Could the Celtics make a play for rising Hawks star John Collins?


Brad Stevens is talking like somebody who wants to tinker with the Celtics’ roster rather than overhaul it. This week, he spoke about the importance of keeping a successful identity in place and the fragility of a championship core.

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But as we know, plans can sometimes change, especially if there’s an enticing reason to alter course. For the Celtics, an opportunity to acquire John Collins from the Hawks may qualify.

NBA reporter Zach Harper of The Athletic wrote this week there is “some chatter” the Celtics could be interested in acquiring the Atlanta forward. Collins, 24, is a highly productive player. The five-year vet averaged 16.2 points per game last season and 7.8 rebounds — roughly in line with his career averages.

With Al Horford entering his age-36 season — and coming off a taxing playoff run — the Celtics could use another productive big man to compliment Robert Williams III. But the cost to acquire Collins would likely be steep, and thus, require the Celtics to disrupt their nucleus.

Harper mentions that Jaylen Brown would probably be the Hawks’ top target in any Collins deal. That would be a non-starter. “Brown is a far better player than Collins is,” Harper writes. “Unless the Celtics have a guarantee at the point guard position that moves Marcus Smart to the two, finding some version of a Collins-for-Brown swap doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

The Hawks were tied to Marcus Smart at last year’s trade deadline, and could use the reigning Defensive Player of the Year to compliment their array of skill players. But Smart is on a team-friendly deal (four years, $76 million) and embodies the Celtics’ defensive identity.

Trading Smart would also constitute a seismic shift in how the Celtics are constructed. “The Celtics were two wins away from a championship, and tinkering is a better operation here than an overhaul,” Harper writes.

If the Celtics underachieved again last season, then exploring a trade for Collins would be more sensible. But for now, the Celtics will likely stay on the periphery.

But they could still be ready to pounce if the price is right.