The Inbounds: Tonight the part of “the man” will be played by Andrew Bynum

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At the introductory press conference for Andrew Bynum to the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday, Bynum told the fans and media the following in response to a question about the increased load he’s likely to bear next season.

“It’s going to be a lot more exciting and a lot more fun to know that everything’s going to be run through me.”

This is, at once, the most Bynum quote ever, and a surprising Bynum quote.

It’s not surprising because… Bynum has always been known to buck convention for candidness. This is an instance where the requisite response is “It’s not about me, it’s about my team. I just want to go out and help this team win a championship. And I know our guys, Jrue (Holiday), Evan (Turner), Thad (Young), all those guys are going to be there with me so we can take that next step together.” But instead, Bynum basically says “I’m sorry to interrupt, and I love Kobe, but this season is going to be the greatest Bynum season of all time!” This is what Bynum does. He blows off the conventional for the interesting, and for that, with some maturity that comes with getting older, he could turn into a truly fascinating character, as opposed to the bratty petulant child he has seemed at times the last few seasons.

It is surprising because… on top of the whole “star player basically saying  ‘the ball is mine and I own it'” facet, it’s a bit of a leap for Bynum. Bynum looking out for himself is not a shock. And he’s been known to complain about touches in the past (and guaranteed, if the ball doesn’t find him in the first five games, you’re going to hear it). But this is different. This is leadership in the alpha male model. That phrase gets tossed out a lot, but in a way, Bynum’s saying “I’m really excited about a greater amount of responsibility being placed on me.”

It’s also a pretty drastic change from what we’ve seen in the past from him as far as the mechanics of his work ethic go. Whether you think Bynum is a hustle junkie or a slacker, he’s never really been the type to go above and beyond. You can think his work ethic is “fine” or “completely good enough” but he’s never been accused of spending too much time in the gym or taking the game too seriously. This kind of quote comes with it a lot of confidence, but also an understanding that the Sixers wanted him to be “the man” and that means he has to play like it.

Now, this could wind up with Bynum thinking that being “the man” involves transition three-pointers. But it could also mean that he wants to embrace a workload and offensive usage rate that could propel him into the top tier of players in his league. If you throw out the injury concerns and presume he can adjust better to double-teams, Bynum has the independent ability to score at will, to be a top offensive player in this league.

A little secret is that Bynum’s offensive game is actually better than Dwight Howard’s. He has better footwork, better touch, and better versatility. Howard is a considerably better player than Bynum based on a lot of factors, but Bynum has the superior offensive skillset. He’s just never been asked to put into high gear. Now, that comes at a price, and managing his energy level so he has enough left to defend will be a challenge for Doug Collins, along with, you know, their respective attitudes.

IF Bynum really chooses to take on this kind of role, and the team falls in line, saying “This is our All-Star, the Bynum, and we shall not have any sub-All-Stars before him” then we could be in for something special. If the team tries to adopt a balanced offense, or if Bynum can’t handle the double-teams and his teammates can’t make opponents pay for implementing them, it could go down the tubes. There’s also somewhere in the middle. But the presser on Wednesday revealed if not a newer and more aggressive Bynum, then maybe one a bit more fitted to who he is. He’s not saddled with the legacy of the Lakers. He’s not being asked to hold up a lottery squad. He’s not trying to fit in with a plethora of talent, though the Sixers have some talent. There’s a good team behind him, a gap, and then Bynum. He can make his teammates better while also rising to be the best he’s been in his career. His exuberance at the presser, being closer to home than he’s ever played, a team that not only says it values him, but goes out of their way to show it, everything points to maybe a new chapter starting for Bynum, one where he exceeds even what he accomplished last season.

Of course, that’s what we say now, in the halcyon, happy days of August at pressers meant to make the fans happy. It’s a big round of hugs and handshakes for the Sixers braintrust. When the Celtics are sending two defenders to front and swarm, when the Nets are trapping the entry passer, when Marc Gasol is bodying up, it’s a different matter. But the Sixers wanted to make a big jump forward, to do something exciting, to kick off a new era.

Bynum is at least talking the talk, and for now, that’s enough to generate some excitement for the future.

Packers’ QB Aaron Rodgers completes pass to become part owner of Bucks

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Aaron Rodgers is regularly be seen courtside at Milwaukee Bucks games, having professed his love of the sport many times. Here was there Friday night for the Bucks’ Game 3 win, sitting courtside with girlfriend Danica Patrick.

This time, he was doing it as part owner of the team.

Milwaukee announced between the first and second quarters that the Packers QB1 is now part-owner of the Bucks, having bought a minority stake in the team.

“I have proudly called Wisconsin my home for the past 13 years, and I am thankful for the friendships and the opportunities I have been given to live and play here,” Rodgers in a released statement. “I am excited and honored to deepen my connection to the region by joining Wes Edens, Marc Lasry, Jamie Dinan, Mike Fascitelli and the ownership group of the Milwaukee Bucks. As a huge fan of the NBA and the sport of basketball, this is a dream come true for me, and I look forward to furthering my affinity for Wisconsin sports as a minority owner in a team I love and support.”

Rodgers is a California native who attended Cal in the Bay Area for college and now — like many an NBA player — splits his time between living where he works in Wisconsin and Southern California.

This is a smart time to buy into the Bucks — and not just because they won Friday. Milwaukee moves into a brand new building next season which should generate a lot more revenue for the franchise. Plus, the Bucks are poised to make a leap forward in the East as a team behind Giannis Antetokounmpo and a solid supporting cast (likely led by a new coach next season), which will lead to more revenue as they become a team to see on the road, one that fills buildings.

Pelicans look to pull off sweep of Trail Blazers

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Before the 2017-18 regular season began, any conversation regarding the New Orleans Pelicans and brooms had something to do with the possibility the team would clean house.

That would have meant parting ways with coach Alvin Gentry and general manager Dell Demps if the Pelicans missed the playoffs for a third consecutive year despite having one of the NBA’s best players in Anthony Davis.

But now, the broom means something very different.

Energized on both ends of the court, the Pelicans have the broom ready Saturday at the Smoothie King Center to sweep the faltering Portland Trail Blazers out of the Western Conference playoffs with a fourth consecutive victory in the first-round series.

With a win Saturday, the Pelicans would become the first playoff team seeded sixth or lower to sweep a first-round playoff series since the 2001 Charlotte Hornets swept the Miami Heat 3-0 in a best-of-five series.

“Closeout games are the hardest,” said New Orleans guard Rajon Rondo, a 32-year-old veteran who is the Pelicans’ second-oldest player, someone who has served as an on-court coach to his younger teammates. “That’s what I’m going to try to explain to these guys. The first three might have been tough, but this last one is going to be very tough.”

In routing the Blazers 119-102 on Thursday to take a 3-0 series lead, the Pelicans fed off a raucous sellout crowd and led by as many as 33 points in the second half, allowing Gentry to rest his starters. Davis finished with 28 points and 11 rebounds while nursing a sore left thumb, and forward Nikola Mirotic, acquired after center DeMarcus Cousins went down in late January with a season-ending Achilles injury, scored a career-playoff-high 30 points, with 14 in the first quarter.

Even though Portland’s normally potent guard tandem of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum had their best game of the series — combining for 42 of the Blazers’ 102 points — Lillard had trouble shaking free of the Pelicans’ trapping defense, which forced the ball out of his hands. Lillard made just 5 of 14 shots, including 3 of 9 from 3-point range.

“They whooped our butt,” said McCollum. “They beat us in every facet of the game: loose balls, rebounds, free-throw line, energy plays, 3-pointers in transition. … You name it, and they did it.”

The Pelicans have made a conscious decision to swarm Lillard and McCollum at every opportunity, daring other Blazers to beat them. Portland hasn’t adjusted properly to the strategy. Lillard has shot 32.7 percent in the three losses.

“I don’t think (defensive assistant coach) Darren Erman has gotten the credit that he deserves,” Gentry said. “He put together a great defensive game plan. It was him that brought the game plan to me and said, ‘This is what I want to do against them.'”

“You have to continue to mix it up and give them different looks,” Gentry added. “Even doing that, those guys got some shots off and made some real difficult shots. We’ve just got to make sure that we stay locked in and not let them get into one of those zones when it starts to go in and it doesn’t matter what kind of shot they’re shooting that it’s going to go in.”

Making matters worse for the Blazers is their injury status. Both Moe Harkless (left knee) and Evan Turner (right toe) are questionable for Game 4.

Portland coach Terry Stotts said the Pelicans have been tough to handle because a different player each night has shredded the Blazers’ defense.

“Going into the series, those four guys (Davis, Jrue Holiday, Mirotic and Rondo) have played extremely well,” Stotts said. “(Mirotic) is the third different guy who’s had a 30-point night. He’s very efficient, and he made a lot of smart basketball plays as well.”

Heat’s Justise Winslow fined $15,000 for stepping on Embiid’s mask

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NEW YORK (AP) Miami’s Justise Winslow has been fined $15,000 by the NBA for attempting to damage Philadelphia center Joel Embiid‘s facemask during Game 3 of their playoff series.

Winslow intentionally stepped on Embiid’s mask after it had fallen onto the court with 7:51 remaining in the second quarter of the 76ers’ 128-108 victory on Thursday night.

The NBA cited Winslow for unsportsmanlike conduct in announcing the penalty Friday.

Embiid was wearing the mask for the first time after returning from a 10-game absence caused by a broken orbital bone around his left eye.

Philadelphia leads the series 2-1. Game 4 is Saturday.

Defense found: Bucks overwhelm Celtics for 116-92 win

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Khris Middleton scored 23 points, Giannis Antetokounmpo added 19 and the Milwaukee Bucks used a dominating first half to overwhelm the Boston Celtics 116-92 on Friday night, narrowing their deficit in the first-round playoff series to 2-1.

Eric Bledsoe and Jabari Parker each added 17 for the energized Bucks, who held the Celtics without a field goal for nearly an 11-minute stretch of the first half.

Milwaukee found its defense after a disheartening 14-point loss in Game 2, getting contributions from up and down the roster.

Backup center Thon Maker scored 14 points and had five of the Bucks’ 12 blocks. Pesky guard Matthew Dellavedova, a veteran of a championship run with the Cleveland Cavaliers, helped hold young Celtics point guard Terry Rozier to nine points on 2-of-7 shooting.

“The activity, if you take the stat sheet out of it, the activity and the energy that we brought … as you go through the game, that’s what you need, is the energy first,” coach Joe Prunty said.

Al Horford scored 16 for the Celtics, who fell behind by 23 at halftime and got no closer than 76-62 with 3:06 left in the third quarter on Jayson Tatum‘s 3-pointer.

The game was so well in hand that the Bucks closed out the victory even with Antetokounmpo on the bench for much of the fourth quarter with five fouls. Middleton had eight points in the fourth.

Game 4 is Sunday in Milwaukee. The Celtics will need to get off to a much better start if they want to avoid going home for Game 5 with a 2-2 series tie.

“We got into a hole. This is new for our group,” Horford said. “They had it going … and we really didn’t have an answer for them tonight.”

Milwaukee hustled for loose balls and stayed active around the paint, used its length to get deflections and disrupt Boston in the lane.

The 7-foot-1 Maker, in particular, provided a huge boost to help Milwaukee counter what had been a decisive edge off the bench for the Celtics. Maker got extended minutes only because starting center John Henson missed the game with a sore back.

Nearly everything else went Milwaukee’s way, too.

Parker, who voiced displeasure this week after playing just 24 minutes over the first two games, was 7 of 12 from the field and played 30 minutes. Bledsoe, outplayed by Rozier in the first two games, shot 8 of 13.

“Good win, lots of positives tonight. Quick turnaround … so we’ll have to do it again on Sunday,” Prunty said.