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10 names that defined Atlanta sports in 2016

2016 was a year of transition in Atlanta sports.

Cranes hovered over stadium construction sites, as new coaches and players entered the scene (for some it was a homecoming). 

Here are 10 names that - for better or worse - have made Atlanta sports memorable in 2016:

Dansby Swanson 

Dansby Swanson's first game in Atlanta was the most anticipated homecoming of the year. The Marietta star, acquired by the Braves in a December 2015 trade with Arizona, made a meteoric rise through the minors and made his Major League debut Aug. 17 in Atlanta against the Minnesota Twins. He went 2-4, receiving numerous standing ovations. "It's probably as close to a dream come true as possible," Swanson said then. He finished the season batting .302 with 3 homers (one, an inside-the-park shot in Washington), and on at-bat of qualifying for rookie status.

Fredi Gonzalez 

Fredi Gonzalez managed the Braves for six seasons. (ccompton@ajc.com/ccompton@ajc.com)

Fredi Gonzalez replaced Braves' Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox in the 2011 season. As the team jumped to the franchise's worst start, Gonzalez became the figure most associated with the Braves' struggles in 2016. He was fired -- in awkward fashion -- in the midst of a team road trip on May 17 after a 9-28 start. He is now the Miami Marlins' third base coach.

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson entered his ninth season as Georgia Tech's head football coach. (HYOSUB SHIN / AJC/hshin@ajc.com)

Georgia Tech football coach Paul Johnson was outspoken as ever in 2016. He tackled recruiting and "commitment vs. expectations." His Jackets (8-4) had a turnaround year following a three-win season in 2015. Tech won five of its final six regular-season games in 2016, including road wins at Virginia Tech and Georgia. The TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville is next.

Dwight Howard

Dwight Howard introduced at Hawks season opener (www.accessatlanta.com)

Dwight Howard came home in July after agreeing to a three-year deal with his hometown Hawks. Howard, who was born in Atlanta, entered the NBA out of Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy as the No. 1 overall pick by the Magic in 2004. He had several opportunities to return home and play for the Hawks, but declined each time. Most recently, he passed on the Hawks’ pitch and signed with the Rockets in 2013. He's missed playing time with injuries, but is averaging a double-double.

Arthur Blank

Arthur Blank purchased the Falcons in 2002. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Falcons owner Arthur Blank brought Atlanta a Super Bowl. In May, NFL owners awarded the 2019 NFL championship game to the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (It will be Atlanta's first time hosting a Super Bowl since 2000.) But there's more coming the new stadium in 2017, including an MLS franchise. The hardware-store magnet stepped away from managing the Falcons day-to-day. Blank, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer and is in remission, was married this summer.

Matt Ryan

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is in his ninth season since being drafted in the first-round by Atlanta. (ccompton@ajc.com/ccompton@ajc.com)

Matt Ryan already holds more than a dozen franchise records. On the verge or returning to the playoffs, Ryan has already matched his season touchdown record (32) and is nearing his own single-season passing record of 4,719 yards. He has been mentioned on-and-off as an MVP candidate. Coach Dan Quinn says any honor is more than deserved. “Matt (Ryan) was the one who set it off for our team in the offseason (with) his intent, his mindset to go and improve and find ways to get better in his game,” Quinn said.

Vic Beasley

With two games left in the season, Falcons defensive end Vic Beasley Jr. leads the league in sacks. (ccompton@ajc.com/ccompton@ajc.com)

Defensive end Vic Beasley led the team in sacks (4) as a rookie. In his second year, he has a chance at breaking the franchise single-season record (16.5). The edge-rusher from Adairsville, Ga., has been named to his first Pro Bowl.

Kirby Smart

Kirby Smart became a first-time head coach at Georgia. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

Kirby Smart arrived at Georgia with high expectations and a call for secrecy. (He also arrived in helicopters.) After 15 years under Mark Richt, the Bulldogs underwent some growing pains under first-year coach Smart - a former Georgia player. The Bulldogs (7-5,4-4 SEC) saw a few comebacks (Kentucky and Missouri) and some devastating losses (Tennessee and Vanderbilt). Year two shows promise with a number of starters returning.

Craig Sager 

Craig Sager, the NBA sideline reporter whose fight with leukemia started the online movement #SagerStrong, died in December at age 65. In July, the Canton resident received the Jimmy V Award delivering a heartfelt sentiment: "Time is something that cannot be bought, it cannot be wagered with God, and it is not in endless supply. Time is simply how you live your life." He was among a list of sports figures, including Arnold Palmer and Muhammad Ali, who died in 2016.

Turner Field 

The Braves closed down Turner Field with one final giant tomahawk chop and a confetti shower. (HYOSUB SHIN / AJC/hshin@ajc.com)

For 80 games, the Braves said goodbye to Turner Field ahead of their move to SunTrust Park in Cobb County. Once the home of the Olympic Games, The Ted served as home of the Braves for nearly two full decades. After the new year, it will be transformed once more - this time into a football stadium for the Georgia State Panthers.

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