The NBA trade deadline — 3 p.m. EST on Mar. 25 — is nearing. The play-in tournament expanding the playoff field to the top-10 teams in each conference and the impact caused by the pandemic are why the coming days project to be mostly uneventful.
However, deadlines spur action. And if there are meaningful changes made to the NBA landscape, the Southeast Division might have a lot to do with it.
Home to two of the top-five in the Eastern Conference, the fifth-place Miami HEAT and fourth-place Atlanta Hawks could be buyers and sellers come the deadline. The HEAT recently swung a deal to acquire veteran forward Trevor Ariza — more on that later — while the Hawks are 8-0 since naming Nate McMillan interim head coach, and they’re hungry to return to the playoffs after a three-year absence.
All eyes are on the Orlando Magic as well, as the clock is ticking for them to decide whether to break up a core group of players that have consistently gotten them to the playoffs but never advanced past the first round. The Charlotte Hornets are in eighth in the East and only trail the fourth-place Hawks by 1.5 games but recently lost standout rookie LaMelo Ball to a season-ending wrist injury. That’s the type of meaningful absence that could influence the Hornets to trade some of their veterans.
Rounding out the Southeast Division is the Washington Wizards. While they aren’t going to trade Bradley Beal, per multiple reports, they could be amenable to parting with another veteran on their roster.
So, without further ado, here’s the latest intel on the division at the center of attention between now and the trade deadline.
Despite two-straight losses, the HEAT are in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, surging up the standings by winning 14 of their last 20 games.
Miami already bolstered its roster, acquiring Trevor Ariza from the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Meyers Leonard and a 2027 second-round pick. The NBA recently fined Leonard $50,000 for using an anti-Semitic slur while live-streaming a video game. He had to waive his no-trade clause to facilitate the deal, and the team option on his contract for the 2021-22 season was declined as part of a procedural matter in finalizing the trade.
Ariza, who comes to Miami with a championship pedigree, gives the HEAT a lengthy 6-foot-8 wing that offers defensive versatility and stretches the floor offensively. Ariza made his season and team debut Mar. 19th, logging six minutes and registering two assists in a loss to the Indiana Pacers. After opting out of the Orlando restart and not playing for a calendar year, he will need time to knock off the rust and work his way back into game shape.
Given the small price the HEAT paid to acquire Ariza, they still have plenty of ammunition to make another move or two between now and the trade deadline.
They’re reportedly interested in LaMarcus Aldridge, a veteran big man who can space the floor offensively and is averaging 13.7 points and 4.5 rebounds this season.
There’s also the possibility Miami moves Avery Bradley, who, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, is receiving interest from several contenders. The veteran guard signed a two-year, $11.6 million contract with the HEAT this past offseason. He’s only played in 10 games this season due to a right calf strain, but he is nearing a return. Bradley is a tenacious on-ball defender, a career 36.5 percent three-point shooter, and an effective cutter. This season, he’s averaging 8.5 points while shooting 42.1 percent from beyond the arc.
Lastly, don’t rule out the possibility Pat Riley makes an even bolder move between now and Mar. 25th, such as swinging a deal for six-time All-Star and former NBA champion Kyle Lowry.
There’s skepticism about whether the Magic are willing to trade All-Star center Nikola Vucevic. However, that hasn’t stopped teams such as the HEAT, Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets and San Antonio Spurs from expressing a great deal of interest. Vucevic is averaging 24.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists this season while shooting a career-high 40.5 percent from beyond the arc. It’s going to take a massive haul to pry him from Orlando.
According to Chris Haynes from Yahoo! Sports, Aaron Gordon is reportedly open to a change of scenery. Jared Weiss and Sam Amick of The Athletic added fuel to that fire, reporting Gordon has formally requested a trade. While the belief is the Magic’s asking price is substantial, the Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Detroit Pistons, and Golden State Warriors are all making an effort to pry Gordon from Orlando. Additionally, the Portland Trail Blazers are considered a dark-horse candidate to acquire the former fourth overall pick.
Gordon missed 15 games due to a high-ankle sprain, but he returned after the All-Star break. The seven-year veteran is 25 years old, under contract through 2022 and is a dynamic player at both ends of the floor. Going to a team less reliant on his ability to generate quality shots and better suited to take advantage of his abilities as a screen-and-roll threat could help him maximize his offensive impact.
The Magic are also receiving inquiries about Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross, per The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor. The Hornets have shown interest in the former, while the Nuggets have called Orlando to discuss the latter. Fournier is averaging 19.3 points and 3.7 assists per game while shooting 39 percent from beyond the arc. The 28-year-old wing is in the final year of his contract. As for Ross, 30, is averaging 16 points and 3.5 rebounds per game and he has two years left on his deal after this season.
According to Keith Smith of Yahoo! Sports, Khem Birch is also generating interest from teams around the league. The fifth-year center is averaging 5.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game while playing on an expiring contract.
The Hawks’ asking price for John Collins is widely reportedly to be a high-level first-round pick and or a talented young player. The fourth-year forward turned down an extension offer exceeding $90 million and seeks a max contract in the offseason when he’ll be a restricted free agent. According to Kevin O’Connor, the Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, Sacramento Kings, Pistons, and Timberwolves have all expressed significant interest in Collins, who is averaging 18.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game while shooting 37.7 percent from beyond the arc. Boston and Atlanta have also discussed a potential trade that would send Marcus Smart to the Hawks in exchange for Collins and Bogdan Bogdanovic.
On the injury front, Cam Reddish, who’s dealing with soreness in his right Achilles, is expected to be out for four-to-six weeks after having a non-surgical procedure last week. According to O’Connor, the Hawks and Hornets have had conversations revolving around Reddish and Lonzo Ball.
Fellow second-year wing De’Andre Hunter is expected to return soon but hasn’t played since the end of January due to articular wear and tear in his right knee, which prompted him to undergo a non-surgical procedure. That’s why even with Bogdanovic returning from a lengthy absence stemming from an avulsion fracture in his right knee, the Hawks have to consider adding another wing.
The Hornets went on a four-game win streak, ascending to fifth in the Eastern Conference standings. Since then, they’ve lost three-straight matchups – road contests against upper-echelon teams in the West, the Nuggets, and the two Los Angeles-based teams, the Lakers and Clippers – dropping them to eighth.
As mentioned earlier, Charlotte has reportedly expressed interest in a pair of players on the Magic, All-Star center Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier. While the former is unlikely to be dealt by the trade deadline, acquiring Fournier is a distinct possibility and one that would give a Hornets team ranking 13th in points per game off the bench a scoring boost from their second unit.
According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, the Hornets have expressed significant interest in Pacers center Myles Turner. He’d represent a significant upgrade from relying on Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo at the pivot. Turner’s averaging 13.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and a league-leading 3.4 blocks per game. He’s under contract for $17.5 million each of the next two seasons.
The Wizards are trying to claw their way into the play-in tournament, but they’re currently 12th in the Eastern Conference standings. Despite their struggles, Bradley Beal’s commitment to Washington remains firm.
If the Wizards make a move, it could be to trade one of their veterans. Despite a quadriceps injury sidelining Ish Smith at the moment, according to Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington, he is drawing interest around the league. Smith is a proven scorer off the bench, averaging double figures in three of the previous five seasons.
With the trade deadline just three days away, will the Southeast Division be overall buyers or sellers? Between two surging teams in Miami and Atlanta, plus some fringe franchises with veteran pieces to fuel playoff pushes elsewhere, this five-set might dictate much of the action this week.