Las Vegas • For the past several years, John Collins’ NBA future has been unsettled.
His statistical production has declined for three seasons in a row, as the perpetually cash-strapped Atlanta Hawks have put a constantly rotating cast around him, while simultaneously looking to move the forward and his substantial contract elsewhere — seemingly shortly after signing him to an extension.
So, when the shoe finally dropped and it was announced that he was being traded to the Utah Jazz …
“It’s a big stress relief. Obviously, you know, my name has been in a lot of rumors and whatnot, and it hasn’t been easy,” Collins told Utah media during a Sunday morning introductory interview on Zoom. “So it’s just been good to finally get it over with and, obviously, start anew in Utah. I’m really not trying to think about it too much, and just go for it and try to be the best player I can.
“… I feel like I can be really successful here,” he added.
Speaking of which, the 25-year-old is well-aware of the narrative surrounding his on-court exploits.
It would have been easy for him to dismiss concerns about him being the Jazz’s highest-paid player this season, to blame the constant turmoil in Atlanta and point out that the offensive scheme progressively de-emphasized his role and diminished his usage.
Instead, he took the unusual step of taking responsibility and vowing to get better.
“I understand people being used to me playing one way and then obviously not playing up to the standards that are expected,” Collins said. “I look at myself and I’m my own biggest critic, as well, so it’s definitely on me to just get back into the gym and really just tighten my game up.”
His now-internet-famous mangled finger has, indeed, played something of a role in that, which Collins addressed and attempted to brush aside to some degree, calling it nothing more than a simple and inevitable byproduct of playing six years in the NBA.
He did, however, ultimately concede that while “there’s always room for it to get better,” it’s also “never going to be 100% until I stop playing the game.”
Nevertheless, he feels as though the discussion of his career being in a tailspin of sorts has gone beyond the bounds of rationality.
“I’ve never felt like I’ve woken up and just lost the way or [the knowledge of] how to play the game of basketball,” Collins said. “… Once I get on the court and just play, I really feel like all the noise will be quiet.”
While he’s grateful to the Jazz for offering him a fresh start, he also made it clear that it’s a reciprocal relationship, and that there’s plenty that he’ll bring to the table as well.
He described himself as “a natural scorer,” capable of getting buckets on all three levels when given an opportunity. He’s says he’s a good rebounder and a willing, unselfish passer. And he truly believes that critics severely underrate his ability to guard multiple positions and protect the rim.
Collins also touted his leadership skills, noting he is somebody who tries to bring positive energy to the group, someone who will hold others accountable and is willing to be held accountable himself.
Off the court, he’s a proud dad of a 3-year-old boy, Jay. While born at Layton’s Hill Air Force Base as part of a military family, he noted that he’s a “Florida boy” who enjoys being out in the sun, and who beamed while repeating a factoid someone told him about Utah being sunny 300ish days of the year. He’s an apparent nerd who listed reading and listening to podcasts as his favorite pastimes, while rattling off subjects as diverse as geography, military strategy, and hydrology as personal interests.
Basketball, though, is his passion.
That’s why, even though, his trade to the Jazz wasn’t official yet, he showed up to the Salt Lake City Summer League last week to get a head start on immersing himself in the culture of the organization.
And if he’s looking to endear himself to an ambivalent fanbase, there are worse ways than accidentally channeling an infamous Mike Conley faux pas.
“I’ve gotten a lot of love from the city of Utah,” Collins said. “Not only the organization, who’s welcomed me with open arms and just tried to try to make me feel as comfortable as possible in our new meeting, but being able to go into the Delta Center and halfway greet the fans. Obviously, everything wasn’t as official [then] as we’d like it to be, but I still wanted to be around and just try to pop my face in on the Utah faithful and try to start my relationship as early as I can.”