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Breaking down Knicks rivals’ rumors entering trade deadline

With no major move looming, a series of small moves could have a large impact moving forward.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

There’s been a lot of attention centered around what moves the Knicks will make to improve their roster, but it’s also important to remember that there are 29 other franchises looking to make deals with a lot of those teams being in direct competition with the Knicks for playoff seeding and with some shared interest in a few of New York’s targets.

With that in mind, here are a few Eastern Conference teams and potential deals to keep an eye on as Knicks fans head into the frenzy that is the trade deadline (Thursday, 3 pm ET).

Boston Celtics

There are probably no moves that any team here can reasonably make that would make them better than the Celtics are on paper and for the rest of the regular season. That’s because their roster, for the most part, is very strong as-is and has a lot of what everybody looks for, namely two great wings, an elite stretch five, and a great defensive backcourt.

Boston, however, and like every other team, still has some weaknesses. One of those is the depth of their rotation outside of their super top-six. Right now, they’re linked to Otto Porter Jr. and Lonnie Walker IV, two players who could provide the Celtics with different things. Porter Jr. is a stretch big man who has plenty of playoff experience which could come in handy later on in the season. Walker IV, who is having a very solid season in Brooklyn, would bring some athleticism and scoring off the bench, something they don’t have too much of right now.

Neither trade would move the needle a whole bunch, but no needles have to really be moved when you’ve been as good as the Celtics have been. Regardless of what trades, if any, they make, they’ll be the favorites in every playoff series they play in until the finals, and they already bolstered their presence in the paint by acquiring Xavier Tillman from the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday, per ESPN.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Cleveland was the only team that could rival how hot New York was in January, and were it not for the Knicks' incredible start to the month, they would’ve gotten way more attention—which they fully deserved.

The Cavaliers, who we all saw get dismantled by the Knicks in the playoffs last year, are sure to be hungry to continue adding to their very good core.

While there haven’t been too many rumors surrounding what they are expected to do, they have been linked to Royce O’Neale dating back to last season. Adding O’Neale, who played with Donovan Mitchell in Utah, would give Cleveland plenty of playoff experience and a player who would bring some needed size, toughness, defense, and shooting to the Cavs' wing unit, which should help them match up with the Knicks a bit better if they face each other again in the playoffs later this year.

Milwaukee Bucks

The former champions have struggled to find their rhythm in the Doc Rivers era after firing Adrian Griffin last month and the Bucks are reportedly looking for a wing defender.

Among those who have come up as potential targets are Andrew Wiggins, Dorian Finney Smith, and the aforementioned O’Neale. Milwaukee is a bit lacking in valuable assets so acquiring one of those players might mean parting ways with former Knick and super-sub Bobby Portis. Given the shooting and toughness he provides the bench with, there are questions about if such a deal would be worth it.

Regardless, the Bucks need to find a way to supplement their explosive offense with some much-needed defensive improvements. If they can find a way to do that without giving up too much, they could be a scary opponent for not only the Knicks but for all Eastern Conference teams.

Philadelphia 76ers

Devastated by the Joel Embiid injury (Ed. Note: Embiid is out and will be re-evaluated in around four weeks), the Sixers are looking for a much-needed infusion of scoring and front-court depth. To fill in those gaps, Philadelphia is rumored to be interested in Buddy Hield, Bojan Bogdanovic, Andre Drummond, and Kelly Olynyk.

Obviously, the Sixers won’t reach their full potential and won’t be nearly as scary without their MVP. But assuming that he returns in time for the playoffs, a healthy Embiid, along with the shooting of Hield, Bodganonic, or even Olynyk could prove to be a devastating combo for anyone, including the Knicks, to have to game-plan for.

None of those moves will help too much with the regular season standings but do not sleep on the aforementioned trade targets as they could prove crucial performers to have in tow once the postseason rolls around.

Indiana Pacers

Indy made its big move a few weeks ago when they traded for Pascal Siakam so it’s highly unlikely they make a move that would top that one. Like all of the teams listed in this article, however, the Pacers are still looking to fill some holes and improve their roster ahead of the postseason.

For Indiana, that means improving the wing defense. They’ve been linked to Isaac Okoro of the Cavaliers and the aforementioned Wiggins. Neither are blockbuster trades and may not ultimately end up moving the needle too much, but they both make sense given the Pacers' tendency to be inconsistent defensively while having the best and most prolific offense league-wide.

Any of those trades brings up some fit concerns. Wiggins is having a down year offensively and Okoro, despite showing an improved outside shot, isn’t known as a plus offensive player. While they both possess the athleticism to excel in the open court, there are questions about how they’d fit playing next to Tyrese Halliburton and Siakam, especially in the playoffs when the pace tends to slow down a bit.

If the Pacers were to match up against the Knicks in the playoffs, and assuming New York will be much healthier in a couple of months, the latter should be favored against Indiana.

Miami Heat

The Heat, like the Pacers and the Knicks, got ahead of the curve and already made their “big” move by acquiring Terry Rozier, so there is a good chance that they remain somewhat quiet on Thursday. That being said, Pat Riley and the Heat are always in play to pull off a big move and you can never count them out.

Two players who they’ve been linked to are Jerami Grant, and the aforementioned Olynyk, two players who could bring some excitement to an offense that has been lackluster for much of the season. If they can bring in one of those two players, along with their defense and playoff experience, Miami could pose a serious threat going forward as is always the case in South Beach as we get closer to the postseason.

If Knicks and Heat match up in the playoffs again, New York would likely be the slight favorite on paper even with Miami pulling off any of those trades given how good the Knicks were when fully healthy.

However, as was the case in New York with the OG Anunoby trade, you never really know how good a team can be or how well a team will click after a big-time transaction so it’s certainly plausible that one of these trades pushes Miami back into being one of the favorites to make the conference finals.