Atlanta Hawks double-double machine John Collins recently joined the HoopsHype podcast to discuss what it was like hearing his name in trade rumors, where he stands on a long-term contract extension with the Hawks, his sales pitch to get free agents to come to Atlanta, the landscape of the league and more. You can listen to the interview above or read a transcribed version of our chat below.
Have you been watching the playoffs the whole way?
John Collins: Yeah. I’m trying to keep the whole TV on now. I’m all for playoff basketball. These guys are trying now. It’s not this regular season stuff, so I’m here to watch now.
What are you thinking of watching the playoffs right now, given where you guys finished during the year?
JC: Obviously, knowing we could have been in the bubble, I know we would have been there if all of the things went right. My suspension and injury, whatever the hell, excuse me. Whatever situation you want to be, I felt like giving us a fair chance definitely should be in the bubble, but it’s even more motivation to watch the playoffs because it’s good basketball.
Do you guys wish you could be doing something right now that they would have either had all 30 teams or even something for the other eight teams that didn’t make the bubble to keep you guys fresh?
JC: I definitely thought that we were going to do something. But, obviously, with all of the changes in the continual stuff that they keep on telling us to wait for or not wait for, it’s kind of hard to gauge. At some point, I thought we were going to do something, and as of now, it’s still looking like everything’s up in the air, but I would have loved to have done something. On the other hand, I don’t feel like me not playing these games is hurting my game. I definitely feel like I come to the gym, I go all out every single time, and I’ll work hard every day. I don’t feel like I’m getting worse by not playing in games. I’ll be rusty, but that’s how I feel. I feel like if I have a basketball in my hand and the gym to train in, I’m going to get better. The notion that guys are going to get worse, I feel like it’s up to them. But definitely, I feel like they should have. We could have figured something else out for the guys that aren’t in the playoffs, but it’s still a tough situation in general. We’re just talking about COVID overall. Like I said, it’s all a big mess right now.
What have you been doing since they did the NBA restart just for yourself?
JC: I just welcomed a young man into the world. Big man, J, he’s on the couch eating right now, so I’ve been taking care of my daddy duties. Other than that, just trying to bust my ass in the gym and just stay ready because I know at some point we’re going to have some sort of a basketball or some sort of real live action. My goal is to always be in the best shape possible all year round. I love working out every day. I love doing my job, so that’s really the day to day taking care of little man, going in and getting my work in, and trying to occupy myself any way I can with family. Maybe take a quick vacation and go home here and there. There’s not too much to do right now in terms of trying to be safe and doing things. It’s kind of boring. You know what I mean?
You know what I was thinking of as you were telling me about becoming a dad, Michele Roberts was talking about maybe next year, the league has to stay in a bubble like they’re doing in Orlando now, or they split it up into a couple of bubbles. How would you feel about that?
JC: Being honest, it’s weird. It’d be weird. The bubble now is weird. The only reason it’s not like completely foreign to me, and it’s going to sound funny is because I’m a Florida kid. I grew up playing at the HP Fieldhouse, Disney sports and all those arenas and gyms that those guys are playing in would sort of benefit me. Outside of that, I definitely think it would be extremely weird. I’d be on board for it. I’m definitely showing up to my job and handling business, of course, but it’d be weird. I don’t like that idea. I want to go through a regular season. I want to see the fans. I want to sign some autographs, but it just might not be the safest thing right now. In this situation, it kind of jumbles things a little bit. How would you feel about that? How would you feel about four separate bubbles? It just sounds weird.
The biggest thing I miss is going to the arenas, interacting with you guys in the locker room, and pulling a guy aside to get an interview or something like that.
JC: There’s nothing like being in arenas. There’s nothing like just walking into the gym yesterday, and hearing four or five dudes work out at once was like music. I can only imagine for you guys, or for people who don’t play, the whole atmosphere is everything. The ambiance and what you guys are looking for are all gone. The fans, you hear a couple of chatters, and you try to hear everything. The whole NBA circle is sort of just dead now with everything just in the bubble. I feel you on that 100 percent. I’m a big feel and vibe type of person, especially when it comes to my teammates and in my on the court chemistry with where I am in everything. I feel like that’s part of the reason why I can get into that mental state is because of the fans, because of the media, because my family is there, everybody’s there watching on TV. It sets the table, you know what I mean? Now, it just feels naked. I feel kind of naked watching these games, and all these fans on the screen look really weird. It doesn’t even look right.
Being in the bubble, you’re fresher because you’re not traveling cross country or in back-to-back games. I agree with you 100 percent that the vibe is different and for you guys as players, and I think similarly for us as reporters, when we get to the arena early, warm up and have those conversations. It’s almost like walking into a church.
JC: You know what’s crazy? I said the same thing to my coaches a month ago. I was like, man, every time I walk into here, every time I walk into the practice facility, and I see that open court, I feel the same way. I look at this as a church. Everybody’s coming in, paying their respects, giving their body, laying their bodies on the line for all this s—. Basketball, ball is life. I really feel like that’s real. Basketball is almost a religion. In my personal opinion, to be successful in this game, you have to buy all the way in. I feel like the game knows that you’re bought in or not and respects you off that or that will have an effect on how you play in your career. I feel the same way whenever we talk about basketball. There’s a whole layer of respect you’ve got to put over before you even do anything because I just feel like I’m blessed to play the sport at the level I do. It’s not to say we’re worshipping anybody or anything, but it’s that feeling.
I feel like the game knows that you’re bought in or not and respects you off that or that will have an effect on how you play in your career
Basketball is peaceful. There’s a lot of crazy stuff going on in our world. I talked about this with Myles Turner on the podcast. There’s a mental health aspect for guys. Being in a bubble, being isolated away from your families, that’s not how we’re meant to live.
JC: It’s totally foreign. You’re meant to go home. It probably fees like the players are going crazy because, after a game, it’s routine. I shower, I do this, I do that, I decompress. Then, there’s media. It’s like a whole cycle that I feel like I need to get through after the game, so I can only imagine how those guys are feeling in there when they got to go into that room and do their media on that screen. There are no fan signings after the game. Nobody’s calling your name. It’s just weird. I usually look up, and I see one familiar face in the crowd. Now I see box faces, so I feel like you were touching on this a little bit. The game is not even really supposed to be built like this. Basketball is that sport that touches so many people internationally. I feel like the sport has a language. Basketball is a language. I feel like hoopers are just happy to at least have something on TV. I know I am, especially sitting at home. As a player, it’s frustrating. It’s frustrating in every way because when you look out, and you see the realness of the COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement, those aren’t going anywhere.
I also caught up with your head coach Lloyd Pierce, and he’s become quite an activist during the Black Lives Matter movement. When you were talking about the games without the fans, it’s almost like you guys are playing in a park by yourselves and trash-talking against each other. It’s such a different vibe. You don’t have anything to feed off of. It’s your competitive nature. There are no fans like a home-court advantage or anything in a bubble.
JC: That’s the crazy part of seeing how the NBA has been innovative and being able to put the fans on the TV. But speaking from a player’s perspective, the atmosphere and the ambiance are all different. I feel like it probably feels like they’re playing AAU basketball. But in another sense, I do feel like the reason we have been seeing such great basketball is because guys have been forced to just be around each other more naturally. The more guys are around each other, the better they play on the court, and the more they understand each other, etc. There’s always good and bad. The NBA has done a great job of keeping the quarantine safe and keeping these guys ready to go. It’s incredible. Hopefully, we can set a precedent for the other leagues to get their season underway and keep everybody healthy.
You don’t have the guys outside asking you to sign your autograph. You don’t have to walk through the tunnel to see everybody and everything. Or, you might see somebody from high school that came to the game one time, and that might mess your whole night. I’m saying small stuff like that, that you don’t have the opportunity to see anymore. I see a lot of reading Twitter and Instagram and just hearing stuff. You see a lot of people will say something along the lines of ‘Hey, I don’t know why guys are out of shape’ or ‘There’s no excuse for any of that.’ All you’re doing is practicing the game and improving yourself. All your coaches are right there. There’s no travel. You have the best food. If you were to lock down and really double down, all these professionals really know what they’re doing at their job. Everybody has to improve it. It’s just the nature of the game. I definitely think it’s better basketball to be on TV.
You mentioned social media. Do you go on Twitter and Instagram and search yourself as an athlete and see what people say?
JC: Usually, I only searched for myself after a game. I used to put John Collins in and see what pops up. Other than that, I don’t think I’m ever really searching for my name. I’m not too much of a social media guy. If I go on, I’ll probably be on every day. In terms of posting, I usually don’t post too much at all or anything. I try to stay aware. If I’m interested in the topic, then I’ll go right to Twitter and put in whatever I’m looking for.
What do you do if somebody talks trash about you after a game and someone either @ mentions you or if you type in John Collins? What do you do when you see that?
JC: Most of the time, I let it be. Obviously, if I see somebody say something that’s super-duper out of line like they’re talking about my mom, I might block them depending on if we lost or not. If we won, regardless of whatever happens, I really don’t care. I let the comments be comments. I’m not going to see all of them. You’re never going to see these people in real life, so I try not to get too angry, and I know I really can’t do anything about it. I just keep rolling really and keep pushing.
What’s an early afternoon game experience either at the Garden or at Barclays?
JC: Those are the days I have most of the most bounce because I don’t have to do shootaround. I usually come in there jumping super duper high on those early days. People think NBA players just go out every night. That sounds great, and we have the resources and all that great stuff to do it, but we usually probably have a meeting at 8:30 or 9:00. Then, we get on the bus, go shoot around, come back, wait, and then we go back to the arena. That all happens before 3:00 or 4:00. We’re just moving throughout the day. And a lot of the times when you have those early games, it cuts a lot of that movement out, and it’s just one bus straight to the arena. For myself, it’s just less movement, less emotion, less things to think about. Although I might not be as up mentally, physically, my body feels a lot looser because of no shootaround and just no extra movement. My body has been at rest all day. The first time it gets the rev up is for a game, which is better for my body.
When you’re in New York, where do you like to go out?
JC: I’ve only been to one place in New York. I think it was called Up&Down or something. That was my draft night. The only food spot that I know of and I love is called Steak ‘N Lobster. I’m still trying to wait until somebody takes me up to Harlem or the Bronx, so I can get a real chopped cheese.
We’re both watching the playoffs right now. What’s going through your mind?
JC: The first thing that goes through my mind whenever I start watching the playoffs is just the jump in terms of the intensity. I feel like I can see it now going into my fourth year, whereas my first three years it kind of just all looked the same. Now, I truly can tell the intricacies and have played against certain guys, a million times now, it just makes the mental side of the game just watching so much harder because I know what all these guys on the court like to do. I haven’t scouted and watched film on it in so long. So that alone, the intensity and the game planning I know are there. For me, it’s definitely a good watch. And then the next thing I know, these games are going to be mostly competitive. Nobody’s really getting blown out. Playoffs are good basketball. Obviously, I’m mad I can’t be there, but I’m not salty or hung up over it. I understand why we’re not there and what needs to be done. At the end of the day, I’m a basketball fan and a fan of basketball period.
When I was talking with Lloyd Pierce, he told me he felt after you got your suspension, you had something to prove, and you did that looking at your numbers. What did you take away from the suspension? And, also for you, the first time in your career, your name surfaced in trade talks where teams were hitting up the Hawks and checking in on you. What was that like for you?
JC: The trade talks I’m always aware that could be an option just because of me being an NBA player. I get it. I wasn’t too hung up over that. Whenever I’m in trade talks, that’s a good thing. That means other teams are seeing my value, want me, and so I try to take it as a good thing. Now, in terms of the suspension and stuff, obviously, no one likes to see that, but I felt like I used that entire time to just motivate myself. I didn’t miss a Hawks game. I watched all the guys every time they played. It just really just gave me some time to think about my career, think about the mistakes I’ve made, think about the positive things I’m doing. It just gave me a little bit of a perspective shift and kind of just narrowed in on my goals a little bit more because coming into the league, you’re always wide-eyed, and you don’t really always understand what’s best for you and what’s necessary for you to be great. I definitely felt like, not saying that I wanted to go through that obviously, I feel like everybody doesn’t feel like that, but having to go through it and trying to bring some positive out of it. My body’s the most important thing that I have. I must value it with my life, so I do, and I will continue to do so.
The trade talks I’m always aware that could be an option just because of me being an NBA player. I get it. I wasn’t too hung up over that. Whenever I’m in trade talks, that’s a good thing
Being one of the top guys in Atlanta, you and Trae are the focal point of that team. If you have guys that are going to be free agents this summer, what’s your pitch to come to Atlanta? Are you talking to guys to try and recruit guys, and what do you say to get them to come on board?
JC: I try my best as I feel like all other NBA players try to recruit other good players or other good friends. I’m definitely always trying to hit up guys. I can’t tell you who I’m talking to or who I’m trying to get down here, I’ve got to let that simmer, but I’m trying to be GM JC over here, just know that. The first I’d say is look at the little magician that we’ve got right now. That’s what he is. Every time he comes down the court, it’s magic. Trae and I have the best pick-and-roll in the NBA outside of LeBron James and AD (Anthony Davis). To me, this dude is an elite passer. When you’re looking at a point guard who can get people the ball, we have one and one that can do it at an elite level. That’s my first pitch.
The second thing ‘Hey, listen, if you think about coming to Atlanta, you and Trae are the guys here, and you guys take all these shots and do all this, I don’t want to come intrude.’ If anybody has anything to say on the lines of that, I’d say, ‘Ice Trae shoots. He’s going to do his thing. I don’t shoot too much. I pride myself on being efficient, taking smart shots.’ I’m not a guy that has to shoot a lot. I feel like I can put my impact on the game without taking a ton of shots. I feel like I’ve proven that consistently now. I feel like once I explain that to whoever I’m recruiting, that gives them more peace of mind that even when they do come here, obviously, I hope that player is a hell of a defender as well, but just speaking from the offensive side of things, I’m hoping I will give him a way better peace of mind. You’re going to come in, and we’re going to work with it. We’re not going to try to force anything too fast or too slow, but we want to recruit guys who are right and fit into what we’re trying to do. The third part would be we got a whole bunch of cap space. If you’re of that caliber, I definitely feel like, with the conversations that I’ve had with the front office, we want to win, and we want to get better. I definitely don’t feel like there would be any shortage of action on that end, so that would be my pitch. You’ve got an elite passer, you’re not going to get in my way, and I’m not going to get in yours, and you can get paid.
What do you think the Hawks need?
JC: Right now, I can’t tell you, players, specifically, but I think we need just some veteran leadership. We need more guys with minds like Vince (Carter). Having Vince was a blessing, and losing him is going to hurt us. If we don’t try to cover his ability to have so much knowledge and spread it, that is so valuable. I feel like we need more guys like who have been in the league for a minimum of six or seven years, understand what it takes on a day-to-day basis to come in, work out, lift, get your body right, recover, eat, right. It creates a culture when you see five or six guys doing it consistently every day. Now the whole team is doing it every day. Having older veterans tell Trae put your foot on the left side, so you can get your shoulder more to go around the screen. Small things like that, which can help us out in huge ways. We need some more veteran leadership. We’ve got young guys in the locker room. I’m going to be 23. Trae just turned 21. Cam Reddish just turned 21. Kevin Huerter is 22. Bruno Fernando is 22. We’re all super duper young, and I know we’re all talented, and we have all the potential in the world, but we need some help and some guidance.
Having Vince was a blessing, and losing him is going to hurt us
You mentioned Cam Reddish. He’s got a lot of physical tools. It’s going to be interesting to see what he could do.
JC: I love Cam. He’s going to be one of the better on-ball defenders in the league because of his physical tools, athleticism, and mobility. All the stuff that we see in practice that we get excited about is definitely on the offensive end. His mobility and his ability to change on the drop of a dime, his length, he’s a pretty solid athlete. He obviously needs to put on a couple of pounds of muscle, but who doesn’t when you’re a first or second-year guy in the league. For him, it’s going to be mental. Cam has all the tools. Cam can do anything he wants on the basketball court, literally. There’s nothing he can’t do. It’s just all about trying to bring it together in your mind. I’m expecting big things from Cam. I’m a big fan of Cam.
You were saying when you pitch guys how you and Trae are as a pick-and-roll tandem at the top of the league in those statistical categories. When you look at the two of you, is there anybody that you guys compare yourselves to as a tandem?
JC: I don’t think Trae and I compare ourselves at all. I think Trae and I are very set on being our own duo. We don’t want to be any duos of anybody, but not trying to be super stoic. I’ve heard Amare Stoudemire and Steve Nash a million times as well as John Stockton and Karl Malone. Not saying we’re on those calibers yet, but those are the comparisons for what I’ve seen people talk about that our chemistry and our game look like together. I’ll damn sure take both of those. Those are elite duos.
Trae got to be an All-Star this year. What are your goals for yourself next season?
JC: I’m looking to make my first All-Star appearance, which I feel like I would have had a pretty big shot at this year if all things went well. I wouldn’t tell you MVP is a goal or All-First, All-Second, or All-Third team is a goal because that’s always a goal. Most Improved Player is always a goal. Defensive Player of the Year is always a goal. I’m always trying my hardest, but All-Star specifically is definitely a goal. I feel like it’s more predicated on what I do personally. I feel like I have more of a say on that. Other than that, I want to be a Hall of Famer. I want to do what it takes to be in the Hall of Fame at the end of the day. If every year means making an All-Third Team and maybe not making All-Star teams, or whatever I need to do to be in the Hall of Fame, whatever hardships come with that, I’m ready for it.
Where do you think you rank among big men in the league?
JC: When you look at my age, production, and my numbers, I think those speak for itself. Whatever my age, production, and numbers say, I feel like I can’t elaborate more than that. I feel like the numbers just speak for themselves of what I try to do or what I want to do on the basketball court. I try not to force too much. I understand what I can bring to the table from a basketball aspect. I let the media rank me. I’ll play the dude in front of me. That’s how I like to think about it or try to approach it because I always feel like once I start to look at all this type of stuff, I go crazy. I start to get angry and I start to look at this person’s comment, and he’s right or say he’s wrong. When I start to try to rank myself, that’s where I feel like I lose it. When I bet on myself, I win every time.
You said you don’t like ranking yourself and let the numbers speak for themselves. Before the start of next season, you’re eligible for an extension. How do you feel about the possibility of an extension?
JC: I would love it. I would love to say in Atlanta, I would love to be here, so I feel great about it. We’re in good hopes and good spirits with everything right now. Nothing’s really come up as of yet. Everything is still in the talks, but like I said, I’m definitely still in great spirits, and everything is going well. I’m all in. I’m true to Atlanta. There’s nothing else I’ve got to say. I’m ready to extend.
I’m all in. I’m true to Atlanta. There’s nothing else I’ve got to say. I’m ready to extend
For you as a player and being in that situation, how do you personally go about it? Do you let your agent handle it? Do you talk to him about it? Do you hit up GM Travis Schlenk about it?
JC: When it comes to talking about it, if I’m not saying anything personally, then yeah, I definitely let my agents do the numbers and the contractual talking. For me, it’s more just being around every day getting a feel for talking to Travis or just talking to coach. I feel like I’ve put in the work. At this point right now, if we want to discuss what I’ve done, it’s what I’ve done, and it’s done. I’m not going back out there this year to play or anything. I try not to think about it too much and just understand that whatever is happening is on the other side of the foot right now, and I don’t have too much say as to when or what comes my way. I just have to be ready for when it does. I’m just trying to be patient, and I know this is big-time stuff right here. This is not an easy thing to talk about, or to have happen or to want to have happen on my end, and for the Hawks to want to get something done in the correct way and for the best way for everybody. I’m patient, but I also understand my value what I can bring, so I’m just trying to stay with it and try to stay positive.
What’s Lloyd like as a coach?
JC: I feel like Lloyd is a great motivational coach, a great developmental coach, and obviously very vocal. He’s always been a coach who’s never been one to encourage players to hold their tongue. He’s always been a guy who’s encouraged guys to speak their mind and speak up and say what you have to say. I feel like he’s walking the walk 100 percent with how he’s handling his involvement with the Black Lives Matter movement in his voice and how much he’s used his platform to get a message out. Hats off to coach because he’s walking the walk and talking the talk. Nothing but good things to say about him right now, especially with all the stuff he’s been able to do for the Black Lives Matter community. As a coach, like I said, I definitely feel like I can always come to him and talk to him about stuff. He’s a very logical guy like I am, so I feel like we agree on a lot of stuff or speak the same language. I’ve had other coaches who are hard to talk to and are very stuck in their ways or very strict. It’s good just to have a variety and understand you know his coaching style.
When you look ahead towards the next season, what do you think is the next step for you guys? Is it as simple as just making the playoffs?
JC: For me, honestly, yeah. I’m just saying this in terms of seeing Cam, seeing how Trae and I have been able to take that first year to second-year jump. If Cam, De’Andre Hunter, and Bruno Fernando are able to take that same jump, then I definitely feel like you’ll see it written all over our team. You’ll see the experience, you’ll see the potential, you’ll see the switchability and just the cohesiveness that we play with. Our games fit together, and we like each other, we have fun with each other. I do feel like it is that simple. Obviously, there’s way more that goes into it. I feel like that’s the biggest thing. If our younger guys can take that next jump and give us that needed help without us having to really go and get too much else, or maybe trying to save cap space, or whatever tactic we can do to provide ourselves more of an ability to win or gain more assets to be successful. Trae and I are definitely going to come out and try to do our jobs and hold up our reputation with what we’ve been able to accomplish so far in this league, so I’m not scared. We are in the East as well, which makes it a little bit easier, considering we’re only like four or five games out of the playoff race this year. Hell yeah.
Lloyd was saying that next year he’s looking at teams like the Bucks, the Raptors, the upper echelon of the East. He wants to get there and wants to be like those guys and eventually overtake them down the line. I look at the Wizards with Brad Beal and John Wall coming back. The Nets are going to get Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving back too.
JC: The league is never going to be a cakewalk. I just feel like it’s not the West.
You have Damian Lillard and Carmelo Anthony. I’m sure playing against Carmelo, you never thought he was washed, but a lot of people said he was washed.
JC: Those people were just following what was being said and not taking actual time to see what Melo. He’s a real bucket getter. That’s all he’s done his whole career is get buckets. Real basketball fans understand the fact that the jump shot is never going to go away. That old man strength he has right now is going to be with him for a couple more years, and his footwork. He has everything that he does when he scores. He has everything he does down to a science. This guy definitely has more than 10,000 hours locked into this craft. Probably 30,000 or 40,000 hours. To me, when you look at it that way, the guy’s always valuable. It’s Carmelo Anthony, you know what you’re going to get from him. He’s a big shot maker. He’s been in big spots and big positions his entire career. I felt like his road back to the league was definitely a little bit harsh, but Melo’s been working, and it’s showing.
While talking about other great players, your guy Trae is going to get compared to Luka Doncic because they were traded for each other on draft night. What do you think of those two guys always getting compared to each other?
JC: I definitely feel like the basketball community definitely hyped it up and gasses it up a little bit more than Trae and Luka thought it was going to be from the start. When you look at the trade scenario and then the draft, you look at those two guys, they’re really damn good and really young. Whenever you get drafted in the same draft class, it’s always how is the dice going to roll? The two best guys in that class are always going to get compared to who’s better? It makes it even worse because they were traded for each other. I’m ice Trae all day. That’s all I’ve got to say.