The Atlanta Hawks had one of the hottest starts in the NBA, but all of their momentum has vanished in the past week. First, Trae Young suffered an ankle injury that knocked him out of a game last week against the Miami Heat. Now, they've lost another young star for quite a bit longer.
John Collins has been suspended for 25 games by the NBA for violating the league's anti-drug policy. The suspension is based on a positive test for Growth Hormone Releasing Peptide-2, the league revealed in its statement. The suspension will begin Tuesday night when the Hawks take on the San Antonio Spurs, and will continue until he returns on Dec. 23 against the Cleveland Cavaliers. He is working to appeal the suspension, and released the following statement through Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
"First I want to apologize to my teammates, the Hawks organization, our fans, partners and community as a whole for this situation. I understand the impact this matter has on what we are trying to achieve together this season, and I am incredibly frustrated and disappointed in myself for putting all us in this position. I have always been incredibly careful about what I put in my body, but I took a supplement, which unbeknownst to me, had been contaminated with an illegal component. I plan to appeal my suspension in arbitration so I can get back on the court as soon as possible and continue to contribute to our 2019-20 campaign."
Collins is the second young big man to earn a lengthy suspension so far this season. Deandre Ayton wasas well only days into the campaign. The Phoenix Suns center tested positive for a diuretic, which can be used as a way of hiding other substances in the body. The Suns have thrived with Aron Baynes replacing Ayton in the starting lineup, but Atlanta's depth is not that strong. Jabari Parker would appear to be the early favorite to replace Collins in the starting lineup, but that wouldn't exactly help the Hawks defensively.
Collins had been averaging 17 points and 8.8 rebounds per game so far this season. He is eligible for a contract extension in July, so having a strong season is critical for the young big. Even if he returns and continues to produce at a similar level, this suspension will no doubt factor into negotiations with the Hawks next summer.
Atlanta appears to be a potential free-agency destination for the loaded class of 2021, and Collins, as the No. 19 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, would have a relatively low cap hold of around $10.3 million. His next contract will certainly be more expensive than that, so the Hawks are incentivized to wait on paying him if they do plan to be players in free agency, and this suspension could give them the leverage to do so.
The Hawks looked like a potential playoff team when they opened the season at 2-0. They have since lost their last three games, and more losses seem likely with Collins out. Atlanta's odds of reaching the postseason have been cut in half by this suspension, according to SportsLine data scientist Stephen Oh.
Projecting winning percentage
Before Collins Suspension
With Collins Suspension
Atlanta still has enough young talent to play competitive basketball, but its slim hopes of returning to the postseason are fading thanks to this suspension.