Jrue Holiday and Jodie Meeks walked out of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine together, neither wearing 76ers gear because they'd worn nothing but team gear for the previous seven months.
The Sixers' season is over. And as Holiday and Meeks, the team's starting backcourt, walked toward their cars Thursday, so too was the final obligation of this 2010-11 season: the team meeting and exit interviews.
Now the unofficial work begins.
By most people's standards, this season was a success. The Sixers finished 41-41, a 14-game improvement, and tested the Miami Heat in a first-round playoff series. And, according to everyone's expectations, next year must be even better.
"Getting to 41 wins is a great step," said Sixers coach Doug Collins. "Getting into the elite is a bigger one. To do that, we're going to have to keep adding."
Those potential additions -- through trades, drafting, or free agency -- are still months away. But at Thursday's team meeting, Collins told his team to appreciate this season for what it was.
"As we know, this team will never be the same," Collins said. "Even if the same guys came back it would never be the same ... even though they're the same guys, they're never the same team."
Collins said he trusted that his young guys would do the necessary work. Some will spend time in the offseason working out at PCOM, others will make it a point to join forces with teammates in other locations, but all will dedicate themselves to returning as improved players -- a crucial factor for a young team looking to go from average to good.
"Definitely the young guys on this team, like last year I didn't work out with any of them, this year I feel like if we play a little more throughout the offseason we'll get a better chemistry," Holiday said.
Holiday is part of a contingent of players, all 23 years old or younger, around whom the Sixers seem committed to building. The others are Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, Lou Williams, and Meeks. On the fringe of that group are big men Spencer Hawes and Marreese Speights.
Young has been advised to work on his jump shot and extend his range to the three-point line, while Turner is charged with improving his handle, his catch-and-shoot, and his pull-up jumper. Meeks needs to expand his game from one-trick pony -- catch-and-shoot on the outside -- to becoming an effective pick-and-roll player, and Holiday must repeat whatever he did last offseason.
"Playing vs. those caliber of players and guarding two of the best players in the league really helped me a lot," Turner said of defending against Miami's LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in the playoffs. "I definitely have a better idea of what I need to work on. I can kind of see the light a little bit."
Collins believes next season should be more productive because he won't be mixing and matching for the season's first 20-plus games.
"I'm excited about next year," Collins said. "It'll be easier for me from the standpoint that I'll know what we have and we can hit the ground running."
The Dre question. After the season-ending loss to the Heat on Wednesday, swingman Andre Iguodala was asked if he wanted to return to the Sixers. Iguodala's answer was vague, neither confirming nor denying his desire to remain with the franchise. On Thursday, Iguodala was asked the question again.
"I don't control that, so that's not a concern of mine," Iguodala said. "I just know I'm always going to be prepared and my No. 1 goal is to want to compete for a championship."
But would you like to remain with the Sixers?
"Like I said, I just want to compete for titles, and we made a lot of strides this year," Iguodala continued. "So, I think we're headed in the right direction."
Does Iguodala understand why people always ask him this question?
"I think they think I'm going to trip up and say the wrong thing, but obviously they don't know me too well."
Iguodala did not skip his exit interview, as reported elsewhere. He was attending a team doctor's appointment. Team president Rod Thorn confirmed that account.