In the days leading up to the February 23 trade deadline, Hoops Rumors will be taking a closer look at each of the NBA’s 30 teams, by division. We’ll be identifying each team as a buyer, seller, or something in between, and discussing which teams and players are most likely to be involved in deals this month. We’ve already covered the Atlantic and Northwest. Today, we’re examining the Southeast.
The Wizards (33-21) have been one of the NBA’s best teams since the first 10 games of the 2016/17 season, but their roster probably isn’t quite deep or talented enough to match up to a healthy Cavaliers squad in the playoffs. Washington doesn’t exactly have a huge collection of promising young players to dangle in trade talks, but the team does have all of its future first-round picks, and could use at least one of them to strengthen its rotation. A deal similar to last year’s Markieff Morris acquisition wouldn’t move the needle enough to make the Wizards conference favorites, but it would make the club a little more dangerous in the postseason without mortgaging much of its future.
The Southeast’s second-place team, the Hawks (32-24), looked like sellers a month ago, but the team is prepared to buy now, and has several future draft picks and expiring contracts to dangle in trade discussions. As some observers have pointed out, Atlanta actually looks like a good fit for Carmelo Anthony, matching up better as a trade partner for the Knicks than most of Carmelo’s preferred destinations. Anthony’s no-trade clause makes a move to the Hawks extremely unlikely though, so the team will have to look elsewhere for scoring help on the wing or in the backcourt.
The Magic (21-37) have already begun the process of selling their top trade assets, sending Serge Ibaka to Toronto for Terrence Ross and a 2017 first-round pick. The deal is an admission that the club is more focused on future seasons than this one, but it remains to be seen how many pieces Orlando is willing to sell. Will Nikola Vucevic be on the move within the next week? Are the Magic ready to move on from recent lottery picks like Elfrid Payton and Mario Hezonja, or will the focus on the future allow the team to be more patient with those young players who have been slow to develop? GM Rob Hennigan has vowed to be aggressive, so it will be interesting to see if he has any follow-up moves up his sleeve after parting with Ibaka.
Somewhere in between:
The Heat (25-32) looked like one of the NBA’s most obvious sellers at the start of 2017, trailing only the Nets in our 2016/17 Reverse Standings. Since then, an improbable hot streak in January and December has elevated the club into contention for a playoff spot in the East, making it much trickier to forecast what Pat Riley and company have in mind at the trade deadline. With little flexibility to trade future first-rounders, and young players like Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, and Tyler Johnson either dealing with injuries or possessing the ability to veto trades, the Heat aren’t in position to offer up a tantalizing package for an impact player. But the club also doesn’t seem likely to trade guys on expiring contracts who are playing key roles, such as Dion Waiters and James Johnson. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Miami stand pat, or simply make minor tweaks to the roster.
Meanwhile, the Hornets (24-32) have headed in the opposite direction of the Heat, finally slipping behind Miami in the standings last night when after blowing a big fourth-quarter lead to Toronto. At one point, Charlotte was 19-14 and comfortably in playoff position, but the team will have to bounce back in a major way if it still hopes to earn a spot in the postseason. This month’s Miles Plumlee trade didn’t really tip the Hornets’ hand — Plumlee could have been acquired to help the team right away, but he’s also much more of a long-term piece than either Spencer Hawes or Roy Hibbert were. I think Charlotte’s probably still looking to add to its roster and grab a playoff spot, but that’s no sure thing.
Team most likely to make a move:
A handful of Southeast teams have already made at least one deal in 2017, and many of those teams could strike again. I think the Magic, in particular, will continue to be active. However, my vote for the team most likely to make a move by February 23 is the Hawks — they have more than enough pieces to make a deal work, and I think they want to show Paul Millsap that they’re committed to getting him help as his free agency nears.
Player(s) most likely to be moved:
If the Heat were still headed for a bottom-five record, there would be no shortage of trade candidates on their roster, but their move up the standings – and Orlando’s trade of Ibaka – leaves the Southeast without any one player who will clearly be on the move.
Nikola Vucevic is a strong trade candidate for the Magic, but with Ibaka gone, there’s a little more breathing room in the team’s frontcourt. So my pick for the player most likely to be moved is one of Orlando’s point guards — I’d be surprised if Elfrid Payton, D.J. Augustin, and C.J. Watson were all members of the Magic on February 24. The club likely still hopes Payton can become its point guard of the future and may decide to hang onto him, but there’s no reason not to explore the market for deals involving Augustin and/or Watson. Both vets could appeal to playoff teams in need of point guard depth.
Under-the-radar trade candidate(s):
The Hornets were a playoff team last season and looked like they’d be back in the postseason this year, but their recent slide raises questions about whether the team should sell a couple veteran pieces at next Thursday’s deadline. If Charlotte does to decide to move a vet, the wing position is probably the spot to watch. Nicolas Batum isn’t going anywhere, but guys like Marco Belinelli, Jeremy Lamb, and Marvin Williams shouldn’t be at all untouchable. Belinelli would be especially attractive to teams in need of outside shooting, given his favorable contract ($6.3MM this season, $6.6MM next season) and his ability to make threes (37.6%).
What do you think is in store for the Southeast teams over the next week? Which teams are most likely to make a deal? Which players will be on the move?
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.