As the 76ers gathered Friday for the first day of training camp at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, many of the quips and sound bites emanating from the returning players sounded much more seasoned than they have in some time.
From the players, there were stories about getting together and playing pickup games at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles, scrimmages put together by Elton Brand, who at 32 is tied with Andres Nocioni for the title of oldest player on the roster.
And from coach Doug Collins, entering his second season and looking to improve on last year's .500 season (41-41), there was the realization that the success the team experienced last season had sparked a sense of self-motivation in the players.
All these things are borne out of stability; something that Sixers, who open the season on the road at Portland on Dec. 26, believe will help them in this truncated, 66-game season.
"I think the big thing is they know what I'm about; I know what they are about and what we expect from each other," Collins said following a 21/2-hour evening practice, the first gathering of the team since the lockout officially ended Thursday and the new collective bargaining agreement was ratified. "They were great today. You could see they missed playing; they wanted to get back. I love being around our team. They are wonderful guys and they work hard. That's a fun thing."
Earlier in the day, news circulated that the team had reached terms on a contract with unrestricted free-agent forward Thadeus Young. Following a physical, Young should be with the team as soon as Saturday when the Sixers gather at PCOM for a 3 p.m. practice.
Earlier in the day the Sixers announced the signings of its first- and second-round picks, center Nikola Vucevic and forward Lavoy Allen, respectively.
Vucevic said that his first day of practice went well. For this, he credited the team's veterans.
"They helped me a lot today," Vucevic said. "But I came prepared and focused to learn whatever I need to learn. I'm happy how the first day went. It's going to be a fun process."
The reoccurring theme of the day was the stability that the team has now as opposed to last season. Last summer the team hired Collins after it went 27-55 in its one season under Eddie Jordan. The 2011-12 Sixers return many of the same players from last year's roster.
"I think that is going to be important for us," said Andre Iguodala. "Another year with Jrue [Holiday]; another year with Elton [Brand]. We are going to continue to get better. Going through the sets today they were all familiar. It's the first time in a while where we ran sets on the first day of camp and everybody knew them. We actually had two units on the floor that knew what we were doing.
"That's going to help us this year," Iguodala continued. "We've got a short schedule and we're not going to have a lot of time to practice. That's an advantage we're going to have."
Collins said that the team's stability is a plus as well, and he used a football analogy that Eagles fans know all too well.
"One thing I picked up from football not being able to have the offseason, I heard a lot of the coaches and the teams that made changes and put in intricate defense, well, they struggled," Collins said. "The teams that kept it very simple got out to a better start. I think that's what you have to do. You have to keep things very simple and do them well. That's the goal for us.