Hawks to create, own D-League affiliate in College Park

The new D-League team will open operations in 2019.

The Atlanta Hawks are crossing off another item off principal owner Tony Ressler’s checklist by announcing plans to create their own NBA Developmental League team in College Park, Ga.

The team will play in a new, 3,500-seat arena built by the City of College Park starting in 2019.

“D-League is going to become more and more important, and you’ll see that in the new collective bargaining (agreement)," Hawks CEO Steve Koonin told FOX Sports South. “Players have to play. Everybody from Tim Hardaway (Jr.) to Dennis (Schroder), they’ve done some time in the D-League. And so by owning our own team, instead of playing another coaches scheme, our coach will play Bud’s scheme.

"So they will grow up and be immersed in Hawks basketball."

The Hawks are one of eight NBA teams not currently directly affiliated with a D-League franchise.

In recent seasons, the Hawks have used flex assignments to send young players to the Austin Spurs, Bakersfield Jam, Canton Charge and Fort Wayne Mad Ants.

"It's becoming a much more important tool to develop players, retain players and grow players," Koonin said.

Along with Philips Arena upgrades and a state-of-the-art practice facility in Brookhaven, owning a D-League affiliate was near the top of the wishlist when Ressler's ownership group purchased the team in 2015. On Nov. 1, the organization announced plans for $192.5 million in upgrades to Philips Arena.

“Coach (Mike Budenholzer) and (general manager) Wes Wilcox would agree that having a local D-League franchise will play a significant role in building a championship-caliber team by helping us develop players, like the six now on our roster who have D-League experience," Ressler said in a statement. "We would like to thank the City of College Park for becoming the host city of what will be another exciting part of our community and the Atlanta Hawks Basketball Club.”

Koonin and Budenholzer both stressed the importance of keeping the D-League affiliate close to the parent club, giving the organization the ability to train young players at the Emory Sports Medicine Complex and conveniently shuttle them from the NBA roster to a D-League game depending on roster needs.

The setup also saves cost: Teams not only send players to D-League affiliates, but also coaches to help steer their development.

“This announcement is really a testament to the growth of the D-League,” said Malcolm Turner, the president of the D-League. “This team will mark our record 23rd team. All of our teams are 1-to-1 affiliated. This is a further validation point of the value that the Developmental League is creating throughout the NBA system as an effective and efficient platform to develop talent.”

The City of College Park will own and operate the new arena with the Hawks serving as the building's primary tenant. The venue will be located at the Gateway Center, a collection of hotels and office space near Hartsfield-Jackson airport.

College Park originally made a pitch to be the home of the franchise's practice facility. Due to the team's medical needs, the franchise kept the facility in Brookhaven, closer to Emory Hospital, but Koonin said the team walked away impressed with College Park's pitch and promised a future relationship with the city.

In 2019, that relationship will become a reality.