The 76ers intend on playing in the NBA Finals.
It was a bold declaration by head coach Brett Brown on the opening day of training camp Saturday. As far as the Sixers are concerned, they're in more of a position to prepare for that moment than they have been in years.
It's the first time during Brown's tenure that the team has gone into the offseason healthy and did so with the sting of a playoff exit motivating them. The Sixers are expected to be a contender in the Eastern Conference this season and that changes a lot of things.
Since Brown has been with the Sixers, at the end of each season he has provided every player with what he calls a "road map" of what they should work on over the summer. Those instructions are provided to the players as well as their trainers and agents. But, years of hodge-podge teams and rapid turnover on the roster can't make things very easy, so overall development and improvement were key.
With the Sixers' starting unit and the core of the team now familiar with the offensive and defensive schemes outlined by Brown and his staff, the learning curves have flattened out allowing for more attention to detail.
Additionally, the players were able to re-watch meaningful games, dive into more comprehensive analytics, and study postseason opponent strategies in an attempt to pinpoint more specific areas that call for improvement.
"This is what the league and the playoffs tell us," Brown said of the "road map" he presented to each player. "We're not reaching and making stuff up. This is where there were deficiencies, and this is your future growth, and this is the direction our sport is heading. That all influenced the details of the road map."
The instruction was clear and it showed when the players talked about their offseason work.
Ben Simmons implemented minor changes to his shot form and worked on correcting bad habits. Joel Embiid focused on controlling the ball and familiarizing himself with situations that led to turnovers. Robert Covington made improving ball-handling and finishing around the rim his offseason priorities.
Even 14-year veteran Amir Johnson said he was tasked with getting his weight down and working on his outside shot so that he could improve floor spacing and be able to keep up with quicker and more nimble centers.
And the specificity of expectations didn't stop with returning players. Even newly added players like Mike Muscala and Wilson Chandler were given clarity on what would be expected from them.
"The way that the NBA is played now, there's a lot of switching on ball-screen defense; that's what [Brown] has been preaching to me defensively," Muscala said on Friday. "Offensively, [the Sixers] say spacing to the four-point line … that's something that's a little bit new for me but it makes a lot of sense being able to step into your shot and create more space."
Simmons said that he kept in contact with Brown, speaking with him nearly every other day during the offseason, and reiterated that the coaches direction and expectations have been more granular and specific than they have in the past.
If you were looking for more than just bold declarations and lofty goals for proof that the Sixers are working toward the next level of NBA superiority, their offseason approach is a good place to start.