Why Andrew Bynum's Arrival in the Eastern Conference Scares the Miami Heat

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistAugust 27, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 04:  Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers takes a shot in front of Joel Anthony #50 of the Miami Heat at Staples Center on March 4, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

The Philadelphia 76ers may not strike you as a contender just yet, but they took as big a step in that direction as any up-and-coming club in the Eastern Conference.

Adding legitimate three-point threats like Nick Young, Jason Richardson and Dorell Wright will help Doug Collins' club spread the floor, but the trade that brought Andrew Bynum into the fold is an outright game-changer.

No, it doesn't make the 76ers the "team to beat," and they're by no means instant favorites to surpass the Boston Celtics, much less the Miami Heat, in the quest for the 2013 NBA Finals.

The Heat should still be worried, though.

While Chris Bosh ponders how much better the Los Angeles Lakers became this summer, he would be wise to take a look around his own conference.

Even before landing Bynum, Philadelphia was already one of the best young teams in the league. Led by 22-year-old point guard Jrue Holiday, the 76ers featured a wealth of 24-and-under talent like Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen.

Some of that talent is still pretty raw, but that's the point.

We still haven't seen the best of this team, probably not by a long shot.

We certainly haven't seen it play with an All-Star center and a platoon of long-range snipers. 

This is the kind of team that could stand in the way of the Miami Heat's dynastic ambitions, at least in another year or two. Pat Riley's roster was certainly good enough to win a championship last season, but it didn't have to face a center like Andrew Bynum.

The Indiana Pacers' Roy Hibbert was the closest thing, and his uneven performance against the Heat suggested they were at least somewhat vulnerable against a talented seven-footer.

The New York Knicks, Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder all featured defensive specialists (Tyson Chandler, Kendrick Perkins) or converted power forwards (Kevin Garnett) at the 5 spot.

That was good news for a club relying upon Ronny Turiaf and Joel Anthony to defend the position.

Next time might not be so easy.

The Heat don't have an answer for Andrew Bynum. They may be forced into sending help when Bynum gets good post position, and that could be every bit as dangerous as letting Bynum go to work against a lone defender.

That's why acquiring perimeter threats like Young, Richardson and Wright was just as important as landing Bynum.

They'll make teams like Miami think twice before doubling Bynum, creating the kind of inside-outside threat that even elite defensive clubs struggle to contain.

Perhaps more importantly, Bynum gives Philly an imposing interior presence who can rebound, guard the paint and block shots.

Of course, that presence won't shut down Miami's ability to score in the paint, but it will give the 76ers a fighting chance against a team that relies so heavily on penetration. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are fine jump-shooters, but they're at their best slashing to rim.

A seven-footer who blocked nearly two shots per game last season will make that preferred strategy more difficult.

The young 76ers haven't proven anything yet, but they have the tools to do so. This is a well-coached, scrappy squad that likes to play defense, share the ball and overachieve. 

If the Heat are going to face off against the Lakers and their much-improved roster, they might first have their hands full with another roster that took a few steps forward as well.