EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- With Kobe Bryant retired after two decades in purple and gold, the Los Angeles Lakers are entering a new and somewhat uncertain era featuring a first-year head coach and a roster built around several promising young players.
And as the illustrious franchise seeks to reclaim its place among the NBA's elite after three straight seasons of missing the playoffs, and after posting their worst record ever last season, the Lakers looked ahead Wednesday to one of the most exciting, and certain, elements of their future: their state-of-the-art $80 million training complex.
Standing before the imposing shell of a two-story, 120,000-square-foot structure that is expected to open by summer 2017, Lakers officials offered a glimpse Wednesday into the new facility while also announcing a "long-term" partnership with UCLA Health, whose name will grace the not-yet-finished building. Lakers officials said the UCLA Health Training Center will be triple the size of the team's current training facility, the Toyota Sports Center, which sits less than a half mile away. (The Lakers have practiced at the Toyota Sports Center since 2000 and today share the complex with the Los Angeles Kings of the National Hockey League.)
Construction on the Lakers' spacious new complex -- which, for the sake of convenience, isn't far from Los Angeles International Airport -- began in September 2015. It will house the Lakers' business and basketball operations, as well as the team's D-League affiliate, the D-Fenders. Other impressive features include a barbershop, multiple whirlpools, cryogenics chambers, a theater, kitchen and more.
"We want players to treat this place like a second home," said Lakers chief operating officer Tim Harris.
UCLA Health has also been designated as the "exclusive in-game health provider" for Lakers players, including at the new facility. Aside from speaking well of the new facility and all that it will offer, Lakers officials emphasized injury prevention -- a buzzword in today's NBA -- as key to their new partnership with UCLA Health.
"All of this, all of this, is with an eye towards prolonging the careers of these great athletes," Harris added, addressing a group of Lakers players in attendance at Wednesday's event outside the facility. "It wasn't just about athlete care. It was about prevention, performance and prolonging their careers."
Lakers president Jeanie Buss echoed that point, adding, "We just retired a player who played 20 years in the NBA in Kobe Bryant and maybe we can keep pushing that, and certainly with the partnership with UCLA Health, that will give us those kind of resources."
Wearing hard hats, fluorescent orange safety vests and goggles, Lakers players toured their future home.
"It's more than helpful," said guard D'Angelo Russell. "The 82-game season, plus more including the playoffs, is wear and tear on your body. It starts with the rehab and trying to keep your body 100 percent before every practice, before every game, before every road trip. [It's great] just knowing that you have the best people going into the practice facility every day to help your body do that for you."
Speaking of the facility, Lakers rookie head coach Luke Walton, a former Lakers player, referenced many new features, such as an underwater treadmill. But one change especially caught his attention: larger ice baths. The Toyota Sports Center features single-person metal tubs; the new center, which will house three rehabilitation pools, can hold up to 15 at a time, Walton said.
But will the glittering new facility help attract potential free agents, especially after the Lakers have struck out on big-name targets in each of the past four summers?
"I think it can," Walton said. "I don't think you strictly rely on it. I think the way we play and the way we compete helps lure free agents. I think when players from across the league come and see this place, they'll be very excited about it. But to me, the most exciting [thing] is the ability to train the guys we already have in here. We've got a great group of guys, a good young core, and to be able to have them in a place like this and work with them every day is going to be a lot of fun." Buss pointed out that, regardless of the new facility, she believes "free agents have always been excited about the Lakers."
She added that she believes the new facility will further establish the commitment of the organization to be on the cutting edge. In the Lakers' current training facility, 11 championship trophies line the window of Buss' office that overlooks the practice court -- and a smiling Buss said that feature will continue at the new facility "so that the players will always be reminded of what the goal is and to be inspired by the work that they have to put in to get that trophy."