The Atlanta Hawks entered this season thinking they had the roster necessary to replicate last year’s stunning run to the Eastern Conference Finals and expected to once again be lurking in the top-4 in the East come playoff time. However, midway through the season, the Hawks are 12th in the East at 17-22, 4.5 games out of the 6-seed and the final guaranteed playoff position.
Their plan of running it back has not panned out, and plenty within the organization seem to realize they need a course change at the trade deadline. The question is how significant of a deal do the Hawks need to make, as Travis Schlenk has admitted he thinks it was a mistake bringing everyone back last summer and will be looking for upgrades at the deadline. Is it simply shuffling the deck on some of their role players on the wing, like Cam Reddish who has been available to other teams since this past summer or veteran Danilo Gallinari who has not had the same impact this season as last? Or do the Hawks want to make a bigger move that would reshape their foundation?
Based on rumored talks, Atlanta is exploring both options, and the latter could come in the form of a Ben Simmons trade. As to what they could offer that would make the Sixers willing to part with the star guard, the only player that is not Trae Young that would seem to fit their desire for an All-Star caliber player is John Collins, who just so happens to be upset with his role with the Hawks despite inking a 5-year, $125 million deal with the team this offseason, per Shams Charania of The Athletic.
Collins, however, has grown increasingly frustrated over his role in Atlanta, multiple sources have told The Athletic. His shot attempts per game and usage rate have decreased in each of the past three seasons — even as the athletic, energetic Collins has improved his offensive repertoire. The 6-foot-9 big man has challenged the Hawks locker room on multiple occasions to play team basketball and commit to one another this season. Oftentimes, Collins has felt his voice go unheard.
“I’ve banged my head on the wall a couple of times trying to figure it out myself, there’s really no excuse,” Collins said Friday night after the Hawks’ 134-118 loss to the Lakers in Los Angeles. “All I can say is it’s unacceptable and we have to dig down and do the things necessary to win or this is going to be the result every night.”
It is important to note that Shams says it’s “unclear” if the Hawks would put a Collins-Reddish centered package on the table for Simmons (and he can’t be dealt until January 15), but given Philadelphia’s asking price and the list of teams reported as involved in talks not changing, Atlanta certainly seems to be the team that has the most to offer as of now. Whether that is enough to make a trade happen now remains to be seen, but it would be a fascinating shakeup for all parties involved and you could see how both would benefit from it. Collins has become a terrific stretch big and his fit next to Joel Embiid in the frontcourt would not be difficult to envision working snugly. Simmons, meanwhile, would be the defensive counterbalance to Trae Young in the backcourt who could operate more like a point-forward in the halfcourt with the Hawks — and would need to with Collins gone.
The Hawks situation is not one many GMs would be envious of, as Schlenk must decide whether last year’s post-All Star run was more of a mirage than this season’s stop-start mess due to COVID. The future success of the franchise hinges on, effectively, guessing right on which small sample size is more representative of the truth.