Hawks check off another must-have with D-League affiliate

When the new ownership group purchased the Hawks in June 2015, they already had a lengthy list of improvements they deemed necessary for the franchise to compete at a championship level.

A new practice facility. Check.

Major renovations to Philips Arena. Check.

An NBA Development League affiliate. Check.

All three upgrades are underway or have been announced with the official notification Thursday that the Hawks have been awarded a development franchise and that they will partner with the City of College Park as tenants in a to-be-constructed arena.

College Park will build a 3,500-seat arena at the Gateway Center as part of the Georgia International Convention Center. According to Mayor Jack Longino, the arena will be built as a public/private partnership. It will also accommodate concerts and other events. The arena will be connected to Hartsfield-Jackson airport via light rail. Construction is scheduled to be finished by the summer of 2019.

The Hawks will be the 23rd D-League affiliate and will begin play for the 2019-20 season. They are one of eight NBA teams that currently do not have their own development team. There are no formal plans to name the team. The Hawks have sent players to the D-League, but it has been to another team’s affiliate and system of play.

“We recognized the need for all three of these — and maybe some other things that haven’t been announced yet,” said Hawks co-owner and Vice Chair of the Board Grant Hill. “Before we even closed, as we went through our due diligence process, we had a chance to visit the facilities and talk about what the league has in store and what the future is all about and the role and the relationship that the D-League plays with an NBA franchise. This was right up there with the practice facility and with the retrofit of Philips. To be able to do all three of them, in a relative short period of time, it’s probably very ambitious to challenge ourselves to get this done but it is remarkable.”

Hawks President of Basketball Operations and head coach Mike Budenholzer called the progress that the Tony Ressler led ownership group has made in just 17 months “mind boggling.”

Budenholzer said the Hawks will add basketball operations staff for the development team. Hill said the Hawks now have a training ground for both the basketball and business side of the organization.

“I felt like when the ownership group purchased the team, they had a really good understanding of owning, functioning and operating a high-level team and franchise,” Budenholzer said. “They almost told us what they were going to do. We were both saying the same thing and it was who could say it first. It’s a credit to Tony and the ownership group because it’s impressive how fast they’ve been able to deliver.”

NBA D-League President Malcolm Turner made the announcement of the awarding of a development team to begin a news conference at Philips Arena. Turner, Hill, Longino, Budenholzer and Hawks CEO Steve Koonin all spoke at the unveiling Thursday. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the team and arena news Wednesday.

Koonin noted that the development league facility will be located just eight miles from Philips Arena, the second-closest distance between an NBA team and its affiliate. In Oklahoma City, the Thunder play across the street from the Blue. College Park was a location the Hawks considered for the practice facility, which will be built in Brookhaven in partnership with Emory.

Budenholzer said the Hawks will be able to manage their young developing players much closer now. A player could practice with the affiliate in the morning and play for the Hawks that evening.

“It’s huge,” Budenholzer said of the proximity. “I feel like we’ve flown guys to the moon to get them to a D-League game. To have a team in College Park and that kind of proximity, it’s hard to put into words, but it really is a big, big difference for us in how we can use it and take full advantage of a D-League.”

The Hawks have often used the D-League to get game action for young developing players. The assigned several players to several teams last season and likely will this season with rookies Taurean Prince and DeAndre Bembry. Kent Bazemore, Dennis Schroder, Mike Muscala and Tim Hardaway Jr. have all played D-League games in their careers. Assistant coaches Darvin Ham and Taylor Jenkins coached at the level. General manager Wes Wilcox was the first general manager of the Canton Charge.

“This is further validation of the value that the development league is creating throughout the NBA system as an effective and efficient platform to develop talent,” Turner said.