NBA

The five most interesting NBA teams ahead of the 2020-21 trade deadline

This season's trade deadline falls on Thursday, March 25.

It's still unclear how chaotic this season's trade deadline could be, but there are five teams in particular that are worth keeping a close eye on in the days leading up to it.

From the Boston Celtics to the Miami Heat, plus some honourable mentions, let's take a closer look.

MORE: Six questions that will shape the trade deadline

Boston Celtics

We might as well start with the obvious one.

When the Celtics signed and traded Gordon Hayward to the Charlotte Hornets in the offseason, they received a $28.5 million trade exception, the largest in NBA history.

That exception allows the Celtics to acquire a player in a trade without having to match their entire salary. The catch? The incoming salary has to fit in that exception, so the Celtics can't combine it with another contract to pursue a player making over $28.5 million.

According to Basketball-Reference, that rules out a total of 33 players, including Andre Drummond, Bradley Beal and Kevin Love.

There are a few other stipulations, the most important of which is the Celtics can't use the entire exception without sending out some salary because they're hard-capped, but it puts them in a position to make a big move without having to give up Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart or Kemba Walker. And while they don't have to use it before the trade deadline - the exact expiration date of the exception is still unknown, but it will carry over into the 2021 offseason - they could use it to upgrade their roster this season.

A few players who have been linked to the Celtics recently: Detroit Pistons forward Jerami Grant, Orlando Magic centre Nikola Vucevic and Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes.

Toronto Raptors

There are two names to monitor on the Raptors.

The first is Kyle Lowry, who is set to be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason. There's a strong possibility he won't be made available at the trade deadline - not only has Lowry and his agent both shot down trade rumours, reporting from both The Athletic's Sam Amick and Sportsnet's Michael Grange make it seem as though he's going to stay put - but if he is, he's the type of player who could shake up the title race.

According to Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat and LA Clippers could be potential destinations for Lowry at the trade deadline should he become available.

The second name to monitor is Norman Powell, who could join Lowry in unrestricted free agency this offseason by declining his $11.6 million player option for the 2021-22 season. As important as Powell has been to the Raptors this season, especially as of late, this could be an opportunity for them to sell high on him if they believe he'll either leave in free agency or aren't prepared to pay him as much as other teams might.

There's a case to be made that the Raptors would be better off being buyers at the trade deadline than sellers, but it hinges on how strongly they believe they can turn their season around. Having lost nine straight, they sit at 11th in the Eastern Conference with a 17-26 record. They currently trail the Indiana Pacers in 10th place by 2.5 games and the Atlanta Hawks in fifth place by 5.0 games.

Orlando Magic

According to Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer, the Magic "appear more willing than ever to engage in trade talks."

Following back-to-back trips to the playoffs, the Magic have the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference as of this writing, ahead of only the Pistons. Vucevic is in the midst of the best season of his career, but Orlando has been ravaged by injuries, losing two starters in Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac to season-ending injuries.

With both Fultz and Isaac not being far removed from signing long-term extensions, being sellers at this trade deadline could help the Magic add another piece or two to their core.

Even if Vucevic remains with the Magic beyond the trade deadline - it would reportedly take a massive haul to get him - it's easy to imagine Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon and Terrence Ross drawing interest around the league. Fournier will be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason, but Gordon has one more season remaining on his contract and Ross has two more seasons remaining on his.

According to The Athletic's Shams Charania, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Portland Trail Blazers are among the teams showing interest in Gordon.

Brooklyn Nets

The Nets don't necessarily need to make another move, but they do have one more trick up their sleeve.

On the books for $11.5 million this season, the Nets could use Spencer Dinwiddie's contract to acquire someone on a moderate salary to add to their depth. P.J. Tucker was an option before he was reportedly traded to the Milwaukee Bucks, but there are a number of players making similar money as Dinwiddie who could make a difference.

Two potential targets brought up by The Athletic's John Hollinger: J.J. Redick and Mason Plumlee.

Dinwiddie was a borderline All-Star last season, but he's been sidelined for all but three games this season with a partially torn ACL. While he's hoping to make a return before the season's end, it doesn't seem to be a guarantee. To boot, he has a player option worth $12.3 million in his contract for 2021-22 that he is expected to opt-out of to become an unrestricted free agent in the offseason, making it a possibility that he walks in free agency.

His injury history coupled with the potential of him being a rental could limit the market for him, but a team would obtain Dinwiddie's Bird Rights if they were to trade for him, which would allow them to go over the cap to re-sign him. That could be a big deal for any team interested in pursuing him in free agency.

According to The Athletic's Shams Charania, several teams have already pursued Dinwiddie in trade talks.

Miami Heat

The Heat have already made one move ahead of the trade deadline, turning Meyers Leonard and a second-round pick into Trevor Ariza.

Do they have another one in them?

What's interesting about the Heat is they still have a few salaries they can cobble together to go after someone making max-level money without shaking up their core. Andre Iguodala is on the books for $15.0 million this season, Kelly Olynyk for $12.6 million and Avery Bradley for $5.6 million. Together, that makes for a whopping $33.2 million in potentially expiring salary. (Olynyk will be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason while Iguodala and Bradley have team options in their contracts for 2021-22).

Of course, two of three of them alone isn't going to move the needle if a Kyle Lowry or Victor Oladipo becomes available, but the Heat are attaching a young player and/or draft compensation away from being able to put together a rather appealing package.

They might be more active in the buyout market, but the Heat are always looking to make a splash. With those salaries, they can't be ruled out.

Honourable mention

San Antonio Spurs - This has more to do with DeMar DeRozan than LaMarcus Aldridge. According to Chris Hayes of Yahoo Sports, the Spurs aren't "actively engaged" in seeking out a trade for the four-time All-Star but that could change if they don't agree to an extension ahead of the deadline.

Denver Nuggets - The Nuggets acquired a $9.5 million trade exception as a part of the Jerami Grant sign-and-trade. It doesn't put them in the business of making a blockbuster deal like the Celtics, but it could help them add some more depth ahead of the playoffs.

Philadelphia 76ers - Similar deal as Denver: Philadelphia has an $8.3 million trade exception and a number of expiring contracts at its disposal at the trade deadline.

Houston Rockets - A scout told Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer that they heard the Rockets are going to "fire-sale." Tucker has already been moved. Is Oladipo next?

Charlotte Hornets - Consider the Hornets a sleeper at the trade deadline. They have been one of the league's biggest surprises this season and have the assets to add another piece to their core as they look to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015-16.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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