An Offseason Target For Each Team Eliminated In The First Round

The NBA Playoffs have gone from 16 teams to eight now that the first round has been completed, meaning half of the teams that got to the the playoffs have officially started their offseason.

A first round exit can affect teams differently, depending on what the expectations were on them coming into the year. For a young team like the Orlando Magic, this feels like the building block to something else and a lesson on what’s needed to reach the next level. For banged up teams like the Sixers and Bucks, it’s a disappointing end that will lead to “what if?” thoughts and force them to sort through what gets fixed if they’re healthy and what still needs to be addressed even if they were at full strength. And then for a veteran team like the Phoenix Suns, with cap space tied up and little in the way of flexibility, there’s an awful lot of soul-searching required because reinforcements aren’t on the way.

The common thread, no matter what stage you fall in as a team, is that there is clearly improvement needed as a team to accomplish your goals. As a front office, the task is to figure out how to address those areas of need that were exposed at the playoff level with the resources you have available this summer. Here, we’ll highlight a trade or free agency target for the eight teams eliminated in the first round, as they look to bounce back in 2024-25.

Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers are a mess and have a lot of uncertainty to deal with this offseason. Paul George and James Harden can both be unrestricted free agents and if they lose either or both, they still won’t have any cap space to replace them. That puts a lot of pressure on them to make the right decisions about what to offer those stars, and there’s reportedly trepidation on their end to give George a full four-year max. That’s understandable, but the alternatives aren’t great. The truth is, there isn’t an obvious fix to this Clippers team. They’ve always had talent, it just has never coalesced into much of anything. Lawrence Frank said Monday they won’t just try running it back, but also noted they want to bring back Harden and George if they can.

My guess is, if they can bring those two back, they’ll look at a trade involving Norman Powell to bring in some frontcourt help. The rotation behind Ivica Zubac was a real problem and after investing so heavily on the wing in recent years, it might be a good idea to try and parlay some of that into some more floor balance. If the Magic (who we’ll get to in a bit) are willing to part with one of their bigs, Powell could be a good fit going back to Orlando as they really need shooting. Jonathan Isaac looked very good in spurts coming back from injury, and is a DPOY caliber guy, just with health concerns. If the Magic are set on keeping Isaac, maybe Wendell Carter Jr. is more expendable and would be a very nice addition to the L.A. frontcourt, particularly with the way he’s grown as a shooter.

If that doesn’t come to fruition, I think they’ve got to look at adding some depth behind Ivica Zubac in free agency. Precious Achiuwa might not be a priority in New York given their frontcourt rotation is a strength, so maybe he’d be available and would provide them with some energy off the bench. That’s not exactly a “change the team’s trajectory” signing, but as we’ve learned by now, no one available for the minimum will.

Target:Wendell Carter Jr. (trade), Precious Achiuwa (free agency)

Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers enter this offseason feeling an awful lot like they did a year ago, this time losing to the Nuggets in five close games instead of four. They will once again be attached to plenty of trade rumors, with both of the Atlanta Hawks star guards (Trae Young and Dejounte Murray) being potential targets. I’m not totally sold they’ll be able to pull off a big swing via trade, but if they are bringing back LeBron James I’d expect them to at least try. I’m not sold on Murray being the answer, but I would guess he’s more available than Young, particularly given what the Lakers have to offer.

From a free agency standpoint, they won’t have any real money to throw around, but whether they make a splashy trade for backcourt help or not, they have got to figure out a viable backup center behind Anthony Davis. Jaxson Hayes, Christian Wood, and Mo Bamba simply were not functional options for playoff basketball, and while it’s not easy to find good help on the vet min market, I think Andre Drummond would be a genuine upgrade (even if he’s not a ceiling raiser) for a Lakers team extremely light on size in the middle.

Target: Dejounte Murray (trade), Andre Drummond (free agency)

Miami Heat

Things are going to get interesting quickly in Miami, as they have a big decision to make regarding Jimmy Butler extension talks. At this point, it doesn’t sound like that’s going to happen, and they have to figure out what the short- and long-term are going to look like for the franchise. The Heat will almost assuredly be in the mix once again for a star guard via trade, but after swinging and missing last year on Damian Lillard, the trade package they’ll be shopping didn’t really gain much more value. On Monday, Riley indicated Miami may be focused less on star chasing than they are on acquiring depth. So, what does a Miami offseason that’s more about depth than stars look like?

Well, there’s not much money to spend, but they need to add more players that can be trusted in the postseason. Their depth took a hit this year and while the backcourt figures to be where they look on the trade market, I think generally they need more “Heat guys” around their core group. One guy who would fit the bill would be Naji Marshall, who morphed into a good shooter on top of being a very strong defender this year, and would be a wing I think Erik Spoelstra would very much enjoy having in his rotation.

Target: Naji Marshall (free agency)

Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks have some work to do this summer, even understanding their three stars weren’t healthy in their early exit. Their depth was always going to be a question, and their defense was a real issue from start to finish this season. Milwaukee can’t make wholesale changes to this roster, but they should be looking to find some 3-and-D depth on the wing and maybe an upgrade in the frontcourt.

I think it’s possible they look to do so by trading Bobby Portis, who had a rough series and was on the block at the deadline. The Bucks might feel they can address the backup big man position more easily than getting wing help with what they have available in free agency. If so, they might take a look around the league and see if Portis plus a young player might net them some more immediate help. Dorian Finney-Smith would fit the bill financially, and would provide some of what the Bucks need in terms of more defensive versatility, while still providing a spacing threat.

Target: Dorian Finney-Smith (trade)

New Orleans Pelicans

We saw against the Thunder the limitations of this New Orleans offense as currently constructed. Even if Zion Williamson is on the floor, they really lack a player that creates for others. Brandon Ingram’s struggles and looming free agency next year make things very interesting, as the Pelicans will need to decide soon if he’s part of the long-term future or if they’d be better off moving him for some help in a position of weakness while letting Herb Jones and Trey Murphy III step into larger roles. That is what I would do, but what you get back for Ingram is a bit of a mystery. He’s clearly talented, but his skillset is not one that every team is clamoring for and his value certainly took a hit with his postseason run.

So, what if the Pelicans are dangling Ingram and picks for another star who maybe isn’t in a perfect fit with their current team? I think my first call this summer if I’m David Griffin is to my old team in Cleveland, and see whether they’re willing to split up their guard duo to bring in some more balance on the wing. Donovan Mitchell was incredible to close out their series with the Magic, but his future in Cleveland has been a question for a bit. I think there’s a decent chance the Cavs are able to re-sign Mitchell, but if they do, given how this year went, I’m not sure they’ll want to keep Mitchell paired with Darius Garland long-term. If I’m the Pelicans, I’d be happy with either one, but I think Garland would be a particularly tremendous fit in New Orleans. He struggled after returning from injury this year and never really found his fit back in the lineup with Cleveland, and a fresh start might be good for all parties involved in this deal.

Target: Darius Garland (trade)

Orlando Magic

The Magic have to feel the best out of all the teams in this group, with a talented young core and a lot of cap space. What I think they need the most — a veteran point guard who can shoot — isn’t something I really see available at this moment. It’s possible we could see Chris Paul hit the market and be an option to fill that void (but he might be more interested in a more veteran contender), but the ideal guy (Mike Conley or, while he doesn’t let it fly all that much, TJ McConnell) just won’t be out there to sign. Plus those two won’t likely be considered for trade.

As such, I think they’ll look for shooting. As I noted above, there are guys that they might be able to trade for (Norman Powell being one of them), while Klay Thompson is a name already attached to Orlando’s free agency wishlist. I actually think they look a little more north and try to pry Malik Monk out of Sacramento. Monk fits the Magic’s timeline a little better than Thompson and gives them more on-ball juice than Klay at this stage of his career. Having a more reliable microwave type scorer, who can also serve as a spot-up threat around Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner when not leading a bench unit, would be an upgrade for the Magic as they look to continue moving up the East standings next year.

Target: Malik Monk (free agency)

Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers got tremendous efforts from Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey, but their two stars simply didn’t get enough support. Tobias Harris is the biggest culprit there, averaging under 10 points per game in the first round, and with him coming off the books, they’ll be looking to upgrade his spot. There are other roster needs on this team beyond a wing upgrade (they still need a more reliable backup center than Paul Reed, especially when going up against a bigger team like New York), but wing is where they will start.

With the Sixers being in an incredible position of having max cap space this summer thanks to Maxey being an RFA (who will get a max deal after they use that space), they can go big game hunting to add a third star either in free agency or via trade. The name everyone is connecting to Philly is Paul George, and he certainly seems like an ideal fit for this Sixers squad between Maxey and Embiid. If George does end up re-signing in L.A. (or goes elsewhere), then things get real interesting because the Sixers have a lot of money that they won’t have again and will need to use it to make a long-term impact, either via free agency or in a trade.

Target: Paul George (free agency)

Phoenix Suns:

Finally, we have the Suns, a team with very few options this summer, but an awful lot of improvement needed. That’s a tough combination, and after Mat Ishbia and James Jones’ comments coming out of their first round sweep against Minnesota, it sure seems like the plan is to run it back. Maybe they try to find a trade involving Jusuf Nurkic to bring in some help, but given they have no picks to offer, any trade has to be with another contender, and I’m having a tough time finding a contender that would want to bring in Nurkic (that doesn’t mean it can’t happen, I’m just not seeing it).

Truthfully, there just aren’t many avenues to upgrade this roster other than going back to the vet minimum well. That doesn’t usually work well, but one position they have to address is point guard. There are a handful of options they could go with, whether that’s Patrick Beverley, Delon Wright, or Kris Dunn. I’ll go with Dunn, who had a nice year in Utah and would give them someone at least capable of running a second unit. If he’s willing to take a vet minimum, that’d be one heck of a value.

Target: Kris Dunn (free agency)