There’s a bunch of noise in the media right now suggesting that with Atlanta apparently unable to reach a contract extension agreement with John Collins, they should look to trade him.

This speculation has only intensified with the Danilo Gallinari signing, since he is generally considered to play the same position as Collins at the 4.

I take the interest as an indication that Collins’ is a coveted young player.

Teams don’t go through 3 year re-builds, only their promising young players at the earliest possible opportunity. It may be true that Collins has defensive limitations, but he’s shown enough growth on that end of the floor that at this point, you wait and see.

Right now, Collins wants a max contract, and the Hawks presumably don’t want to pay him that much. This doesn’t mean they should trade him. They can wait until next season and in the worst-case scenario, match any offer sheet that comes in.

Now, I’m no cap guru but this is my understanding of the situation as it stands.

What’s happening right now is the Hawks and Collins are negotiating a rookie extension which wouldn’t kick in until after next season (2021-22). If the two sides don’t reach agreement, Collins will be a restricted free agent in 2021-22. This means Collins can sign an offer sheet with any other team, but the Hawks have the right to match it and keep him under contract.

Interestingly, Atlanta will have a significant amount more cap space if they wait until the following offseason to pay Collins as a restricted free agent, because as a 19th pick, he has a much lower cap hold ($12.4m) than the Hawks would pay him - anywhere from $24-$32.6m as I estimate it.

Based on current salary cap projections, $32.6m is the current 2021-22 max for players with less than 6 years experience such as John Collins. De’Aaron Fox signed this deal this offseason. If Collins makes all-NBA this upcoming season he qualifies for the Rose rule and can be paid significantly more, but that feels unlikely.

As an aside, Miami are taking advantage of fellow-2017 draftee Bam Adebayo’s low 2021-22 cap hold, and won’t pay him until next offseason in order to preserve cap space for their pursuit of Giannis.

Currently, the Hawks have a projected $16.5m space next offseason including the new deals for Rondo, Gallinari and Kris Dunn, plus John Collins’ $12.4m cap hold and a cap hold for the as-yet-unsigned Onyeka Okongwu.

The Hawks are still currently $9m below the salary cap floor for the upcoming season, but if they used that space on one year deals, they would still have $16.5m in the 2021-22 offseason (plus $5m more if Kris Dunn opts out of the 2nd year of his 2-year deal).

So if the Hawks don’t extend Collins this offseason they will have $16.5m in space. Once that space has been used, they can sign then Collins to whatever number they want under the salary cap rules.

However it should be noted that if the Hawks use all of their 2021-22 cap space and sign Collins to his “max” (starting at $32.6m) they will enter the luxury tax. They probably don’t want to do that at this early stage of their rebuild. If they use all of their cap space, anything north of $20m for Collins will push them into the tax.

Note also that if Atlanta were to sign Bogdan Bogdanovic to the rumoured 4 years $72m deal (via Chris Kirschner), the Hawks’ 2021-22 cap space would be reduced to almost nothing (depending on whether Bogdan’s contract is structured flat, ascending or descending). In this case the timing of Collins’ signing is a moot point.

So it’s a delicate balance.

On the one hand, sign Collins now and quiet the media speculation, but sacrifice 2021-22 cap space. Phoenix took this route with Devin Booker and were criticised for not preserving cap space but they managed fine. They were a similarly young team.

Or, alternatively, halt negotiations and try again next off season. In the mean time media speculation grows, and Collins could sign an unfavourable offer sheet that could see him enter unrestricted free agency one or even two years sooner than if he signed a full five-year contract with Atlanta.

In 2014, Jazz forward Gordon Hayward signed an offer sheet with the Hornets for 4 years with a player option on the final year. Hayward went on to opt out of the 4th year and sign with the Celtics, leaving Utah with nothing to show for the top talent from their rebuild.

My hope is that Collins and the Hawks come to an agreement this offseason at somewhere below the $32.6m max, ideally in the $24-28m range.

If this is Trae Young, you probably max him the moment free agency opens, but John Collins is not quite that level of player.

Photo by Ronny Sison on Unsplash.