Celtics

Celtics reportedly interested in John Collins, although price is ‘steep’ for Hawks forward

Collins will be a restricted free agent this offseason.

The Celtics reportedly have interest in John Collins. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

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The Celtics have reportedly expressed interest in Atlanta Hawks forward John Collins, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

In his Inside Pass column, Charania reported that Collins has been “a player of interest” for Boston, but he added that the asking price for Collins is “steep” and the Celtics are more likely to pursue Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes.

Collins is averaging 17.9 points per game and 7.7 rebounds per game this season. He will be a restricted free agent this offseason, and he expects to be paid — per a report from ESPN’s Brian Windhorst in December, Collins turned down an extension worth $90 million and is angling for a max deal.

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Interestingly, since Collins is still on his rookie deal, the Celtics wouldn’t have to burn their $28.5 million traded player exception to acquire him. When Collins reaches restricted free agency, the Celtics would have his Bird rights and could go over the cap to pay him, but the cap hit would be astronomical if they didn’t make a secondary move such as trading away Kemba Walker or Marcus Smart.

Both moves feel unlikely. Smart’s value to the Celtics has been well established by the team’s recent struggles, and while Walker has rounded a corner since returning from his knee procedure and has played well over the last few weeks, his max contract won’t be easy to move. He likely has more value to the Celtics than to other teams.

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The Celtics’ interest in Collins makes sense. He turns 24 in September and has hit more than 37 percent of his 3-pointers this year. He’s also an excellent free-throw shooter, which suggests he could improve as a shooter even more, and while he isn’t a good defender, he’s athletic and mobile and might have some potential to improve in Brad Stevens’ defensive systems.

But Charania’s phrasing — calling Collins’ price tag “steep” — suggests the Celtics probably wouldn’t be able to get away with simply trading prospects like Aaron Nesmith or Romeo Langford and a pick. Barnes is older, but as the Kings fall further out of the race for the play-in tournament, his price tag might fall as well. Barnes’ two-way versatility would both tie together disparate parts of the Celtics’ roster and add badly needed veteran wing depth.

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A lot of things can happen before the deadline, but at this stage, acquiring Collins looks like a stretch with other reasonable options on the table.

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