EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — After Kobe Bryant’s retirement and the worst season in team history, the Los Angeles Lakers’ quest to rebuild a championship franchise is finally beginning in earnest.
Seems like the perfect time to get excited about moving into a shiny new home.
The Lakers provided an early look at their $80 million training complex Wednesday while announcing a naming rights deal with UCLA Health, the multi-hospital academic medical center. Just eight months after construction began in earnest, the Lakers are on schedule to open the 120,000-square-foot UCLA Health Training Center during the 2017 offseason.
“This was really an effort to make sure we had not only everything we needed, but also everything we were going to need in the future,” Lakers President Jeanie Buss said.
The Lakers will spend the next year just two blocks away at the Toyota Sports Center, their home since February 2000, before moving into the state-of-the-art complex in El Segundo, near Los Angeles International Airport.
Coach Luke Walton and the Lakers’ last three draft classes also took a break from working out down the street to tour the complex. D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Ivica Zubac and Anthony Brown all donned hard hats, fluorescent orange vests and safety goggles to check out the concrete-and-drywall shell of their new home.
“We have a place that players will want to come into,” said Walton, the former Lakers forward, who recalled hour-long waits to use the single-person ice baths at their current training complex. “It’s a place that offers the best of everything, all the best capabilities. It’s a part of creating that culture that you want for a franchise. It’s nice to have this place in our future.”
Although none of the Lakers’ youngsters has known any home except their current cramped quarters, they were still impressed by the project centered around a large gym that will also house the team’s D-League affiliate.
The Lakers’ players will have a spacious weight room and locker room along with three rehab pools, a cryogenics chamber, a theater, a lounge, a large kitchen and a barbershop.
“It’s more than helpful,” Russell said. “With the 82-game season, that’s wear and tear on your body. It starts with rehab and trying to keep your body 100 percent at every practice.”
The Lakers are an iconic sports brand, but their home base has never had the grandeur of their reputation.
The Showtime teams of the 1980s were forced to be nomadic, usually practicing at recreational centers or college gyms.
Shortly after the Lakers moved their games from the run-down Forum to the utilitarian Staples Center downtown in 1999, they leased half of a sprawling recreational complex in El Segundo for their training headquarters. They still share the Toyota Sports Center with the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings, who have public ice skating rinks in the noisy building.
The Lakers have practice courts and rudimentary training facilities, but the cramped confines forced them to move several business departments to another office building down the street.
“A couple of years ago, we realized that as we grew, we needed to find a new facility,” Lakers chief operating officer Tim Harris said. “We wanted to build our own facility and have our own identity. … We want players to treat this place like a second home.”
Buss has already made one executive decision: Just as they do in the old training complex, the 11 shiny Larry O’Brien trophies won during the Lakers’ Los Angeles tenure will still sit in the window of her office, which will still overlook the practice court.
“It’s so the players will always be reminded of the work they need to do to reach that,” she said with a smile.