The Miami Heat don't have much to fear in the Eastern Conference. Let's get that out of the way first.
At 27-8, they stand just 1.5 games behind the Indiana Pacers for the conference lead. Behind them are the 18-17 Atlanta Hawks. It's a two-horse race in the East, and Indy is the only obstacle standing in the way of a fourth consecutive NBA Finals appearance for Miami.
Despite their forecasted cakewalk to the Eastern Conference Finals, there are still holes Miami should like to fill come playoff time. According to a December report via ESPN, the team is seeking a bona fide insurance policy for Dwyane Wade in the backcourt, and—even though they've done a good job of proving this area irrelevant over the last two seasons—adding a rebounder certainly wouldn't hurt, either.
With the Pacers' core logging another season of cohesion together this year, and with Paul George emerging as the league's next top-flight superstar, the Heat should be prepared for a test even tougher than the two teams' seven-game bout last spring.
Ahead are some possible swaps that could make Miami a favorite to achieve the three-peat this June.
Miami Trades Shane Battier to Dallas for Vince Carter
As he's trekked into 35-and-over territory, Shane Battier's super-sub status has diminished a bit in his 13th pro season. He's actually started in 26 of his 31 games for Miami this year, but his field-goal percentage, three-point percentage and minutes have all dipped from his 2012-13 marks.
His patented pesky defending has remained mostly intact, as he's held his small forward matchups to a PER in the single digits, and an eFG% of below 49, according to 82games.com.
With Wade's health situation relatively grim, a reputable understudy at the 2, outside of 38-year-old Ray Allen, should be at the top of Miami's wish list heading into trading season. A potential swap with the Dallas Mavericks could help fill that void.
Vince Carter is another grizzled vet on an expiring $3 million salary. The contracts match almost identically, as do the respective teams' needs. A Battier-for-VC deal is one that could have legs.
Battier would directly fill Carter's position in the depth chart as Shawn Marion's backup and help address the team's hurting defense. Entering play Wednesday, Dallas ranked 19th in defensive efficiency. Carter, in particular, was permitting a 16.5 PER at the small forward slot, per 82games.
While Battier would help the Mavs' D, he'd be another piece that could space the floor on offense and act as a kick-out option for Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki. Battier has shot a respectable 37 percent on catch-and-shoot threes this season, according to NBA.com.
With Miami, Carter would act as a reliable option with the ball in his hands while Wade and/or LeBron James rest, and a worthy secondary piece as well. Behind Ellis and Dirk, Carter is third on the team in usage. He wouldn't be asked for nearly as much behind LeBron, Wade and Bosh, and would be in a position to finally achieve that elusive championship ring.
Of Dallas' 50 most-used three-man lineups, the Carter-Jae Crowder-Shane Larkin combo is the second-most efficient. Of the Mavericks' five-man lineups that have logged at least 50 minutes together this season, Carter is a member of the most efficient group, per NBA.com.
Like Battier's, Carter's deal expires after season's end. A one-for-one swap between the two 2011 NBA Finals rivals could put each in a better position to reach that pinnacle again in 2014.
Miami Trades Roger Mason and Joel Anthony to San Antonio for Jeff Ayres and Cory Joseph
Desperate for some sort of help on the boards, Miami could also turn to the trade market to find a body that would help its 17th-ranked defensive rebounding percentage and dead-last offensive rebounding percentage.
The argument could be made that Miami has enjoyed success over the last two seasons with putrid rebounding marks. But with Indiana, with mammoth size throughout the frontcourt, only becoming more threatening to Miami as the season progresses, strengthening on the glass should be another priority between now and February.
In a relatively minor deal, the Heat could add on Jeff Ayres (who you may remember as Jeff Pendergraph) to provide a slight boost in the bounding department. It shouldn't cost much, as the little-used duo of Joel Anthony and Roger Mason should get the deal done. San Antonio third-string point guard Cory Joseph would also have to be included to make the money match.
Ayres has averaged just 10 minutes per contest over his four-year career, but the 26-year-old has maintained a 22 percent defensive rebounding percentage in each of his pro seasons. That mark is better than any DRB% a Heat player has posted this season (Michael Beasley leads the team wit 21.9 percent).
Ayres is on the books through next season and under $2 million per.
Miami would be parting ways with Mason, who has played in just 16 games this year and averaged 11 minutes per game, and shipping him to the city where he'd enjoyed the most success of his 11-year career. With the Spurs from 2009-2010, Mason averaged 25 minutes per game and shot 39 percent on threes.
At this point, it's accepted that LeBron James will be the Heat's best statistical rebounder—he leads the team at 6.8 per game. But acquiring a player who can come in to haul down a few boards, while giving up next to nothing in a trade, should be given serious consideration.
Miami Trades Norris Cole, a 2014 2nd-Round Pick and a 2017 1st-Round Pick to New York for Tim Hardaway Jr., Kenyon Martin and Beno Udrih
Beyond this season, solidifying the shooting guard position post-Wade should be of major importance to Pat Riley's front office. A potential deal with the rival New York Knicks could get the job done right away while keeping it in the family.
Acquiring rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. from New York this season would allow for Wade to mentor the second-generation player, while allowing Hardaway to play for the same franchise his father flourished with.
Obtaining Kenyon Martin would also solidify defending and rebounding in the reserve frontcourt. Per 36 minutes with the Knicks this year, K-Mart has posted seven points, seven boards and 1.4 blocks.
The 11-22 Knicks are in the dubious position of faltering in the present while having no set plans on future success. They have no legitimate shot at contending with Miami or Indiana for the East in 2014 and own just one draft pick between now and 2017. Desperate for picks and youth, offering Norris Cole and a couple of future selections would suffice to entice New York's essential forfeiture of 2014.
Through Tuesday's games, Hardaway is second amongst all rookies in field-goal percentage (.455), second in three-point percentage (.404), third in free-throw percentage (.821) and fourth in points per game (8.5). At just 21, Hardaway has displayed the aggression and fearlessness needed out of a scoring 2-guard. He's worth a gamble for the future and is able to contribute in the present.
New York has the depth in the backcourt—in Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith—to explore such a deal, and the same goes for the team's bigs, with Jeremy Tyler and Cole Aldrich under contract through this season.
After this upcoming draft, Miami's draft situation is fairly clear, with only two selections outgoing via past trades (a 2015 first-rounder to the Cleveland Cavaliers and 2017 second-rounder to the Atlanta Hawks). The Heat have flexibility in this area, and betting a pair of selections on Hardaway's future (and Martin's immediate aid) would help the team's immediate and prolonged championship hopes.