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Sielski: Progress on Sixers training center might be slower than they've said

In less than six weeks, the 76ers will begin what can accurately be called their most anticipated training camp since Allen Iverson's distaste for poom-poom pants became public knowledge.

In less than six weeks, the 76ers will begin what can accurately be called their most anticipated training camp since Allen Iverson's distaste for poom-poom pants became public knowledge.

It's no wonder why. This will be a different team and a different season, tank-free. Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Dario Saric will be making their NBA debuts. Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel, the two big men who may or may not be part of the team's long-term future, have a chance to show how much they've strengthened the deficiencies in their games or whether they've strengthened them at all. Coach Brett Brown will finally have some seasoned veterans - Jerryd Bayless, Gerald Henderson, Sergio Rodriguez - to add to his regular rotation of players. After three seasons during which the Sixers won a total of 47 games and positioned themselves to regenerate the talent on their roster, it's hardly surprising that there's so much interest in their preseason workouts, which will run from Sept. 27 through Sept. 30.

The surprising part is the workouts' location. Instead of holding camp at their gleaming new training facility in Camden, the Sixers are returning to Stockton University in Galloway Township, N.J., for the third consecutive year. They notified the university earlier this month, as the Atlantic City Press first reported Monday.

"A month ago, we did not think they were coming," Stockton athletic director Lonnie Folks said in a phone interview, before pausing for a moment and continuing. "A month ago, we were not sure they were coming."

The uncertainty was understandable. For months, the Sixers have been promoting the growth and expected opening of the $75 million, 125,000-square-foot complex, touting it as the largest such facility in the NBA, offering tours to media members, maintaining that it would be ready by the end of September, just in time to host training camp. Except it got to be August, and they still couldn't commit to hosting training camp there. So what happened? In an email, a Sixers spokesman said, "We remain on schedule to open the basketball facility in late September and intend to continue our camp and practices there in early October."

That statement demands some parsing. First, given that the Sixers will hold training camp over the final four days of September, it doesn't make much sense to open the facility "in late September" and not have camp there - assuming the facility were ready to be opened, that is.

Second, no one should doubt that the Sixers intend to have practices at the facility in early October. Of course, the Sixers intended to have Andrew Bynum play at least one game for them, and they said as much throughout the 2012-13 season, even though it was pretty apparent, not long after he arrived, that Bynum was never going to suit up for them. They also intended to have Joel Embiid healthy for the 2015-16 season, and they intended it so much that they posted video clips of his workouts and shooting drills and between-the-legs-dribbles-and-dunks to gin up excitement, and they intended it right up until the Inquirer reported that Embiid had suffered a setback in his recovery from a fractured right foot, which forced the Sixers to acknowledge that, despite all their intentions, Embiid would miss the entire 2015-16 season. They get ahead of themselves sometimes.

Now, the Sixers did undergo some front-office upheaval this year, with Sam Hinkie's resignation in April and Bryan Colangelo's subsequent hiring. Hinkie had been the Sixers' GM for 16 months when they announced, in June 2014, that they were building the facility, and he had no small influence on its planning, design, and basketball-centric features. It would seem possible, even plausible, that Colangelo had different ideas about the complex, and that maybe the Sixers were taking a little more time and spending a little more money to accommodate those ideas and make some changes. But the team spokesman said, "Sam's resignation and Bryan's arrival had no impact on the time line related to the training complex."

So that was reassuring, even though - right up until the month that the Hinkie-Colangelo transition took place - Folks figured that the Sixers wouldn't be returning to Stockton.

"Had you asked me in April, I would have said, 'Yeah, I'm surprised,' " Folks said about the Sixers' coming back. "They have been very, very good to work with. Everything has been as smooth as it could possibly be. [But] as the summer went on and July came and they hadn't made a decision yet, we thought, 'Maybe they will come back.'

"I don't know if it was because the facility is not ready or they just enjoy the retreat aspect of being here for four days. Down here, they're practicing, and then they're going to the hotel and staying together and having evening functions. One year, they went out bowling. The whole team did."

Hey, Galloway Township is lovely in the summer and early fall, and the Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club is a gorgeous place to stay, and the university's gym does have two regulation-size basketball courts, which allow Brown and his players to get in the work they need, and Atlantic City and its casinos are just a 20-minute ride away in case that retreat aspect gets a little too confining for anyone. You can see why the Sixers would be happy to hold training camp there again, even if their new training complex were ready.

Which it isn't yet. But it will be, they said. On schedule. Just as they intend.