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Winners, losers from John Collins trade to Utah Jazz

Boston Celtics v Atlanta Hawks - Game Three

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 21: John Collins #20 of the Atlanta Hawks reacts after hitting a three-point basket against the Boston Celtics during the second quarter of Game Three of the Eastern Conference First Round Playoffs at State Farm Arena on April 21, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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John Collins has been traded. Finally.

It’s been almost two full years that the Atlanta Hawks were looking to find a new home for Collins, but they kept their asking price high and rebuffed offers that fell short. Until Monday. What changed? The new CBA and an increased fear of the luxury tax by owners. With that shadow hanging over them, the Hawks agreed to what essentially is a salary dump of a trade sending Collins to Utah for Rudy Gay. Here is how the trade shakes out:

Jazz receive: John Collins
Hawks receive: Rudy Gay, future second-round pick
(Note for cap geeks: The Jazz absorb Collins into their cap space, so they don’t have to send back equal salary; the Hawks will absorb Gay into a trade exception, and with that create another $25 million trade exception for possible future trades.)

Let’s break down the winners and losers of this deal.

WINNER: John Collins

John Collins can contribute — two seasons ago he averaged 16.2 points and 7.8 rebounds a game, and he’s the kind of athletic forward who can impact the game even off the ball or with blocks. Plus, he famously put Joel Embiid in a poster (then wore a T-shirt with an image of the dunk).

However, for the past four seasons, his usage rate has dipped lower and lower in Atlanta. He was disappearing from the offense (and Hawks fans would say, not earning those chances), and last season his usage rate dipped to a career-low as he shot below 30% from 3.

Now Collins gets a fresh start and a fresh chance — and he has to take advantage of it. Collins will split time at the four with just drafted Taylor Hendricks and if Collins coasts Hendricks will eat up more and more of that run. It’s possible this is a situation where a change of scenery is just what a player needed to find his old form. We will see if Collins fits that mold.

LOSER: Class of 2023 free agents

This isn’t the deepest, most impressive class of free agents ever, but everyone in that market just lost a little leverage. The Utah Jazz were one of just seven teams with cap space to spend on free agents, and this trade eats up a lot of that space. Even for the players with no sincere interest in going to Utah, it was a team free agents (and their agents) could use as leverage. Now Utah is off the board and one more option has dried up.

If Jordan Clarkson and Talen Horton-Tucker decline their player options in the coming days, the Jazz will still have some cap room, but it will not be the same.

WINNER: Utah Jazz

Utah just landed a 25-year-old player at a position of need who, at the very least, is a quality NBA rotation player, and if he bounces back can be more than that — and they got him for nothing. It’s easy to picture Danny Ainge and Justin Zanik texting each other, saying, “They’re going to give us Collins for THAT!?!”

Rudy Gay was already on his way out the door in Utah, and they surrendered a future second-round pick. That’s it. And they get not only a player who can contribute today but also someone who allows them to explore trades for guys such as Kelly Olynyk and Damian Jones, bringing back players or picks. The Jazz are in the asset acquisition phase of rebuilding and they not only got a quality asset in this deal but also opened up potential other moves. This is a win of a trade.

MID: Atlanta Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks did not lose this trade, they executed their plan — ownership wanted to get below the luxury tax, and the team has been ready to move on from John Collins for a while. This didn’t cost them much, in fact they created a $25 million trade exception they can use for a future move.

The Hawks also didn’t get better with this move — something they could have done multiple times over the past year if they had just taken the decent deal on the table. This is a vintage example of a team overvaluing a player and what they think they can get for him, holding on far too long, then getting nothing. Collins may have faded in the rotation but he was still a quality player who could have helped the Hawks and maybe bounced back under a new coach and system in Quin Snyder.

They ended up giving him away. It’s not a disaster, but it’s not good, either.