GREENSBORO — The Charlotte Hornets have chosen Greensboro as the host city for a new professional basketball minor-league team in the expanding NBA Development League.
A formal announcement is expected Tuesday at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex, but officials with the Hornets and the D-league, as it’s called, have confirmed the move.
Greensboro beat out Asheville and Fayetteville to land the team. The Hornets also considered Raleigh and South Carolina cities Columbia, Charleston and Greenville earlier in the selection process.
The new D-league team will debut next fall, playing a full 50-game schedule in the 2016-17 season, said Fred Whitfield, the Hornets president and chief operating officer.
The team will play its home games in the Pavilion at the coliseum complex, Whitfield said, although the building will need significant renovation including a permanent roof, new locker room facilities and retractable seating for 2,500.
The team’s front office staff will be housed in second-floor offices at the recently renovated Convention & Visitors Bureau adjacent to the coliseum.
“Greensboro’s approach to the process was innovative,” Whitfield said. “Taking the Pavilion and renovating it into a basketball-style fieldhouse for us was very attractive. Especially when you could have offices for us right across the street.”
Details on renovation costs, who will do the work and how long it will take remained unclear Saturday, although hotel tax money is expected to pay for the Pavilion project.
“We’ve been assured the building will be renovated and ready to play by Oct. 1 of next year,” Whitfield said. “We’re assured they can meet that timeline.
“We’ve hired a team president who will manage the day-to-day business operations. We plan on introducing him on Tuesday. And we plan to have a staff on the ground in the market and selling tickets in January.”
Tickets to D-league games typically range in cost from $12 to $25, depending on the market, said league president Malcolm Turner.
“There are a variety of price levels,” Turner said. “We also focus on our premium seating around courtside. The hallmarks of this league are we are a highly competitive league but it’s a family-friendly, affordable, fun atmosphere. Our pricing reflects that.”
The Greensboro franchise expands the league to 20 teams, although the city is alone right now in the southeast.
That likely will change, Turner said.
“If you look at our footprint, the southeast is the obvious place for future opportunities to grow,” he said. “… Expansion’s goal is 30 for 30, with each of our NBA teams having their own one-to-one D-league affiliation. That’s the No. 1 priority.”
Greensboro’s team would be the 20th in the D-league, and it would be owned and operated by the Hornets.
Charlotte has used the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Mad Ants for its D-league players, but it was a catch-all franchise used by many NBA teams.
“The challenge with not owning your own D-league team is twofold,” Whitfield said. “No. 1, if we send a player down to Fort Wayne and another team we’re sharing with sends a player down, which team’s player is the priority? Who gets the playing time? It defeats the purpose of your whole player development philosophy if your guy sits.
“And No. 2, Fort Wayne is going to run their own systems of offense and defense. They might have a completely different philosophy than our coaching staff. That doesn’t benefit you at all.”
The D-league has been around for 15 years and has grown into a useful tool for NBA player development.
It’s good basketball. Even the worst team in the league is stocked with players who were college stars.
Last year’s D-league rosters were sprinkled with ACC alumni including Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins of Duke, James Michael McAdoo and Dexter Strickland of North Carolina, Richard Howell of N.C. State and Travis McKie of Wake Forest.
And there were three players with local college ties: 6-foot-11 Ben Strong from Guilford College (Westchester Knicks); 6-8 forward Austin Witter from N.C. A&T (Reno Bighorns); and 6-3 shooting guard Nick Barbour from High Point (Iowa Energy).
In the NBA last season, 38 percent of the players had spent time in the D-league and 63 players were called up. Also, half of last year’s NBA Draft first-round picks played in the D-league.
“The competition level is very high,” Turner said. “It’s NBA-caliber talent as evidenced not only by the amount of D-league experience on NBA rosters, but also the increased movement we’re seeing between the two leagues.”
It’s that movement that helped sell the Hornets on Greensboro, Whitfield said, allowing players to shuttle back and forth.
“It’s an easy drive, about 90 minutes away,” said Whitfield, who grew up in Greensboro. “The proximity and easy access in the I-85 corridor, plus Greensboro has an airport if we need to get flights. All that came into play.
“And then the thing that really separated Greensboro was their commitment to take that Pavilion and renovate it for us, create it into what we think is a beautiful fieldhouse environment that is exactly the right size for a D-league franchise.”