Return game in Atlanta ‘definitely circled’ on former Hawks star’s calendar

Atlanta Hawks, Trae Young (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
Atlanta Hawks, Trae Young (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images) /

The Atlanta Hawks might need to watch their heads when February 27 rolls around.

That is when the Utah Jazz come to town with one John Collins potentially looking to take out some pent-up frustrations over his Hawks tenure. Collins made no bones about his intentions for his return game either.

“It’s definitely circled on the calendar for sure,” Collins said via the Jazz on media day on October 2. “Going to sleep thinking about what I’m gonna do when I get down there.”

Collins had his best season in Atlanta in 2019-20, averaging 21.6 points, 10.1 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 1.5 assists, and shooting 40.1% from beyond the arc. But Collins battled through injuries and inconsistency in the seasons that followed, culminating in a 13.0/6.5/1.2/1.0 line and the big man shooting 29.2% from deep.

Atlanta had flirted with the idea of trading Collins for years.

They finally did this offseason, sending him to Utah for a package of veteran Rudy Gay – who was promptly waived – a conditional second-round pick, and a $25.3 million traded player exception.

There are doubts they will use the exception before it expires one year from the date the deal was completed, and others were not satisfied with what they’ve done to replace Collins.

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“John was a huge part of what we’ve done, especially on the defensive end this last season,” Hawks general manager Landry Fields said on media day, essentially reiterating his statement from when the trade went down. “We wish him nothing but the best. I know he’s going to do great things in Utah for him.”

Hawks star Trae Young, who also previously addressed Collins’ trade, called it “tough” on media day while noting that his signature lobs may have to go from being turned into dunks to resulting in lobs.

And Collins sent out a heartfelt message to Hawks fans.

But the shade that he threw the organization – and perhaps Young’s – way in that post resurfaced on media day.

Former Hawks star John Collins ‘motivated’ by Jazz’s style of play

“I’ll tell you the one thing that surprised me is the lack of ego in here,” Collins said. “It’s refreshing to have a group of guys that truly emphasize playing team basketball, and that want to do so. It’s nice for me to see and exciting for me to be around. And that helps me wake up in the morning motivated to go play.”

Collins was born in Utah so the destination always made some sense for him. But the comments about playing team basketball would seem to be a direct shot at Young with whom Collins has bumped heads in the past over the former’s tendency to hold onto the ball.

It is a charge he is still trying to beat despite leading the NBA in total assists two years in a row.

The two had seemingly made amends. But, as Collins’ role continued to diminish, his resentment for the way the Hawks played did not. It is especially notable for Collins to mention the unselfish style of play because he was with Atlanta and saw the impact that Quin Snyder had once he took over.

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A lot can happen between now and February 27. But Collins’ comments will almost certainly resurface for both sides.