The Hawks Should Engage the San Antonio Spurs to Pull Off an Unlikely John Collins Blockbuster

The Atlanta Hawks figure to act aggressively ahead of the Feb. 10 NBA trade deadline. That could include trading star forward John Collins. There’s a deal for the Hawks to make, but it might not appear obvious.

Collins has been mentioned as the headliner in a potential trade for polarizing Philadelphia 76ers star Ben Simmons. However, Atlanta should pass on Simmons and make a deal with the San Antonio Spurs.

The Spurs are eager to advance their competitive timeline, while the Hawks could use assets that help them win now without sacrificing an abundance of talent or draft capital. A blockbuster trade involving Collins could benefit both teams.

The Spurs have long been after John Collins, while the Hawks have an interest in Derrick White

The Hawks appear increasingly eager to find a new home for John Collins as general manager Travis Schlenk tries to make good on earlier promises to shake things up.

Bleacher Report‘s Jake Fischer reported that Collins is among the Hawks players most likely to “see a change of scenery” before the NBA trade deadline. Additionally, Fischer noted that Atlanta allegedly seeks a “valuable” first-round pick and “starting-caliber player” in exchange for Collins.

That’s probably welcome news to the Spurs.

According to Fischer, San Antonio has shown interest in Collins since the 2020 offseason. It makes sense, considering the Spurs tend to pursue floor-spacing bigs. Similarly, Collins’ age (24) is very much in line with the rest of San Antonio’s roster.

But the most interesting detail in Fischer’s report is the Hawks’ purported interest in Spurs combo guard Derrick White. Atlanta’s interest in White opens the door for the two organizations to come together on a massive trade that could shake the foundations.

The trade

Atlanta Hawks forward John Collins drives during an NBA game against the San Antonio Spurs in November 2021
John Collins #20 of the Atlanta Hawks drives to the basket against the San Antonio Spurs during a game on Nov. 24, 2021 | Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

The Hawks and Spurs are, in a sense, perfect trade partners in a John Collins megadeal. San Antonio has the ideal contracts to match Atlanta. It also possesses the kind of “valuable” draft capital that the Hawks would surely desire.

A hypothetical blockbuster might look something like this:

  • Spurs receive: John Collins, Delon Wright, 2023 first-round pick (ATL, lottery-protected)
  • Hawks receive: Derrick White, Thaddeus Young, 2022 first round pick (SAS, unprotected)

The package fits from a financial perspective. Wright and Young are each on expiring deals, while Collins and White are both under contract for the foreseeable future. It’s nearly a perfect match in terms of salaries, as well.

This framework also makes a good deal of sense for both teams from a basketball standpoint.

Breaking down the dynamics of a Hawks-Spurs swap

In John Collins, the Spurs would get a player with superstar potential. Despite currently boasting the second-lowest usage rate of his career, Collins is averaging 16.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 2.0 assists. He’s shooting 53.6% from the floor and 41.4% from beyond the arc.

The Utah native can slip on screens for open jumpers, spot up on the perimeter, or roll hard to the rim for lobs. He’s an ideal pick-and-roll partner for Dejounte Murray, whose tendency to knife through the defense and create scoring opportunities in the lane has made him a strong All-Star candidate. Meanwhile, Delon Wright is on an expiring contract and, in an immediate sense, can serve as a combo guard off the Spurs’ bench.

With a core group consisting of Collins, Murray, Jakob Poeltl, Keldon Johnson, and Devin Vassell, the Spurs could rapidly climb the ranks of Western Conference contenders.

Some Hawks fans might feel the return is rather light here. They should consider current team needs and the versatile skills both players provide. Atlanta ranks 28th in defensive rating. It needs stout wing and perimeter defenders. White could give the Hawks just that.

The 27-year-old is an excellent defender with great anticipation. According to NBA.com, he ranks third in charges drawn and has the agility to stay in front of opposing guards. Additionally, White’s playmaking and slashing make him an intriguing offensive backcourt fit next to Trae Young.

Nabbing Thaddeus Young could make for a big bonus. Young is a terrific passer and offensive rebounder, and he had a 1.4 defensive box-plus minus in 68 games with the Chicago Bulls last season. Plus, he’s mostly wasting away on San Antonio’s bench right now on an expiring contract. That makes him a strong trade candidate.

Finally, the possibility of acquiring an unprotected first-round pick from the Spurs gives the Hawks another future asset to play with, which could become even more invaluable if they keep taking a swing at trading Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kevin Huerter, or DeAndre Hunter.

The deal seems risky for the Hawks because they’re giving up a star talent. But they’d improve fairly significantly defensively and get more playmaking, in addition to significant draft capital.

Atlanta will surely do its due diligence before trading John Collins. However, the Spurs could have the best offerings for the Hawks before the NBA trade deadline.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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