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Clippers Set to Build Elite Practice Facility

July 07, 2005|Jerry Crowe and Roger Vincent | Times Staff Writers

In a move that at last puts them on equal footing with their competitors, the Clippers will announce today that they have purchased land on the Westside to build a state-of-the-art practice facility and complete a $20-million deal.

The Clippers, among a small and dwindling number of NBA teams without a practice site to call their own, will have one that is expected to rival the league's best when it opens before the 2006-07 season in the Playa Vista development near the intersection of the San Diego and Marina freeways.

It will include two full basketball courts, executive offices, digital-video center, weight room and other training facilities in about 35,000 square feet.

The project will be fully funded by owner Donald Sterling, delivering on a promise he made when he hired Coach Mike Dunleavy in 2003 and signaling that he is serious about reversing the on-court fortunes of a team that has known little success.

The Clippers had considered other sites, among them the Home Depot Center in Carson, but targeted the Playa Vista development in recent years.

Dunleavy, who as coach of the Portland Trail Blazers was headquartered in a practice facility considered to be one of the NBA's finest, had consistently lobbied Clipper management to provide players with a better place to prepare.

"Ultimately, if you have your own place, have your own offices, your weight room there -- the whole bit -- you get your guys there a lot, hanging [out] with each other," he said. "They get to know each other better, create better relationships."

The Clippers practiced last season and will again next at a Spectrum health club in El Segundo, two stops south on the Green Line from where the Lakers practice. Before that, they practiced for several years at L.A. Southwest College after the Lakers vacated the campus gym in 2000 and moved to the HealthSouth Training Center in El Segundo, which was built by Anschutz Entertainment Group at a cost of $24 million and also houses the Kings' facilities.

Previously, the Clippers practiced at the Veteran Sports Complex in Carson, an arrangement similar to what other NBA teams had in place at the time.

But as the wooing of free agents has grown more competitive in recent years, so has the demand for self-contained practice headquarters, the better to impress potential recruits. A Clipper source said the team's lack of a practice facility played a part in the club's failure to lure Kobe Bryant from the Lakers last summer.

Playa Vista is a 1,087-acre property between Marina del Rey and Westchester in Los Angeles that was once home to eccentric entrepreneur Howard Hughes' aviation empire. The Clippers' facility is to be built on two acres at the eastern tip near the intersection of Centinela Avenue and Bluff Creek Drive, not far from Hughes' vacant former office buildings and the hangars where he built the massive Spruce Goose transport airplane in the 1940s.

More than 5,246 homes, condominiums and apartments are being developed on the west side of Playa Vista, but the Clipper facility would be the first new building in the development's commercial section to the east. Entertainment company DreamWorks SKG announced plans to build a $350-million film and television studio there a decade ago, but the agreement collapsed in 1999.

About 4,000 residents live in Playa Vista now, among them Clipper forwards Corey Maggette and Chris Wilcox, said Playa Vista President Steve Soboroff, a Clipper fan who has been trying to get the team to build in the development since he took the position in 2001. Soboroff also helped negotiate the Clippers' move from the Sports Arena to Staples Center in 1999 as an advisor to then-mayor Richard Riordan.

Several other Clippers live within a short drive of where the facility will be built. The players will have 24-hour access to the practice site.

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Chris Wilcox plans to join the Clippers for summer league competition in Las Vegas, his agent said. "We'll be coming," Jeff Fried said. "We're just finishing up a couple of things at this end and then he'll be on his way out there."

The Clippers, who open a five-game schedule tonight, seem to be in the dark as to why Wilcox didn't report with his teammates Tuesday. Wilcox faces a charge of transporting a handgun in a vehicle after his arrest last week in Maryland.... Dunleavy flew to New York after Tuesday night's practice to attend to his ailing father. He was scheduled to return to Las Vegas today.

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