Midway through his annual preseason media luncheon, Brett Brown was asked his expectations for the season. While the 76ers coach declined to disclose how many wins he expects, he revealed that this season will be sort of like the previous three - minus the tanking.
"The difference is everybody is going to want to win some games," the fourth-year coach said Thursday in the second-floor dining room of Lo Spiedo at the Navy Yard. "Let's call it for what it is. I feel like that we are going to want to see growth on the court as it relates to wins."
But the team that won just 10 games last season and a combined 47 in Brown's first three campaigns is still heavily focused on player development.
Yes, the Sixers will run a purposeful offense and defense.
"And we are going to see the path of these young guys slowly start to look like they belong on an NBA court," Brown said. "And we all say, 'Wow, project Joel Embiid out in two or three years.' "
Embiid was expected to be an elite player since the time the Sixers selected him third overall in the 2014 draft. However, two operations on the navicular bone in the 7-foot-2, 275-pounder's right foot prevented him from playing in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons.
The Sixers will have him on a minutes restriction. Embiid also isn't expected to play on back-to-back nights. They won't know if he'll start at center against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the season-opener until after consulting with the medical staff.
This year's first overall pick, Ben Simmons, won't have the same restrictions. Look for the 6-10 point forward to play 30-plus minutes a night while initiating the offense. There's a lot of excitement because of his ability to play anywhere from power forward to point guard.
There's also excitement surrounding Dario Saric. Acquired in a 2014 draft-day trade, the 6-10 power forward will make his NBA debut after playing the last two seasons in Turkey.
"I think we are all going to look back [on this season] and see did certain people improve," Brown said. "I think we are all going to look back and see did we start to figure out a rhythm beat, a rhythm to our season of who's actually playing."
Ultimately, Brown's job will be to win games. However, he probably won't win more than 25 even with the free-agent additions of Jerryd Bayless, Gerald Henderson, and Sergio Rodriguez. The team is young and still several seasons away from being a serious NBA title contender.
Brown's goal is to help Embiid, Simmons, Saric, and the other young players reach their potential.
That's why he remains focused on developing a culture and teaching his offensive and defensive philosophies. He and his staff also intend to show the proper way to put in work in the weight room and scout opponents.
"Those things ultimately matter," said Brown, who won four NBA titles during five Finals appearances as a San Antonio Spurs assistant. "Maybe not so much to the outside world, but if you really want to grow a program [it does]. I've seen what championships look like. I've seen five times what it takes to play in June. . . . So the growth sometimes might not be as quantifiable to the outside world. But I know it."
And as in the past, the 76ers will see who on this roster are keepers to play alongside Embiid, Simmons, and Saric in the future.
But Brown is not ready to say how many wins he thinks that will translate into this season. "I'm not going to go there," he said.
In his eyes, the true indicator of success will be how his players improve.