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.
The Heat should still be worried, though.
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.
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.
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