Atlanta Hawks forward John Collins encourages the fans to make noise in the final minutes of a 103-99 victory over the Orlando Magic in the home opener in a NBA basketball game on Saturday, October 26, 2019, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Hawks on unfamiliar ground as they must deal with Collins’ suspension

Lloyd Pierce is in uncharted territory.

While the next-man up mentality in sports is usually reserved for injury, the Hawks coach finds himself missing one of his best players. However, John Collins will not be away from the team for 25 games due to a sprained ankle. Rather the power forward is unavailable because of a positive test for a banned substance.

“Now, it’s how to we address it? How do we move forward? What is the plan to help John during this time,” Pierce said Tuesday before the Hawks hosted the Spurs in the first game that Collins will miss due to the suspension handed down by the NBA. “You are disappointed. You are sad for the team. You feel for John. He’s not in a good place. It’s how do we help him? How do we help those other guys? Tonight, I’ve got to help those other guys for a couple hours and then we get back to John after we are done with tonight’s game.”

Collins tested positive for Growth Hormone Releasing Peptide-2 (GHRP-2). GHRP-2 is a synthetic chemical of ghrelin, a hormone that is produced and released mainly by the stomach. Ghrelin has been shown to have two major effects, stimulating both growth hormone secretion and appetite/meal initiation. 

“For me it’s tough,” Hawks point guard Trae Young said. “For the whole team, it’s tough. We are losing a big piece of our team. Of course, we are going to miss him but at the same time we still have to play basketball. That’s all we are here to do, is play basketball.”

Collins can practice and travel with the team during the suspension. He will be eligible to return on Dec. 23. However, he can not be in an arena, home or away, two hours before the start of a game.

Jabari Parker will be the first next-man up in place of Collins. Parker started in place of Collins Tuesday and figures to do so much of his absence. However, Pierce said others would be involved in picking up the slack as well, including Vince Carter.

“But in sport injury occurs and when you lose a guy, you lose a guy and it’s the next man up,” Pierce said. “Jabari is the next man up. We’ll shift Vince to the backup 4. We probably use De’Andre Hunter as a backup 4. Maybe Bruno (Fernando) in big matchups. … It’s part of sports. We are not going to hang our head on who is not here. We’ve got to worry about who is here.”

Pierce called Tuesday emotional as he addressed the team in a split format during different scheduled morning workouts at the team’s practice facility. He said the team will meet in the near future “and dig deep into the education of it.”

Pierce said Collins has not addressed the team but he would at some point.

“He needed time,” Pierce said.

Parker, signed as a free agent this summer, has appeared in all six games including Tuesday. In the first five games, he averaged 13.8 points and 3.8 rebounds.

“There are a lot of guys in here who can play,” Young said of replacing Collins. “There are a lot of guys that are going to step up. Like I said, obviously, John is a big piece of our team. It’s not going to be easy to replace a 20 and 10 guy like that. We have a lot of guys in here who can make plays.”

Pierce also called the Collins’ positive drug test “disturbing” and acknowledged that the team was unaware that he took a banned substance. Collins plans to appeal the suspension. However, in the meantime, the Hawks must move forward.

“It definitely hurts the team,” Pierce said. “We are down one of our best players, a major part of what we are doing. There is no other way around it. We are going to miss John. He is a big part of what we are doing. That part is said and done. Now we just move forward with who we have and what we have, whether it’s an injury or not but it hurts our team.”

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