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NBA Trade Watch: Eastern Conference

Here are some of the East teams and players to keep an eye on as the trade deadline approaches.

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As the Feb. 19th NBA trade deadline approaches, talks around the league will heat up, particularly on Dec. 15 when players that were signed over the summer become eligible to be traded. The trade outlook in the Eastern Conference is certainly becoming a very interesting one as the season progresses and we begin to see how certain teams perform. Once players can be traded on Dec. 15, teams will have a better idea if they are going to be buying or selling at the deadline. Teams may be active in trade negotiations because they feel like one or two more pieces might put them in contention or they might be active because they are out of the race and want to begin selling off assets as they move their franchise in a different direction.

Here are some East teams to keep an eye on in trade talks in the months to come:

Boston Celtics —

Players who could be on the move: Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass

One of the biggest storylines around the league is whether the Celtics will trade Rajon Rondo. Since the start of the summer, Rondo has made his way onto virtually every trade watch list since his status with the Celtics is in question. Rondo will be an unrestricted free agent next summer so the Celtics face a difficult decision: do they trade him away to get some compensation for him or keep him and risk losing him for nothing in free agency? If it’s clear that Rondo wants out, Boston should move him as the Minnesota Timberwolves did with Kevin Love and the Orlando Magic did with Dwight Howard.  However, Rondo hasn’t made that clear; in fact, he has said he may stay with Boston long-term. This will be a tough call for the Celtics, and it’s certainly something to keep an eye on as Feb. approaches.

The Celtics also face a difficult decision with Jeff Green, who has surfaced in recent trade rumors. Green was said to be unhappy losing in Boston, but he has since come out and clarified that he wasn’t saying he wants to leave the Celtics. While he may be denying that he wants out, the Celtics might want to look at cashing in on Green now as he is currently averaging a career-high 18.4 points per game and can opt out of his contract with the Celtics after this season. Just like the situation with Rondo, Boston could lose Green for nothing if they hold onto him past the Feb. 19 trade deadline. Green’s player option is worth $9.2 million next season and if he continues to put up big numbers then he may want to opt out of that deal to make more money next season and sign a new long-term contract. Given that Green can opt out, trading him may hurt the Celtics’ chances of getting huge value in return because a team likely won’t give up too much for what could turn out to be a rental player.

Charlotte Hornets —

Players who could be on the move: Cody Zeller, Noah Vonleh, P.J. Hairston

The Hornets have been one of the more surprising teams in the league so far this season and not because they’re lighting it up. The team has gotten off to 4-11 start and are losers of six straight. The signings of veteran free agents Lance Stephenson and Marvin Williams, along with last year’s Al Jefferson signing, show that the team wants to win now and, for one reason or another, that hasn’t happened yet. With a talented core that consists of Jefferson, Stephenson and Kemba Walker among others, the Hornets have underperformed this season and could look to make a move should the struggles continue. The team could decide to part ways with some of the younger talent on the roster in Zeller, Vonleh and Hairston if it allows them to return proven players who can help contribute now toward a playoff run. While the Hornets might call around and see what those younger players could return, the team would only trade them away should the right deal present itself.

Cleveland Cavaliers –

Players who could be on the move: Dion Waiters, Brendan Haywood

The Cavaliers should be a team to keep an eye on this season in terms of making a trade. General manager David Griffin has come out publicly and said the team is open to trades and that “no one is untouchable,” although it’s obviously hard to imagine the team moving LeBron James, Kevin Love or Kyrie Irving. The team is said to be in the market for some defensive talent and a player like Corey Brewer has been mentioned specifically. Working in the Cavs’ favor in a potential trade scenario is a trade exception that they own. The $5.3 million trade exception was created when they traded Keith Bogans to the Philadelphia 76ers prior to the start of the season. Additionally, Haywood’s contract could be attractive for a team because his $10,522,500 salary is non-guaranteed for next season, which could allow a team to clear significant cap space this offseason.

Indiana Pacers –

Players who could be on the move: Roy Hibbert, David West, Luis Scola

There may come a time during this season that the Pacers decide that their current crop of players won’t be enough to make a serious run and enter a sort of fire-sale type of scenario. They proved last season with their roster at full strength that it still wasn’t enough to compete with the Miami HEAT. With Lance Stephenson gone and Paul George out for the year with his gruesome leg injury, the playoffs are a huge “if” at this point right now. They have certainly benefited from players like Donald Sloan, Chris Copeland and Solomon Hill stepping up and making the most out of their opportunities, but the chances of this team making any kind of noise in the playoffs aren’t great. The team may start making calls at some point and stockpile as many assets and young players as they can and begin a new rebuilding period in Indianapolis. With the team signing head coach Frank Vogel to a multi-year extension prior to the start of this season, the Pacers may not be ready to throw in the towel just yet, but if they can’t turn their season around wholesale changes could come.

Detroit Pistons –

Players who could be on the move: Josh Smith, Greg Monroe

The situation in Detroit seems like it’s one that will be fluid for much of the season. Upon his arrival in Detroit, new head coach Stan Van Gundy said he viewed Josh Smith as an important part of his team and trade rumors involving Smith then died down. The trade rumors are picking back up now after Van Gundy opted to bench Smith last week after an exchange the two had on the sideline during the game against the Phoenix Suns. The team has gotten off to a rather unexpected slow start and is 3-10 thus far. Smith hasn’t performed to the standards of his contract and, because of that, the Pistons have to be listening to any offer that might come their way. The biggest problem with trying to move Smith is the fact that he’s owed $13.5 million in each of the next three seasons.

The Pistons could find themselves in a similar scenario as the Pacers and may look to start selling off players in order to start fresh. Monroe signed a one-year qualifying offer with Detroit over the summer, so this could be his last year with the team. With that qualifying offer came a no-trade clause, which gives Monroe the right to veto any trade. Given the Pistons’ slow start, they may try to approach Monroe at some point and try to work out a trade that would send Monroe to a situation where he feels comfortable instead of risk losing Monroe for nothing next summer.

New York Knicks –

Players who could be on the move: J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Amar’e Stoudemire

Perhaps no players have been mentioned more in trade rumors than Smith and Shumpert. The Knicks are currently heavy in shooting guards so Smith and Shumpert are surely on the trading block. Smith is no stranger to off-of-the-court trouble so clearing his $6 million off of the books would be welcomed by the Knicks and Phil Jackson. Shumpert is now finally starting to show some signs of improvement so the Knicks may want to keep him, or perhaps move him while his value is high. The Knicks could help a contending team that is in need of a productive scorer off of the bench to take Smith or Shumpert off of their hands. Both of these players leaving would pave the way for Tim Hardaway Jr. to take over the position as it was reported over the summer that Hardaway is “untouchable” in trade discussions.

Jackson was brought in to New York to help turn the franchise in the right direction and part of that job is to clear all of the unwanted contracts off of the books. Given the Knicks’ slow start to the season, Jackson and the Knicks could trade away Stoudemire’s mammoth contract to a team looking to clear some cap space. Stoudemire could also end up going to a team like the Philadelphia 76ers in a deal that would help the 76ers reach the minimum team salary, as outlined by our own Steve Kyler.

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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