Without John Collins, the Hawks have been pushed around for nearly seven weeks, going 4-21.
The hardest part for Collins, who was suspended for 25 games Nov. 5 after testing positive for Growth Hormone Releasing Peptide-2 (GHRP-2), has been watching that struggle unfold, unable to help his team.
“That’s probably been the worst part of this entire experience is going home and having to sit on my couch and watch the guys play as hard as they can and knowing that I’m not able to help, is frustrating,” Collins said Monday in Cleveland.
Finally, though, Collins’ suspension is up. He will start against the Cavaliers (8-21) and will not have a minute restriction, though coach Lloyd Pierce declined to reveal the Hawks’ full starting lineup. While suspended, Collins has been practicing and scrimmaging with assistant coaches to stay in shape.
» UPDATE: Hawks fall 121-118 in Cleveland
The Hawks have sorely missed Collins in multiple ways, whether it’s his scoring, rebounding, defense, vocal leadership or game experience. In the five games prior to his suspension, he averaged 17 points, 8.8 rebounds and two blocks in 32.2 minutes, with the Hawks going 2-3 during that span (they played a particularly tough schedule, losing to the Heat twice and the Sixers once).
Collins’ original statement after the suspension mentioned that he “took a supplement which, unbeknownst to (him), had been contaminated with an illegal component,” and he stuck with that story Monday, making his first public comments since the statement. He declined to name what specific supplement he had taken, but denied knowing there was anything in the supplement that could get him in trouble.
“No… I would never try to jeopardize what I have here,” Collins said. “And I understand, I don’t take it for granted. Never.”
Ultimately, Collins decided not to appeal the decision.
“I was going to take the first step, but after reconvening with my team and talking some things out, we just decided it was best to move forward,” Collins said. “But it was definitely in consideration.”
In addition to watching his teammates play without him, Collins has also struggled with the perception regarding his suspension.
“I’ve seen some of those comments and they hurt me a little bit, saying ‘This guy’s a cheater,’” Collins said. “And I feel like if you know me, you know my character, and just my person, you know that’s not what I would do, not what I would ever do. So for me, I would want to let them know I’m not a cheater and this is something that will never happen again, if I can control it. I will be more aware of everything going forward in my situation, to be more secure about my career.”
Collins said he did not clear the supplement through the Hawks’ medical staff, and that was part of his mistake, although doing so is not a requirement.
“No, and that was probably part of my mistake,” Collins said. “But there is no necessary guidelines for that. And I feel like that was part of my mistake is not going to them and sort of clearing it with them first. And like I said, that’s also something that I’m learning from.”
It will be easier said than done for the Hawks (6-24), who have lost seven games in a row, to turn their season around, even with Collins back and a healthy Kevin Huerter starting to contribute more. But Collins’ return gives the Hawks a boost in more ways than one.
When asked how he would prevent this situation from happening again, Collins emphasized he would be more careful in the future.
“The best answer I could give you to that question is to just be as cautious and as aware as I can of my situation going forward,” Collins said. “I never want to jeopardize my career here. I understand what I have and I feel like I’m not taking it for granted. I feel like for me, the biggest thing is to just try to be on top of everything going forward with my career, going forward with what goes into my body, and trying to make the right decisions.”