It’s been covered to death, but the Los Angeles Lakers’ 2015-16 season was essentially a throwaway. Kobe Bryant’s viking funeral monopolized not only the coverage of the team, but an insane 31.9 percent of their possessions as well.
Bryant is gone now, and seemingly so is the previous message coming from the franchise. From hiring Byron Scott two years ago in an attempt to “bring back Lakers basketball,” to the constant deference to Bryant’s legacy and accomplishments, much of the last several seasons was marred by the stark contrast between worshiping the team’s illustrious past and the realities of their consistently lottery-bound present.
That tone seems to be changing. Symbolically on the day the Lakers revealed the new, state-of-the-art UCLA Health Training Center, the team seems to be focusing further on forgetting about the old and bringing in the new.
The Lakers’ past may be filled with tales of greatness, but those heroes are gone. For Los Angeles to reach their previous heights, they will have to move forward with their young core of Brandon Ingram, D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance, Jr. The team seems to have realized this
“Moving into this new facility is going to allow (the young players) to create their own identity,” team president Jeanie Buss told Joey Ramirez of Lakers.com. “I’ve said to Brandon Ingram: ‘Please don’t worry about all the pictures on the walls and the history of the Lakers. You be you. People are excited to see who you are and what you bring. Don’t feel like you have to replicate anybody that’s been here before.'
"Certainly moving into this new facility will allow them to do that,” Buss continued. “To take on their own identity.”
Buss’ words are a massive shift in tenor from the reverence for the past often exhibited over the past few years. From touting Scott’s “Laker blood” to the way the team continually seemed to assume that the best free agents in the league would want to sign there no matter how bad the team was the previous year, “Lakers exceptionalism” had reached its peak right as the franchise hit rock bottom. Too much of the message from the franchise displayed a complete lack of awareness for its place in the current NBA hierarchy.
This summer has been an about face from that approach. Sure, Luke Walton is not devoid of quote unquote “Laker blood,” but the front office hired a coach who can relate to and guide their young talent as they adjust to life in the NBA. Instead of reaching for the stars in free agency, the team signed capable, respected veterans like Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov to help instill a culture of accountability for the team while making them incrementally better on the court.
The team’s new training facility seems to be the next step in this process. Instead of simply citing how big and respected their brand is, the team is (literally) putting their money where their mouth is to build a modern facility for the team. From cryo-chambers, to giant ice baths, and even a barber shop, the Lakers’ new digs appear as though they’ll be as nice as any team in the NBA’s. The Lakers’ have been consistently ranked as the second-most valuable franchise in the NBA, and this facility is one of the “outside of the cap” ways the team can flex their big market muscles to not only help the players on their roster improve, but attract free agents in the future as well.
Before any of that can happen the Lakers will have to improve the team’s rate of success on the floor, an area they will likely only take baby steps towards this season. Much like the UCLA Health Center’s completion, a consistently competitive Lakers team is still at least a year away. However, the building’s construction is the latest sign the Lakers are no longer resting on their historical laurels, and instead appear to be focused on building a better future.
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