Last season, Collins averaged 13.1 points per game, his lowest mark since his rookie season, with career worsts in 3-point shooting (29.2%), rebounds per game (6.5) and assists per game (1.2), all while playing his usual 30 minutes per game.
Wembanyama hasn’t had much time to rest lately. He’s been playing with Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92, his team in France, since September 2022, a 62-game stretch that ended June 15, when Boulogne-Levallois lost in the LNB Pro A finals. From there he went to the NBA Draft, and after a stopover in San Antonio to visit his new city and venue, he’s headed to the NBA Summer League.
If Wembanyama had decided to play for France in the FIBA World Cup, he would have gone from Summer League, which ends July 17, right to France to practice with the team. The FIBA World Cup runs from Aug. 25 to Sept. 10, which means he would have gone from that event directly to NBA training camp. That is a lot of basketball for someone about to move to a new country and start his NBA career before he hits age 20.
But as clever as those comparisons are, what really matters is the kind of social media post that can’t be whipped up in Photoshop. Also this weekend, a cringeworthy bit of video surfaced of Wembanyama utterly bricking half a dozen outside shots. Obviously, it was just a cold stretch — Wembanyama has a smooth outside touch, when it’s falling — but the clip was a stark reminder of the fact that all the hype in the world won’t add a single point to Wembanyama’s nightly box score.
Also worth remembering: the fate of the No. 1 and 2 picks of the 2019 draft, just four years ago. Back then, Zion Williamson and Ja Morant were supposed to herald a new era of joyful athleticism in the NBA. It hasn’t worked out that way; as Dan Wetzel noted last week, Williamson can’t stay on the court and Morant can’t stay out of trouble. There are no guarantees in the NBA, no matter how you arrive in the league.
Wembanyama, as the line goes, is the most heralded NBA prospect since LeBron James, and that’s one hell of a load to place on Wembanyama’s still-narrow shoulders. Say what you will about James, the truth is that he’s a guy who came into the league with monumental, even astronomical expectations — and exceeded every single one of them.
Huggins then resigned and said he plans to retire. He was the winningest active head coach in college basketball with 935 career wins before he stepped down after coaching at Walsh, Akron, Cincinnati, Kansas State and West Virginia. He reached the Final Four twice and won 10 conference tournament titles.
West Virginia has since named assistant Josh Eilert as Huggins’ interim replacement. Kerr Kriisa, who also entered the transfer portal, opted to return to West Virginia after Eilert’s promotion. Joe Toussaint is still in the transfer portal.
Kentucky went 22-12 last season and lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Calipari, who will enter his 15th season with the Wildcats this fall, hasn’t led a team out of the first weekend of the tournament since 2019.
While Collins, as mentioned above, is due $78M over the next three years (26.6M player option in 2025-26), Gay will make just $6.4M this season before coming off the books. Atlanta did well to work with a team in Utah that could facilitate a salary dump with cap space without having to take equal salary back.
Bottom line: The deal Atlanta wanted for Collins never came. This became probably the best of what had become a limited basket options for a high-dollar negative contract in an increasingly belt-tightening time. It’s too much to give the deal an ‘A’ because the Hawks, albeit under a different front office, should’ve had the foresight to trade Collins a few years ago when there was a chance at a decent return.
But as it got later and Collins depreciated more and more, to trade him for another player or players who would likely be on the books for multiple years, under the guise of a short-term slingshot into contention, would’ve been a Band-aid at best. This rips the Collins’ Band-aid off for a fresh financial start. Necessary move for the Hawks.
Keyonte George, who is the potential point guard of the future, is super long as well for his 6-foot-4 frame. Utah is going big, and Collins as an upside starter or an established, super-athletic bench guy if Hendricks looks ready early is pretty damn intriguing.
I can’t give the deal an ‘A’ for the simple fact that Collins is still making a lot of money, and he could be on the books for three more years. If he keeps declining, it won’t be great. But Utah is in a prime position to absorb that kind of financial loss without really hindering its ability to put a winner (relatively speaking at this point in the rebuild) on the floor.
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