The Utah Jazz are busy once again in the offseason, agreeing to a frontcourt swap. The Atlanta Hawks are sending forward/center John Collins to Utah for swingman Rudy Gay and a second-round pick.
- Rudy Gay
- Future second-round pick
- John Collins
Last summer, the Jazz dealt All-Star center Rudy Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves and guard Donovan Mitchell to the Cleveland Cavaliers. As a part of that trade, the Jazz got back Lauri Markkanen from the Cavs, who blossomed into an All-Star in 2022-23.
Collins is entering his seventh NBA season and averaged 13.1 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.0 blocks per game in 30 minutes per game with the Hawks last season. However, his stats have declined since the 2019-20 season in which he averaged a career-best 21.6 ppg and 10.1 rpg. The 25-year-old Collins was a first-round pick in 2017 and scored in double figures in each of his six seasons with Atlanta.
In Utah, Collins will join a frontcourt that boasts Markkanen (25.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1.9 apg last season), second-year center Walker Kessler (9.2 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 2.3 bpg) and rookie Taylor Hendricks (the No. 9 overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft). Markkanen was the Kia Most Improved Player, while Kessler — a player Utah landed in the Gobert deal — became an All-Rookie first team selection and ranked fourth in the league in blocks per game.
After dealing away Gobert and Mitchell, the Jazz were considered an afterthought in the Western Conference as last season began. However, the team was competitive early, starting 10-3 and hovering around .500 until about the All-Star break. The midseason trades of Mike Conley, Jarred Vanderbilt and Malik Beasley sapped Utah of some scoring punch and a late-season injury to Markkanen brought Utah’s playoff and AT&T Play-In Tournament hopes to an end by early April.
Collins signed a five-year, $125 million contract in 2021 and still has two seasons left (along with a player option in 2025-26) on his deal. Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the trade creates a $25.3 million trade exception, which is the largest in the NBA, and something Atlanta has a year to potentially use.
The deal also gives Atlanta flexibility to explore possible contract extensions for Dejounte Murray, Onyeka Okongwu and Saddiq Bey. Collins’ departure opens up playing time for Okongwu as well as talented frontcourt youngsters such as AJ Griffin and Jalen Johnson, both of whom showed flashes of development at various times last season.
During the Draft, the Hawks made a different deal by trading a future second-round pick to Boston for Washington State center Mouhamed Gueye, who was a second-round pick by the Celtics. The Hawks selected guard Kobe Bufkin of Michigan in the first round, at No. 15 overall. The Hawks selected wing player Seth Lundy from Penn State at No. 46 overall.
After the Draft, Hawks general manager Landry Fields said he didn’t consider the team’s need to clear salary cap space a barrier to the 2023-24 season.
“I wouldn’t consider it something that’s necessarily difficult,” Fields said. “I don’t know if that’s the right word for it. I think we have things we can look at in time, but I also think part of this is about development and improving our roster that way.”
Gay is a 17-year NBA veteran and spent the last two seasons with the Jazz as a reserve. Last season, he posted 5.2 ppg and 2.9 rpg in 14.6 mpg as he average career lows in practically every category. He held a player option for next season, which he reportedly exercised to allow the trade to happen.
The Hawks showed no real improvement after coach Quin Snyder took over in late February, going 10-11 over the final 21 games of the regular season to complete a maddening year at 41-41. They claimed the No. 7 seed with a play-in victory at Miami, only to fall to the second-seeded Celtics — their second straight one round-and-done showing in the NBA Playoffs.
After years of struggling to fill the seats, the Hawks averaged a team-record 17,555 per game and sold out State Farm Arena for nearly every game. But the team rarely gave its fans a lot to cheer about.
“I want to be looked at as a team that should come in and win a championship, not just be in the picture, not just be in the running,” Hawks guard Trae Young said in April. “I want to come into the season as a team that people look at it and say they can win, they’ve got a chance. That’s my whole focus and my whole mindset.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.