De'Andre Hunter

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Hawks’ John Collins suspended 25 games for growth hormone

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Is the NBA facing a moment of reckoning with performance-enhancing drugs?

The previous three suspensions had come over four years, 2014-18.

Now, there have been three suspensions in just over two months

Hawks big John Collins follows Nets forward Wilson Chandler (late August) and Suns center Deandre Ayton (mid-October).

NBA release:

John Collins of the Atlanta Hawks has been suspended without pay for twenty-five games for violating the terms of the NBA/NBPA Anti-Drug Program by testing positive for Growth Hormone Releasing Peptide-2 (GHRP-2), it was announced today by the NBA.

Collins’ suspension will begin with tonight’s game between the San Antonio Spurs and the Atlanta Hawks.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Practically all athletes who test positive say they didn’t know they took a banned substance. Practically all appeals go nowhere.

At this point, Collins’ statement looks boilerplate and shouldn’t be taken seriously without far more evidence.

Unlike Ayton, who tested positive for a diuretic (a masking agent), Collins tested positive for the hard stuff. That definitely ought to raise more eyebrows. Jodie Meeks also got suspended for growth hormone last year.

This will cost Collins $610,582 of his $2,686,560 salary. That’s a significant setback for a former No. 19 pick still on his rookie-scale contract. Collins (No. 24 on our list of top 50 players in 5 years) will have a chance for a major payday with a contract extension next offseason. But he’ll have to reestablish himself after returning from this suspension.

In the meantime, Atlanta will rely more on Jabari Parker at power forward. Parker has shown nice early pick-and-roll chemistry with Trae Young, who’s driving the Hawks. But if Young and Collins invited defensive questions, Young and Parker practically scream for help on that.

Vince Carter and De'Andre Hunter can play behind Parker. However, both Carter and Hunter were already getting minutes at small forward. So, Collins’ absence will trickle up the depth chart and weaken Atlanta’s wing depth.

Trae Young ready to lead Hawks, next generation of point guards

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DETROIT – Trae Young ran to his right, cut hard back to his left and took his defender directly into a screen while receiving a near-handoff. Young curled around the pick and launched a 3-pointer as the defender came over his back. The contact knocked down Young, who watched from his belly as the ball splashed through the net.

Before getting up to complete the four-point play, Young did a few pushups.

“I fell hard,” Young said. “Got to get back up and get strong.”

That attitude is why Young is poised to big things.

Maybe very soon.

Young opened his second season with 38 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in the Hawks’ 117-110 win over the Pistons last night. He hit deep 3-pointers, including one with both feet inside the logo and another with a foot touching the logo. He got Atlanta out in transition. He controlled the half-court offense, getting into the paint with his head up to score or feed a teammate.

Simply, Young showed his superstar promise.

Just less than a year ago, he seemed so far from this level. He got thrown into the fire as a starting NBA point guard and appeared overwhelmed. Through the middle of last December, Young was shooting 38% from the field and 24% on 3-pointers and averaging nearly four turnovers per game. His defense was even worse than his offense.

By the end of the season, he was mounting a serious challenge to Luka Doncic for Rookie of the Year. After another offseason of work, Young could be hitting another gear.

That’d be huge for the Hawks. There are always multiple ways to build a winner, but having a premier lead guard is such a great starting point. This is the NBA’s golden age of point guards.

For this era to continue, youngsters like Young (and Ben Simmons, De'Aaron Fox, Jamal Murray and Ja Morant) must continue to rise.

No point guard drafted after 2012 has made an All-NBA team. The current group of elite point guards – Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook and James Harden if you count him – has run the league for so long.

“Until those guys leave, it’s going to be tough,” Young said. “Because those guys are great players.

“Of course, you want to make it happen as quick as possible”

That also goes for Atlanta, which is launching an intriguing rebuild.

The Hawks have Young (No. 10 on our list of top 50 players in 5 years) and John Collins (No. 24 on our list of top 50 players in 5 years). Atlanta also just added No. 4 pick De'Andre Hunter and No. 10 pick Cameron Reddish in the draft. Kevin Huerter, an All-Rookie second-teamer last season, is no slouch, either.

Already, outside expectations are growing.

“None of it comes from us,” Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said. “None of those things comes from us, as a staff, as an organization. We don’t put that pressure on players. But we know it’s out there.”

It’d be silly to overreact to one game against the Blake Griffinless Pistons, who played in Indiana the night before. Young committed six turnovers. His size (6-foot-1, 180 pounds) will always limit him defensively.

But Young’s 38 points could portend something special. Nobody so young had ever scored so much in a season opener.

Atlanta’s next four games – vs. Magic, vs. 76ers, at Heat, vs. Heat – are against teams expected to make the Eastern Conference playoffs. Suddenly, there’s more reason to tune in. Will Young and the Hawks sustain their initial success?

This is just a step, though. Atlanta is climbing toward much greater heights, and Young is leading the charge.

Evan Turner, who joined the Hawks from the Trail Blazers this summer, has seen a top point guard up close and personal. Ask him about about Lillard, and Turner just raves – about how Lillard leads, remains consistently focused, keeps everything team-oriented, rises to the occasion, shows accountability, steps up amid adversity and just finds ways to win.

“Trae, talent-wise, he has it,” Turner said. “It’s the little stuff in regards to outside yourself that makes you really special. I think it’s what makes people that play with you speak about you how I speak about Dame.”

Young is just 21. There’s plenty of time for him to cultivate those finer points.

But Young’s time is coming.

It might have already begun.

Ranking all 30 NBA teams by pressure entering this season

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This story is part of our NBCSports.com’s 2019-20 NBA season preview coverage. Every day between now and when the season opens Oct. 22 we will have at least one story focused on the upcoming season and the biggest questions heading into it. In addition, there will be podcasts, video and more. Come back every day and get ready for a wide-open NBA season.

Pressure can be external. Pressure can be internal. Pressure can land on players, coaches, general managers and even owners.

Here’s how every team ranks by pressure faced next season:

1. Los Angeles Lakers

Anthony Davis will be a free agent next summer. LeBron James will be a year older. This is the time for the Lakers to capitalize on their championship promise. Consider the internal combustibility of the coaching staff and a massive fan base with high expectations, and pressure comes from every direction.

2. Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks are good enough to win a title this season, and that always carries pressure. Adding to it: Giannis Antetokounmpo will be eligible for a super-max extension next offseason. If Milwaukee doesn’t impress him enough to stay, this contender could fall apart quickly. With a successful season, the Bucks can depend on Antetokounmpo for another half decade. The stakes are incredibly high.

3. Houston Rockets

The Rockets are openly acknowledging their situation: Their championship window is open but will close soon. Houston pushed further in for the present by trading lightly protected distant future first-rounders for Russell Westbrook. The Rockets better quickly optimize the remaining primes of James Harden and Westbrook – two stars who don’t simply mesh. Oh, and Mike D’Antoni’s lame-duck status could add stress on the whole team.

4. Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers remade their starting lineup after winning 51 games and pushing the eventual-champion Raptors to seven games in the second round. Philadelphia is not content with merely good accomplishments. The 76ers are going for great. And with young stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, why not? Still, plenty of potential pitfalls loom – luxury tax, Embiid’s health, Al Horford‘s aging and Brett Brown’s job security. A strong season could go a long way toward fending off storms.

5. L.A. Clippers

The Clippers opened a two-year window by signing Kawhi Leonard and trading for Paul George. But pressure always comes with championship expectations, and no teams has better title odds than the Clippers.

6. Golden State Warriors

The Warriors open a new arena this year, and they’ve bragged about how much revenue it will produce. But will those dollars still come if Golden State falls too far from its dynastic status and fun style? With Kevin Durant gone, Klay Thompson injured and D'Angelo Russell causing fit concerns, expectations have dropped for next season. Still, the Warriors must maintain a certain level of entertainment (of which winning is the most important component) to appease their deep-pocketed fans.

7. Portland Trail Blazers

The Trail Blazers are only on the fringe of the championship discussion, but they’re still in it. After getting swept the previous two first rounds, Portland redeemed itself with a run to the Western Conference finals last season. Damian Lillard (four years, super max) and C.J. McCollum (three years, $100 million) were rewarded with large contract extensions. It’s important to maintain the good feelings.

8. Miami Heat

In the five years since LeBron James left, the Heat have made the playoffs only twice and won a series only once. So, they paid substantial costs to get Jimmy Butler. The only way to maintain a winning culture is to win, and Butler can help with that. But for how long? He’s on the wrong side of 30 and has heavy mileage. Still, if he helps enough, Miami could make a splash in 2021 free agency.

9. Orlando Magic

A middling Eastern Conference playoff team doesn’t generate national buzz. But the Magic were so proud of their last season – their best in seven years – they spent big to keep their core intact. That pays off only if the winning continues.

10. Utah Jazz

By trading for Mike Conley and signing Bojan Bogdanovic, the Jazz showed they’re serious about winning now. Those veterans could have a limited shelf life. Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert offer a longer window, but again, there’s more pressure on good teams.

11. Boston Celtics

The Celtics’ championship hopes likely left with Kyrie Irving. But next season is a great opportunity to pin their problems on him. If young players like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown suddenly get right back on track, that’d reflect poorly on Irving (perhaps somewhat unfairly). With Kemba Walker, Boston could be quite good – just probably with a lower ceiling.

12. Phoenix Suns

Few outsiders expect much from the Suns, but that’s rarely the case inside Phoenix. Owner Robert Sarver is notoriously impatient. The Suns messed around in the draft, but credible point guard Ricky Rubio fills a massive hole, and other veterans are also incoming. Expect Phoenix to improve. Enough to satisfy everyone there? Who knows?

13. Washington Wizards

The Wizards kept Bradley Beal despite a ton of outside trade interest. He sounds happy in Washington for now, but his 2021 unrestricted free agency is rapidly approaching. The Wizards appear headed toward a lousy season. Will they do enough to keep Beal happy? This year could define the next era of Washington basketball.

14. Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets are the best team this low on the list. But they’re so young, and their core is locked in. It’s always important for good teams to win, but next season is far from make-or-break for Denver.

15. Brooklyn Nets

The Nets’ window opens next year, when Kevin Durant returns from his Achilles injury. In the meantime, Brooklyn would like to celebrate its coup in free agency with improvement next season. That especially shines the spotlight on Kyrie Irving, who gets another crack at leading a young supporting cast. If he fails again, that could expose the Nets to real cultural concerns before they even get rolling.

16. Indiana Pacers

The Pacers got younger and probably slightly worse this summer. That’s an acceptable tradeoff, one that comes with reduced expectations for next season. However, if Indiana falls further than expected, that could create real problems for the people responsible for the disapointment.

17. Detroit Pistons

Ho hum. They’ll likely be mediocre – maybe good enough to make the playoffs, maybe not. Same as always. A looming potential shakeup adds some pressure.

18. Sacramento Kings

The Kings’ breakthrough season prompted them to fill holes with savvy veterans. The hope is everyone coalesces into a winner. But even if Sacramento regresses, most of those new contracts look reasonable. More importantly, the young core still provides long-term hope.

19. Dallas Mavericks

Dallas has its top tandem in Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. But both are young, and Porzingis is just coming off injury. There will be patience. The deep Mavericks could play well enough for pressure to build throughout the season.

20. New York Knicks

After striking out in free agency this summer, the Knicks left themselves the ability to open major cap space in 2020 or 2021. For now, the roster is full of spare parts unlikely to win much. The large New York fan base won’t quietly accept yet another losing season. Knicks owner James Dolan, who has frequently shifted between plans, is the big wildcard in the franchise’s overall patience level.

21. Charlotte Hornets

They stink. Their future looks dim. Everyone knows this. Still, losing stresses everyone involved.

22. New Orleans Pelicans

After Anthony Davis’ trade request, the Pelicans got a new lease on life with No. 1 pick Zion Williamson. New lead executive David Griffin adds credibility, and he has already added significant talent around Williamson. If this year goes well, great. If not, that’d be disappointing, but New Orleans still has time to establish a winning identity.

23. Chicago Bulls

Maybe the Bulls are good now. Maybe they’ll be better later. Maybe neither. But there enough avenues for Chicago to show progress that this season doesn’t present much stress. The Bulls could make the playoffs, have their young players show progress and/or tank to add another blue-chipper. It’s unlikely they miss on all three.

24. Cleveland Cavaliers

Near rock bottom, the Cavaliers just want to boost the value of a few key players. Cleveland’s top two young prospects – Collin Sexton and Darius Garland – are both point guards, and that could create complications. Kevin Love is on an expensive contract, and more injuries/aging could sink him as a trade chip. As far as winning, that’s barely a consideration.

25. San Antonio Spurs

The Tim Duncan era was so long and the handover to Kawhi Leonard so seamless, the Spurs still feel like they’re in the honeymoon of their five championships in 16 years (1999-2014). It’d be nice to break the consecutive-playoff-season record. But it’s just hard to get too worked up about this late-stage Gregg Popovich season that holds only modest expectations.

26. Minnesota Timberwolves

New team president Gersson Rosas inherited an inflexible, losing – but talented – team and did little with it. That means little expectation of a quick breakthrough, but a path toward overachieving exists. Well-liked Ryan Saunders getting his interim tag removed is just another reason to view this as a reset year.

27. Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies are in the thick of rebuilding. It’s too soon to expect much from Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.

28. Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks have such a deep young base – Trae Young, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, De'Andre Hunter, Cameron Reddish plus a couple extra future first-round picks. Atlanta can patiently let this group grow together without even moderate expectations yet.

29. Oklahoma City Thunder

Oklahoma City willingly entered rebuilding by trading Paul George and Russell Westbrook for a whole bunch of other teams’ picks. Though tanking themselves could help their long-term outlook, the Thunder can do whatever they want and let those picks roll in from the Clippers (including potentially lucrative ones originally belonging to the Heat) and Rockets. Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams even give Oklahoma City a chance to overachieve.

30. Toronto Raptors

Toronto can happily enjoy its championship – no matter what happens this season. Kawhi Leonard’s exit ended any expectations of a repeat. The Raptors should still be solid, but even if they’re not, that banner will hang forever.

Hawks show even more commitment to rebuilding their way

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Hawks put two players on All-Rookie teams then had two top-10 picks in the following draft.

What a way to get a rebuild rolling.

But like last year, Atlanta’s high-draft maneuvering leaves plenty of room for second-guessing.

Last year, the Hawks traded No. 3 pick Luka Doncic to the Mavericks for No. 5 pick Trae Young and a future first-rounder. That deal and another losing season gave Atlanta the Nos. 8 and 10 picks in this year’s draft.

The Hawks wanted De'Andre Hunter, who probably wasn’t falling that far. So, they paid a premium to get him. Atlanta traded the Nos. 8, 17 and 35 picks and a potential future first-rounder and took Solomon Hill‘s burdensome contract for the No. 4 pick (Hunter) and a late second-rounder or two.

That’s generally too much to trade up from No. 8 to No. 4. Hunter doesn’t impress me enough for that to be an exception. That said, his defense and complementary offense should fit well between reigning All-Rookie teamers Young and Kevin Huerter and 2018 All-Rookie second-teamer John Collins.

At No. 10, the Hawks took Cameron Reddish. That’s fine value there, and he’s another wing who should fit well if he develops.

The only other team in the modern-draft era (since 1966) with two All-Rookie selections and two top-10 picks in the same year was the 2000 Bulls. They had Rookie of the Year Elton Brand and All-Rookie second-teamer Ron Artest (now Metta World Peace). Then, Chicago got No. 4 pick Marcus Fizer and No. 8 pick Jamal Crawford in the draft.

But the Bulls languished for several more years. There are no guarantees in rebuilds.

Part of Chicago’s problem: The 2000 draft was historically weak. Fizer was a bust, and Crawford has had a fine sub-star career. But there were no great options available.

Atlanta might face the same issue. This draft looks poor after the first couple picks. It might have been the wrong year to have two high selections. However, we’re often terrible at assessing overall draft quality in the present. Time will tell on this draft.

Another Bulls problem: They lacked direction. Just a year later, they traded Brand for an even younger Tyson Chandler, the No. 2 pick in the 2001 draft out of high school. Later that season, they traded Artest in a package for veteran Jalen Rose.

It seems the Hawks won’t have that problem. They appear fully committed to their vision.

General manager Travis Schlenk took over in 2017. Atlanta was coming off 10 straight postseason appearances, only one year removed from a playoff-series victory and just two years removed from a 60-win season.

Now, only DeAndre’ Bembry remains from the roster Schlenk inherited just two years ago. The last two players to go, Taurean Prince and Kent Bazemore, got moved this summer.

The Hawks traded Prince and took Allen Crabbe‘s undesirable $18.5 million expiring contract to get the Nets’ No. 17 pick and a lottery-protected future first-rounder. That’s solid value for Atlanta. The Hawks clearly didn’t want to make a decision on Prince, whom Schlenk never selected and who’s up for a rookie-scale contract extension.

In a more curious decision, Atlanta traded Bazemore to the Trail Blazers for Evan Turner. Bazemore is better than Turner. Both players are similarly aged and paid on expiring contracts. The Hawks will seemingly use Turner as their backup point guard, a position he can handle better than Bazemore. But there were real backup point guards available in free agency. Unless this was just a favor to get Bazemore to a better team, I don’t get it.

At least the trade probably won’t affect Atlanta long-term.

Ditto the Hawks dealing Solomon Hill’s and Miles Plumlee‘s expiring contracts for Chandler Parsons‘ expiring contract. Parsons’ knees seem shot.

Signing Vince Carter to a minimum deal also probably won’t matter.

Getting Jabari Parker on a two-year, $13 million deal with a player option might mean a little more. But I’m not convinced it’ll mean much. Parker just hasn’t found traction since two ACL tears. He has shown flashes and is just 24. There’s at least a small chance this works out.

Another likely low-consequence move: Trading Omari Spellman to the Warriors for Damian Jones and a future second-rounder. Teams rarely give up on a first-rounder as quickly as the Hawks did Spellman, the No. 30 pick last year. Jones is entering the final year of his rookie-scale contract and hasn’t gotten healthy yet in his career. The distant second-rounder is probably the prize. I somewhat trust the team that had a chance to evaluate Spellman’s approach first-hand all of season. Atlanta also got a replacement developmental center in No. 34 pick Bruno Fernando.

Fernando might even play behind Alex Len and John Collins, who will get minutes at power forward. Center is thin after the Hawks lost Dewayne Dedmon to the Kings.

It’s too soon for the Hawks to concern themselves with that, though. They’re still assembling a young core. It’s OK if every piece is not yet placed.

Meandering around the edges was fine and forgettable. Reddish and Hunter were the important pickups. The big bet this summer was on Hunter, and I just found the cost too steep.

Offseason grade: C-

Report: Vince Carter signs with Hawks for record-breaking 22nd season

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The Hawks held a roster spot for Vince Carter.

He apparently found no better offers.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This will be Carter’s 22nd season – most in NBA history. He’ll break a tie with Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Kevin Willis and Robert Parish. If he plays on or past Jan. 26, Carter would also become the first 43-year-old to play in the NBA since Willis in 2007.

Carter’s longevity is incredible. I wrote about it four years ago, and he’s still going!

An amazing athlete in his prime, Carter has remained in excellent shape. He has transitioned into a stretch four late in his career. He’s strong enough to defend opposing bigs, and his outside shooting/mobility are positives at power forward.

The Hawks are rebuilding around Trae Young, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, De'Andre Hunter and Cameron Reddish. The future is the priority.

But if that if that young group is ahead of schedule, Carter could help Atlanta compete for the playoffs next season. If it takes a little longer, Carter can provide veteran mentorship in the meantime.