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In race for free agents, training facilties are newest weapon ... or are they?

Manica Architecture

Since 1999, 20 of the 30 teams in the NBA have built or in the process of building new practice facilities, but in the past few years, that pace had quickened with some teams, like the Nets, building new facilities, others like the 76ers finally getting their own facility after years of sharing them.

One big reason for the financial commitment, which amounts to tens of millions of dollars per team, is the belief that free agents will be wowed by their new digs. While the players may spend part of 82 days (plus playoffs) on an arena floor, their workplace --their office, their factory floor-- is the practice facility.

As Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Wizards, said earlier this month, at the unveiling of plans for his teams facility, "When free agents come into town, [they think] ‘Well, is my wife and family going to like the city? Are the schools good? And where do I spend all my time? Well, we know they have a great arena and a great fan base.

"But how about, 'Where am I going to practice?’ And they would come out and see the kitchen, the pool and workout area and say 'Wow.' I don’t have one of these. So let's go and do it."

He's not alone. Three weeks earlier Larry Bird, Pacers president of basketball operations, said of his team's planned facility, "It also helps us recruit free agents and bring other players in."

Earlier this year, Flip Saunders, coach and president of basketball operations in Minnesota, said something similar.  "It's going to help from a recruiting standpoint; players want to know they can go somewhere they can get better,"  said Saunders. "It also shows the team's made a commitment to build those type of facilities. There's a commitment to doing what you can to try to be the best."

And during a late June tour of construction at the Nets HSS Training Center, Lionel Hollins echoed them all.

"This facility will never be a deal breaker in the negative," said Hollins, hard hat firmly in place. "It will always be something we can point to and say, 'this got us over the hump.' It's nice to just have a cool working environment where the players can come early in the morning and stay till when they want to leave."

Will it work?  A lot of money says it will, but with almost every team having a "cool" new facility, doesn't that mitigate the attraction of one over the other.? The Cavaliers' great facility outside Cleveland is the current gold standard, but it didn't prevent LeBron James from leaving ... even though it was built to keep him.

No one is saying a new facility is going to top salary structure --and a winning culture. But if those things are equal, then the more likely other things, like training facilities and the local cost-of-living and tax structure, will play a role.

So will player amenities like a car detailing service offered by the Thunder, the Trail Blazers' barber shop ... and for the Nets, a two-story players' lounge with an unmatched view. Not to mention medical care.  The Nets deep connection with the Hospital for Special Surgery, known as the best healing hospital for athletes, is seen as a big part of the Nets pitch for free agents.

The Nets have been bringing their newest players to the construction site in Industry City for more than a year. Bojan Bogdanovic got a tour of the exterior last year, Chris McCullough and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson were shown construction progress this year. Next summer, with the facility open --and the Nets having a wealth of cap space, expect free agents to be given the grand tour.