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Yes they are sold, but the Hawks will not be on the move

Aug 8, 2011, 8:12 AM EST

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The Atlanta Hawks are being sold to a Los Angeles guy, Alex Meruelo and his Meruelo Group. That has made some Hawks fans uneasy about the future of the Hawks in Atlanta — this is a guy whose life and business interests are in Los Angeles and other teams have already flirted with Anaheim. Plus, the Hawks struggle with the fan base in the way all teams that are not Georgia football do in that city. Plus the NHL’s Thrashers just up and left for Winnipeg.

But the Hawks aren’t going anywhere.

First, Meruelo said the team was staying put in his interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Yes, we know that’s what Clay Bennett said even as he schemed to move his team from Seattle to Oklahoma City, but Los Angeles is already a crowded market, and it’s one the Lakers own. Even in Orange County (trust me, I live half a mile for the Orange Curtain) it’s a Lakers world. Meruelo knows that too.

But there’s another reason, a financial one that is a better reason for the Hawks to stay put. SB Nation Atlanta explains:

However, under the terms of the new bond agreement, the Hawks cannot leave Philips Arena for at least seven years even if they pay off the bonds in their entirety. If the Hawks do leave, there’s a $75 million “early termination penalty” that the Spirit or the new owners that want a team elsewhere would be socked with….

But the (selling ownership group the) Spirit could theoretically pay off the remaining $123.5 million in bonds off tomorrow and the Hawks could leave, but they cannot leave until the 2018-19 season at earliest without also forking over another $75 million in addition to the $123.5 million or so left remaining on the bonds.

Essentially, that’s another $200 million to leave. That’s not happening.

The new owner likely will make changes — hey, anyone want Joe Johnson? — but moving will not be one of them.

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