We covered five Western Conference contenders to watch at the trade deadline yesterday, so let's head east today. Here are five likely Eastern Conference playoff clubs who have some decisions to make by next Thursday:
- Heat: With virtually all their key players on multiyear contracts, the Heat don't have much flexibility to make moves. That's not necessarily a big deal for Miami though, since they have a championship-caliber roster as is, and don't need to make a huge splash before the deadline. What they would like to do is add one more big man, preferably a true center who can take the pressure off the power forwards like Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem currently playing out of position for the team. I don't see an obvious target for the Heat, unless they were willing to part with one or two rotation pieces. While I'm Miami will explore myriad trade possibilities, the club may ultimately have to shift its focus to buyout candidates after the deadline.
- Bulls: Chicago has enough trade assets to shoot for the moon and make a run at Dwight Howard or Pau Gasol, but that's probably a long shot. Still, with Richard Hamilton's health in question, I don't know that this team is much better than the squad that fell to the Heat in last season's Eastern Conference Finals. I think it'd be worthwhile to explore a deal for a shooting guard in case Hamilton can't be relied upon in the postseason, but the price may be steep. Ray Allen would be a great fit, but is there any way the Celtics trade him to a team they could face in the first round? Yesterday, K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune mentioned Jamal Crawford as a possible target, but he'd be a rental that would likely cost the Bulls a young player and the Bobcats' first-round draft pick. Bringing Mike James back may be a simpler and less costly insurance policy for Hamilton.
- Magic: The most obvious name on this list, the Magic would create a domino effect of activity around the league if they made a definitive decision on Dwight Howard's status. With just a week over until the trade deadline, reports continue to suggest Orlando seeks reinforcements around Howard, rather than offers for the star center. At this point, I'd be surprised if the Magic altered that stance. I think the team feels it's better off taking its chances trying to convince D12 to stay in Orlando, rather than taking 50 cents on the dollar (or worse) to ship him out of town. A trade for Steve Nash or Monta Ellis is an extreme long shot though, so I'll be interested to see if the Magic can turn their few assets of interest into anything that resembles an actual upgrade.
- Pacers: They have a top-four record in the East, but I'm not convinced the Pacers are ready to contend for a title quite yet. They're still at least a piece or two away, and I don't expect they'll find that piece in the next week. But Indiana's tremendous amount of cap space makes the team an obvious candidate to take involve itself in a ton of trade talks. Even if the Pacers don't shop for an immediate upgrade to the current roster, they have the flexibility to take on salary to accommodate another team, perhaps acquiring a draft pick or two for their troubles.
- Celtics: Much has been written about whether the Celtics are shopping or listening to offers for Rajon Rondo and their Big Three (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen). I wouldn't put it past GM Danny Ainge, who's never shy about pulling the trigger on a major deal, to move one of those four players, but I think it's just as likely that Boston has a relatively quiet deadline. With over $40MM in expiring contracts set to come off the books this summer, the Celtics won't make a move that compromises their future cap flexibility unless they can acquire a core piece in the process. If that deal isn't out there, Boston could make a simpler move, such as trading Brandon Bass in an effort to clear even more cap room for next season.