The quest for 30 NBA D-League teams is almost a reality following today’s announcement that the Atlanta Hawks will be setting up shop in Erie, Pennsylvania for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons. The team will move into their permanent home in College Park, Georgia following the construction of a new arena for the 2019-20 season.
The announcement was unexpected, as the Hawks announced earlier in the year that they wouldn't be adding a D-League team until the arena in College Park was complete in 2019. The addition of an Atlanta Hawks affiliate would bring the number of D-League teams up to a record 24 for the 2017-18 season.
The team will play the next two seasons in the Erie Insurance Arena under the same branding, the Erie BayHawks, and keep D-League basketball in a community that has had it since 2008.
This was all made possible by the Orlando Magic announcing they were moving the current Erie BayHawks to Lakeland, Florida; following the trend of moving D-League affiliates as close as possible to their parent NBA team. Atlanta will retain the current management team of Owen McCormick and Matt Bresee to help smooth the transition between affiliates.
“I’m thrilled that the Atlanta Hawks have been able to accelerate their minor league team’s entry into the NBA D-League by playing in Erie while their new home in College Park is being constructed,” said NBA D-League President Malcom Turner in a press release. “This is a one-of-a-kind partnership in the NBA D-League, and I'm looking forward to watching the Hawks begin their tenure in the NBA D-League in Erie, which has proved to be a terrific D-League market over the last decade.”
Atlanta was able to accelerate their entry into the D-League given that they are going to be moving into a fully operational D-League team. Erie has been home to a franchise since 2008 and with an arena, management, and a market already in place Atlanta is now able to start developing players in the D-League two years ahead of schedule.
“Since becoming owners of the Atlanta Hawks, securing a D-League team has been one of our group’s top priorities - along with the implementation of a large-scale renovation and upgrade to the Philips Arena and construction of a new, world-class practice facility, which were previously announced,” said Atlanta Hawks Principal Owner and Chairman Tony Ressler. “This opportunity to start two years sooner is even better news for both Erie and Atlanta and we are excited to get a head start on Coach Bud and Wes Wilcox’s efforts to develop players as they work to build a championship-caliber team.”
The Atlanta Hawks are no strangers to the D-League, as six current players have D-League experience and assistant coaches Darvin Ham and Taylor Jenkins both launching their careers on D-League benches. In addition to that, General Manager Wes Wilcox was the first GM of the NBADL’s Canton Charge.
Without an affiliate of their own, the Hawks have had to rely on the Flexible Assignment Rule in order to get their players on D-League rosters. They have sent three players down this season but the addition of a team for next season will eliminate that obstacle. As a team that is routinely in the playoffs and rarely gets lottery picks, they have got to be very happy to accelerate the process of getting a D-League team. They will now have a home to develop those late first round picks instead of having them sit on the bench or playing just garbage time.
This move is a win for everyone involved. The D-League gets another franchise, the Hawks get to develop their roster, and the city of Erie gets to remain home to a basketball franchise for the next two years instead of it ending at the end of this season.