Atlanta Hawks planning new D-League franchise in 2019-20

ATLANTA (AP) — With two stadiums already under construction and plans for a major arena renovation, the Atlanta metro area is getting yet another new sports facility.

The Hawks announced Thursday they are bringing an NBA Development League team to College Park, an inner suburb that is home to Atlanta's massive airport.

The D-League team will play at a 3,500-seat arena to be built adjacent to the Georgia International Convention Center. The cost of the project and how it will be funded were not been revealed by College Park officials, but the Hawks said they will be tenants in a city-owned facility.

The new team will begin play in the 2019-20 season. The Hawks said launching a D-League franchise was vital to player development, especially since it will be located only 8 miles from Philips Arena.

"From a basketball perspective, this is critical to our growth," coach Mike Budenholzer said, adding that players could "practice in the morning with the D-League team and play that night at Philips Arena for the Hawks. They may play one night for the Hawks and the next night for the D-League team. Those things can't happen unless you have a partnership and a team that close. So the location was huge for us."

Two Atlanta teams are moving into new stadiums next season that carry a combined price tag of more than $2 billion — at least $600 million of which will be funded by taxpayer dollars.

The Braves of Major League Baseball are relocating to SunTrust Park, which is nearing completion in suburban Cobb County. It will replace 20-year-old Turner Field near downtown Atlanta, leaving it to be downsized and converted into a new football stadium for Georgia State University.

The Falcons are departing the Georgia Dome after this season. That facility, which opened in 1992, is being replaced by a lavish retractable-roof stadium next door.

In addition, the Hawks last week announced a nearly $200 million renovation of 17-year-old Philips Arena that will be paid for largely with city funding, after previously breaking ground on a new practice and training facility near Emory University.

Now, the D-League is coming to an arena near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world's busiest airport.

"I feel like I've been saying how excited I am about a lot of things the last couple of weeks and months," Budenholzer said. "It's kind of mind-boggling."

He pointed out that key Hawks players such as Kent Bazemore, Dennis Schroder and Tim Hardaway Jr. spent time in the D-League, not to mention general manager Wes Wilcox and assistant coaches Darvin Ham and Taylor Jenkins.

Hardaway is a prime example of how valuable the D-League is, according to Budenholzer. The guard struggled after being acquired by the Hawks, but several stints in the minors helped him turn things around. He's become a leading contributor off the bench in his second season with Atlanta, scoring 11 points Wednesday in a victory over Chicago and averaging 11.4 to help the Hawks get off to a 6-2 start.

"Did you see Hardaway play last night?" Budenholzer asked. "My man was ballin'. You're going to see things like that in College Park."

Former NBA star Grant Hill is a part-owner of the Hawks, coming aboard when Tony Ressler bought the team in 2015. Hill said owning a D-League affiliate was always one of the top priorities for the new ownership group.

"We are excited about showcasing and displaying and ultimately nurturing the players of tomorrow," Hill said. "The players of tomorrow who will get a chance to develop right in our backyard, right in the city of College Park."

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry.


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