Nets ‘Still Curious’ About Trade for Unwanted Starting Big Man: NBA Execs

John Collins, Atlanta Hawks

Getty John Collins, Atlanta Hawks

May has just begun and while the focus of the NBA world is now down to eight teams, offseason machinations for the other 22 are well underway. Two of those teams—the Nets and the Hawks—began last season with bigger aspirations than the first-round defeats they recently were handed, but both are expected to undergo busy upcoming summers.

They could, in fact, find their upcoming offseasons tied together. That’s if decision-makers in Brooklyn and Atlanta decide to check back in on very preliminary talks the two had over the winter about forward John Collins, who has been very much available for a trade for the past year.

The Nets have had interest in Collins. But getting the pieces for a deal just right has proven impossible, and will likely remain so—unless there is a willingness to go big.

“The Nets want some guys who can score, and (Collins) can score. But the only way they (the Nets) can really do something big, can really get someone who can score in there, is if they can get a taker for Ben Simmons,” one league executive told Heavy Sports. “There aren’t a lot of teams where that would make sense, but Atlanta is one of them, because you need to build a defensive group around Trae Young.

“Now, if you’re the Nets, you still have to convince Atlanta that Simmons wants to play. Obviously, that is the question around him right now.”

Simmons, Collins Carry Burdensome Contracts

Simmons played just 42 games last season after sitting out all of 2021-22 because of a combination of a trade-demand holdout, mental health issues and a back injury. He had some good stretches for the Nets, but still averaged just 6.9 points in 26.3 minutes, with 6.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists—all career lows.

Collins struggled as well, almost exiled in plain sight by the Hawks. He averaged 13.1 points (lowest since his rookie year) and 6.5 rebounds (career low). But there is no question about his desire to play, and he appeared in 71 games.

The two players carry considerable financial burdens, too. Simmons is owed $78 million over the next two seasons, and Collins is owed $78 million over three seasons, with the third being a player option. While a deal involving the two could be seen as swapping one problem contract for another, in the best-case scenario, Collins could be a productive scoring big man for a Nets team desperate for shooting, and Simmons could be a versatile defensive wing and top ballhandler to take pressure off Young.

Simmons is the much bigger risk, though his contract is a year shorter.

“The Nets like Collins, they had interest there even before they blew up the team, they’re still curious but they would have to do more than just Simmons in that kind of deal,” the executive said. “You’d be looking at taking back (Bogdan) Bogdanovic’s deal if you’re Brooklyn and giving up a Royce O’Neale or Dorian Finney-Smith. Maybe too high a price, and maybe that is why they wind up holding onto Simmons in the end. They also have to ask, are you going to play Cam Johnson at the 4 permanently, can you play him with a big guy like Collins? But both teams are kind of in a holding pattern and even though it’s scary to do something big, that’s the kind of thing it will take.”

Bogdanovic is still a productive bench wing (14.0 points and 40.6% 3-point shooting), but he turns 31 in August and has had a hard time staying healthy, limited to 54 games this season. He signed a four-year, $68 million extension with the Hawks this year, with a team option on the final season.

Brooklyn Nets Seeking Scoring

The Nets, meanwhile, would likely be willing to give up one of their defensive-minded wings, though the team has no plans to move on from the two prizes acquired from Phoenix for Kevin Durant in February, Mikal Bridges and Johnson (who is a restricted free agent). O’Neale is more expendable—he has one year left on his deal, and turns 30 next month—while Finney-Smith was one of the main returns in the Nets got from Dallas for Kyrie Irving.

Whether Collins is their guy, around the league, expectations are that the Nets will find some way to boost an offense that went from eighth in the league, at 115.3 points per 100 possessions, to 23rd (113.2) following the Durant-Irving trades.

“They have some good young talent and I don’t think anyone was surprised that when you trade away scorers like Kyrie and Durant—all-time scorers—your offense takes a hit,” one Eastern Conference executive said. “But from everything you hear now, they’re looking to get that fixed. They’re not looking to build up slowly here. They want to be competitive. They’re going to find someone who can put up points in the next couple months.”

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