Let’s rewind to the 2013-14 season: the Miami Heat finished the regular season at 54-28 and lost just 3 games in the first three rounds of the playoffs before making a 4th straight NBA Finals appearance. However, just when it seemed like the Big 3 in Miami was going to continue to stomp on the rest of the NBA for years to come, they were trounced in the Finals by the Spurs, losing the series 4 games to 1. Unfortunately for Heat fans, this would be the last time they would see their coveted Big 3 play together. Fast forward to today: the Heat have missed the playoffs in 2 out of the last 3 seasons since the departure of Lebron James and in that time period have also lost Chris Bosh and face of the franchise, Dwyane Wade. They have needed to completely rebuild their team and thankfully for them, the rebuild may not have taken as long as suspected. The Heat are currently sitting at 4th in the Eastern Conference and behind the dominant play of Hassan Whiteside and company, they have become legitimate playoff contenders. Can the Heat get back to succeeding in the playoffs? Can the rest of the Southeast Division catch up and overtake them? Let’s find out.
Miami Heat: 1st in Southeast Division (27-20)
Who: Bam Adebayo
Why: Let me start by saying that if Adebayo is going to be traded, he is going to be one of a group of two or three Heat players that are shipped off. Adebayo is not nearly talented enough to warrant any sort of trade that could turn the Heat into contenders. The rookie out of Kentucky is averaging just 6.9 points and 4.9 rebounds in 38 games this season and although he has star potential, he still is going to need a lot more developing before that happens. If the Heat decide to trade Adebayo, it is going to be a move that says they are trying to win in the short term as opposed to developing for the future. As for a possible destination for Adebayo, that remains to be seen. Miami could use another pure scorer from the outside so the potential of possibly making a move to acquire the seemingly available Kemba Walker seems enticing. However, a deal like that would likely result in the loss of not only Adebayo, but possibly the likes of Wayne Ellington and/or Justise Winslow as well. Whether that would be enough for the Hornets is a question that will be answered momentarily. However, all of this leaves the Heat with a big decision to make: is a deal for a fringe superstar worth trading away some of your best and brightest young prospects?
Washington Wizards: 2nd in Southeast Division (26-21)
Who: Kelly Oubre
Why: The Wizards are probably one of the biggest conundrums in the NBA this season. They currently have the 5th highest payroll in the NBA and have superstars John Wall and Bradley Beal leading their backcourt. However, they just cannot seem to break the seal and become one of the better teams in the East. Washington is currently sitting at 5th in the Eastern Conference but a few bad games could easily see them fall out of the top 8. The Wizards are currently in the top 10 in the NBA in almost every single offensive metric, however their issue seems to be in the paint on the defensive side of the ball. They are ranked in the bottom half in the league in both rebounds and blocks. Defense wins championships as they say and that could be a large reason the Wizards haven’t been able to break through as one of the better teams in the East. As for the player I could see them shipping off, I would say Kelly Oubre based on the fact that he is having his best season as a pro. Oubre is averaging just over 12 points per game this season and has not missed a game. This consistency and reliability makes him a great trade asset for the Wizards and for a team loaded with forwards, he is not really a necessity. I could see the Wizards moving Oubre and a combination of draft assets for a big man that could sure up their starting five.
Charlotte Hornets: 3rd in Southeast Division (19-26)
Who: Kemba Walker
Why: Most of the news in the NBA this past week, aside from the collapse of the Cleveland Cavaliers, has been about Kemba Walker and the possibility of him being dealt before the trade deadline. Anytime you’re talking about a player averaging 21.8 points per game, it is going to be big news. However, how available is Kemba Walker? According to Hornets’ owner Michael Jordan, he is not necessarily openly shopping Walker but is willing to listen to teams interested in making a deal. “We would not just give him up,” Jordan said. “I would not trade him for anything but an All-Star player.” This seems like a fairly high asking price for a guy that isn’t even an All-Star this season. You have to understand where Jordan is coming from though as you’re talking about the possibility of trading away your franchise guy. However, if you’re the Hornets, you have to face facts. You’re currently sitting in 11th place in the Eastern Conference and are likely on the verge of a roster rebuild at the end of the season. Although the prospect of trading away your superstar player is not extremely enticing, getting a large amount in return that will help you build for the future is not the worst thing. I wouldn’t necessarily guarantee Walker will be traded before the February 8 deadline but if he is, the Hornets are going to get plenty in return.
ESPN Sources: Charlotte making All-Star guard Kemba Walker available in trade talks. Story: https://t.co/4u3mLpmHcH
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 19, 2018
Atlanta Hawks: 4th in Southeast Division (14-32)
Who: Marco Belinelli
Why: The question for the Hawks is not who is available but really who isn’t available? Atlanta is currently second to last in the Eastern Conference and have one of the worst records in the NBA. If there was ever a time for the Hawks to be sellers, it would be right now. However, this is not to say that this team does not have talent. There are a number of players on this team that could definitely help out a playoff-caliber team in their pursuit of a championship. So who is untouchable? Dennis Schroder. Schroder is averaging 20 points and 6.6 assists per game this season and is one of the few players on this team that you could actually look to build a franchise around. Other than that, the Hawks should be open to listening to offers for the rest of their roster. The reason I say Belinelli is the most likely player to be traded is because of the season he is having. He is averaging 11.5 points per game this season and with his pedigree, he is a very intriguing trade prospect for playoff-bound teams that need to add some scoring bench talent. Not to mention that Belinelli is a wily veteran that knows what it takes to win a championship, winning one himself in 2014 with the San Antonio Spurs. Look for the Hawks to move him either in return for a late first or second round pick or as part of a bundle deal.
Orlando Magic: 5th in Southeast Division (14-33)
Who: Evan Fournier
Why: The Magic are currently tied with the Sacramento Kings for the worst record in the NBA and for that reason, playoff teams are patiently waiting for their chance to pick apart Orlando’s roster. Unlike most of the worst teams in the NBA, the Magic actually had playoff aspirations coming into this season which makes their current situation all the more interesting. Orlando’s General Manager John Hammond has not been shy about his intent at the trade deadline and has stated the team will be active. Enter Evan Fournier: the 25-year-old has been one of the few bright spots for the Magic this season, averaging just over 18 points per game, which is the highest of his career. Fournier has a ton of talent and with his progression over the past couple seasons, he is trending upward into becoming one of the league’s most sought-after swingmen. There is no doubt that Orlando will be looking to trade away a large chunk of their roster in order to stockpile for the future and the line starts behind Fournier. I expect that Hammond’s phone has been blowing up for weeks and this will not stop until a move is made on or before February 8.
That does it for the Eastern Conference. Check back in a couple days as I’ll dive into the Western Conference and how the rich can continue to get richer before the deadline.