Minnesota Timberwolves: John Collins is a worthy trade target

John Collins of the Atlanta Hawks. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
John Collins of the Atlanta Hawks. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images) /

The Minnesota Timberwolves should prioritize John Collins as a trade target.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have two stars anchoring their roster, but they don’t yet have the final piece to claim a bonafide Big Three.

Phoenix’s Devin Booker and Washington’s Bradley Beal are the two names bandied about the most, but while it’s true that adding a dynamite perimeter player to a star point guard and big man is the most synergistic way to build a roster, there are myriad hurdles to such a deal.

Instead, let’s think outside the box. Why, you ask? Because Atlanta Hawks big man John Collins could be the perfect fit to round out the trio.

Minnesota Timberwolves: John Collins is a worthy trade target

Some credit to the idea of trading for John Collins has to be given to Greg Swartz of Bleacher Report.

As part of his 1 Trade for Every NBA Lottery Team If It Wins No. 1 Pick” article, he suggests that the Wolves, if they indeed land the No. 1 overall pick in the draft lottery, should conduct business with the Hawks, landing both Collins and Kevin Huerter.

Here’s the full proposed trade.

There are a couple of problems with this offer. First of all, it doesn’t actually work because of how much salary the Wolves are taking in versus what they’re sending out.

Secondly, Atlanta is sure to hang up the phone if the Wolves tried to propose this deal. Unless, of course, they fall in love with a prospect at No. 1 or No. 2 or wherever the Wolves will be picking.

Swartz suggests that Atlanta could go after Anthony Edwards, who played at the University of Georgia. Sure, he’d fit nicely with that roster and would slide into the spot vacated by Huerter in this scenario.

But it’s hard to see the Hawks giving up Collins and Huerter for essentially Edwards and a pair of rotation pieces in Jake Layman and Naz Reid, even if pieces were added to make the salaries work.

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a trade to be had, however. The Hawks would surely at least listen to this as a starting point…

In a vacuum, this trade is an absolute steal for Minnesota.

The Wolves would be trading a minus contributor in Culver and the first pick in a draft without a consensus, can’t-miss top prospect, and getting back one of the best young big men in the game and a 22-year-old wing who has shot north of 38 percent from 3-point range over two years as a professional.

The Hawks may be able to talk themselves into such a trade. Why?

  1. It’s not hard to spin the narrative ono a trade that lands a team the No. 1 overall pick, especially if they fall in love with a prospect, whether it’s Edwards or someone else.
  2.  Jarrett Culver was the No. 6 pick only a year ago, and together with the Edwards (or other No. 1 pick), Trae Young, and, to a lesser extent, Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter, the Hawks would have a nice core in place.

Remember, the Wolves are in a unique position at the top of the lottery in that they already have a pair of All-Stars in place as the pillars of the franchise. Detroit, Cleveland, Charlotte, and others simply don’t have anything resembling the duo of Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell.

The Wolves would be willing to trade Culver, who remains a lottery ticket with little current on-court value, and their top pick (another lottery ticket) for a sure thing (John Collins is already a star) and another shooter with upside.

That’s not to say that there isn’t some downside to acquiring Collins.

The biggest issue is related to the cap sheet. Collins only has one year left on his rookie deal, meaning that he is headed for restricted free agency next summer unless he is extended before then.

The Wolves would technically have the capital to extend both Collins and Malik Beasley, but it would be tricky, to say the least. This is the second problem with Swartz’s original analysis.

Yes, there’s a chance that the Wolves could get Beasley on a bargain deal of $10-11 million per season, allow Juancho Hernangomez to leave and lock up Collins. But it’s unlikely, to say the least.

If the Wolves were going to land Collins, they could decide to try and move James Johnson via trade, retain Hernangomez at $5-6 million per year and then extend Collins. There could be room to keep Beasley, too, but the Wolves would essentially be capped out with a lineup like this:

Point Guard: D’Angelo Russell, Jordan McLaughlin
Wing 1: Malik Beasley, Kevin Huerter, Jaylen Nowell, Jacob Evans
Wing 2: Josh Okogie, Jake Layman
Big/Wing 3: John Collins, Juancho Hernangomez
Big: Karl-Anthony Towns, Naz Reid, Jarred Vanderbilt

That is a playoff-caliber roster, pending a possible upgrade on the wing.

Everyone in the rotation would be a plus 3-point shooter except for Okogie and maybe McLaughlin, although he’s at least likely to be league-average.

There’s a good amount of positional flexibility; Layman would play as much at the 4 as he would at the 3, and most of the wings are interchangeable with one another depending on matchups.

The biggest issue is, of course, defensively. The only clear plus-defender in the rotation is Okogie. Layman and Hernangomez are solid, but Town, Russell, Collins, and Beasley all need to take something reflecting a mini-leap on that end of the floor if this team wants to make noise beyond the first round of postseason play.

It’s also important to note that, at least to this point, Gersson Rosas and his front office have shown a desire to effectively play with a point guard, a big (Towns), and three versatile, switchable wings. It’s possible that they would not be interested in putting Collins, who is perhaps best used as a center, alongside Towns.

The bet here is that because they’re both dynamic offensive players both in the paint and beyond the arc, the fit would work as long as the defense manages to be decent.

Again, this roster would likely be capped out, and until the Wolves prove that they’re a legitimate contender, they’ll likely struggle to convince rotation-worthy veterans to join the roster for a portion of the mid-level exception, much less the veteran’s minimum.

The question is, can Ryan Saunders and his staff squeeze enough defensive effort out of this roster to make it a group worth cramming the cap sheet full?

Next. 3 areas for the Wolves to improve defensively. dark

If the answer is ‘yes’, then a call should be made to Atlanta the moment the draft lottery is completed on Thursday night. If the Wolves land one f the top two picks, this becomes a somewhat realistic possibility.