The Atlanta Hawks are in a tricky spot with John Collins, who turned down a $90 million extension prior to the start of the season on the belief he could command more as a restricted free agent this summer. He's probably right. The "restricted" designation, of course, means the Hawks will have the right to match any offer Collins receives on the open market.
The question is: How high are they willing to go? If they think the necessary number to retain Collins will exceed their limit, might they trade him before the March 25 deadline to avoid losing him for nothing in the offseason?
In an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Athletic on Thursday, Hawks president and general manager Travis Schlenk said, indeed, that he doesn't see a situation where the team would "just let [Collins] walk for nothing" this summer. But might that be a bit of a bluff in an effort to raise Collins' value as the trade deadline approaches? If teams interested in Collins get the impression Atlanta will block any outside attempts to sign him this offseason, it would, in theory, incentivize them to go harder after him right now.
Because here's the key reporting from The Athletic:
The reality of the situation is the Hawks have not made it abundantly clear to Collins that they view him as highly as he and his representation do. There's a gap, and one that has been acknowledged from sources close to Collins.
In other words, the Hawks are caught in the middle. They like Collins. He was Schlenk's first draft pick upon taking the Atlanta job in 2017. They would like to keep him at a reasonable rate. But it's a thin free-agent class and someone is going to pony up for Collins. If some team wants to go all in before the deadline, Atlanta might be happy to avoid having to make a tough call on overpaying Collins this summer.
But trading him now is tough from a matching-money standpoint because he's only making $4.1 million this season. Good luck finding a player at that price who will help the Hawks more than Collins for the remainder of this season. That's a crucial consideration, because the Hawks just fired their coach. Ownership patience is running dry. Schlenk can't just trade Collins, say, for future draft picks because he might very well not be around for that future if the Hawks don't turn their season around immediately and make the playoffs. If you take Collins off this team right now without equal return, an already sub-.500 squad goes deeper in the tank.
In reality, the trade options probably look like this: Atlanta pairs Tony Snell's $12.2 million expiring contract with Collins' money, which nets them a $21 million player, or player(s), in return. Or they keep Collins, match whatever offer he gets this summer to avoid losing him for nothing, then trade him down the road when teams might be willing to offer more for a player who's now under long-term team control.
The latter scenario feels most probable. Collins has had another strong campaign, improving his defense while backing up his jump to a 40-percent 3-point shooter last season by connecting at a 39-percent clip this year. He got thrown a curveball when the Hawks brought in Clint Capela, who eats up some of the interior space Collins enjoyed, particularly as a lob runner, but his evolution as a floor stretcher has made the pairing work.
Collins is a really good player. If the Hawks don't think he's quite good enough to pay him the kind of money he wants and will likely get from at least one other team, then it behooves them to milk his services for the remainder of this season, try to make the playoffs and save everyone's job, and look to get off their investment at a later date.
Or, they could just pay him big and let it ride. It wouldn't be a bad choice. Again, Collins is really good. Lineups with him and Trae Young are plus-6.8 points per 100 possessions this season, per CTG, and despite reports of bickering between the two over how Young handles the offense, they go really well together. We shall see which road the Hawks choose to go down with Collins, but whatever choice they make, it won't be an easy one.