CHARLOTTE, NC (WIS) - Columbia is one of several cities in the Carolinas that are being considered to host a developmental team paired with the Charlotte Hornets.
The Hornets hope the NBA D-league team would be ready to play for the 2016-17 season. The franchise says it reaching out to seven cities throughout the Carolinas to find a home for the new D-League club, which would be owned and operated by Hornets Sports & Entertainment.
Cities receiving options to bid include Asheville, Fayetteville, Greensboro and Raleigh, North Carolina, as well as Charleston, Columbia and Greenville, South Carolina.
"This is a very exciting time for us," said Hornets Sports & Entertainment President & COO Fred Whitfield. "The decision to take steps toward launching our own D-League club is yet another example of our owner's long-term commitment to our franchise and continues to show his willingness to invest in the resources needed to improve our basketball team. A D-League team would also allow us to continue to expand the Hornets brand regionally by having a presence in an additional market."
Under the current D-League structure, 17 of the 18 teams have single-affiliate relationships with an NBA team. Eight are fully owned and operated by their NBA parent team.
An additional eight are operated under a "hybrid" affiliation, in which the NBA team funds and manages the basketball operations while local ownership maintains control of the business aspects.
The Hornets are currently one of 13 NBA teams affiliated with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, the lone independent D-League team.
"Having our own D-League team would provide us with the best opportunity to develop our young players, which is paramount in today's NBA," said Hornets General Manager Rich Cho.
"This move would allow us to dictate how the team is run, including using the same offensive and defensive sets, play calls and philosophies as the Hornets do. It would also provide for a seamless and easy transition when moving players between our team and the D-League affiliate."
Meanwhile, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin confirmed that city leaders have been up to Charlotte to meet with the Hornets' management several times.
"We've had several conference calls and meeting, and we expect that when it hits the ground, we'll pull together a comprehensive network of public and private supporters to allow Columbia and the Midlands region to put our best foot forward," Benjamin said.
The push for a D-League team could be a major benefit for Columbia, according to former Denver Nugget and D-League coach Alex English.
"With the population growth here in Columbia with people coming from other parts of the country, I think they'll appreciate professional sports," English said.
Benjamin expects to get the 'Request for Proposal' paperwork from the Hornets this week.
"Everything we do that requires public investment has to have significant amount of not just public support but also be something that will incentive the direction of private sector capital as well," Benjamin said. "So, we're looking to public-private partnership to make it happen."
At this point, Mayor Benjamin won't say where the team might play if they do end up calling Columbia home.
We reached out to the Colonial Life Arena, and they tell us they haven't heard from the city about putting the D-League team there.
The mayor says he'll have more exciting news about the proposal soon.