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