1 Offseason Trade for Every Eliminated NBA Playoff Team
We will now hold a moment of silence for the nine NBA teams who have been bounced from the 2021 postseason.
Moment's over. Let's talk potential trades (while, like always, acknowledging the human element behind them).
Hypothetical deals are presented with each team's offseason arc in mind. Squads bent on contending for a title will not suddenly tear it down, and rebuilding pivots are only suggested if they make sense.
For the purposes of this exercise, please assume every trade is being completed after the draft. This allows pick-strapped teams to flip 2021 first-rounders and, equally useful, opens up sign-and-trades.
Certain playoff-teams-that-were will break bread with each other and, therefore, get looped together. One of these squads will make two appearances. Rest assured, though, all nine are included.
Let's make some deals.
Memphis Gets Better Without Going Nuclear
Memphis Grizzlies Receive: Terrence Ross
Orlando Magic Receive: Tyus Jones, John Konchar, Utah's 2022 first-round pick (top-six protection)
Feel free to call for the Grizzlies to take a larger swing. They have the assets beyond Ja Morant to cobble together some truly interesting trade packages, so long as they're certain any blockbuster positions them within striking distance of contention and doesn't return a star who figures to leave in a year or two.
Entertaining super-aggressive plays just feels a touch too ambitious right now. Memphis is a great story and has annihilated expectations in each of the past two seasons, but it's not as close to the championship clique as many of the other departed playoff squads, and small markets generally have to be more cautious going about their business.
Terrence Ross is more of a double—if not a deeply hit single—than anywhere near a home run. That's fine.
Though the Grizzlies offense perked up down the stretch of the regular season and will have a much higher ceiling with a full-year of Jaren Jackson Jr. uncorking threes, they could use a microwave scorers who can down threes in flurries and droves. Ross is that guy.
He canned just 33.7 percent of his triples last season, but that's mostly owed to the fact he played for the G League version of the Orlando Magic after the trade deadline, during which time he saw his efficiency crater. And while he's always given off human seesaw vibes, he drilled 37.3 percent of his treys over the previous six years. Memphis can withstand his peaks and valleys as a member of the second unit, and he's shown he'll be slightly more economical with his shot selection when playing beside teammates to whom he can defer.
Forking over Utah's 2022 first-round pick shouldn't ruffle the Grizzlies' feathers unless they think this year's best regular-season team is headed for a teardown. John Konchar is on a team-friendly deal and can really stroke it, but he isn't a mission-critical part of Memphis' rotation. Losing Tyus Jones will demand the Grizzlies sign another backup point guard, but he is on an expiring deal and can probably be replaced for cheaper than the $8.3 million he's set to earn.
Orlando might push to get Memphis' No. 17 pick in this year's draft instead of the Utah selection. It can still justify accepting this framework. Jones competes defensively, extra first-round picks are huge for rebuilding squads, Konchar can inject some shooting into the offense, and most of all, the Magic really don't have use for a 30-year-old Ross unless they're planning to be good in the near-near term.
The Lakers' Do-over
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: Kyle Lowry (sign-and-trade)
Toronto Raptors Receive: Montrezl Harrell (player option), Kyle Kuzma, No. 22 pick
Sources told The Athletic's Jovan Buha and Bill Oram the Los Angeles Lakers balked at the chance to acquire Kyle Lowry at the deadline for a package built around Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Dennis Schroder and Talen Horton-Tucker. This is their mulligan.
The playoffs were nothing if not proof they need another talented and reliable shot-creator to help power the offense. That would hold true even if Anthony Davis and LeBron James were healthy. The Schroder-without-Bron lineups never took off as intended.
Horton-Tucker, a restricted free agent, was apparently the sticking point in Lowry haggling. He is left out of the conversation completely here. Giving up Kyle Kuzma and the No. 22 pick isn't nothing, but Lowry, while 35, remains exactly what they need. Los Angeles can try subbing out Kuzma for KCP, but the latter was a more integral part of its postseason rotation.
Potential hangups abound. Montrezl Harrell needs to pick up his player option, and Lowry must want to play for the Lakers. These are hardly hopeless caveats. Harrell's value once again plunged in the postseason, and if Lowry leaves the Raptors, he'll presumably want to latch onto a contender.
Toronto's interest shouldn't be a roadblock, either. Kuzma has turned into a solid positional defender and serviceable spot-up shooter. His three-year, $39 million deal that kicks in next season is eminently reasonable, and a soon-to-be 26-year-old jibes with a version of the Raptors that, in Lowry's absence, would try to get younger. Housing Harrell for a beat isn't prohibitive. Toronto's frontcourt rotation will put his rim pressure to good use.
The Lakers' gummed-up cap sheet is actually more restrictive than anything else. Acquiring Lowry by way of sign-and-trade hard caps them, and they'll enter the offseason within $10 million of the luxury tax if Harrell exercises his player option. That doesn't include holds for free agents Alex Caruso, Talen Horton-Tucker (restricted) and Dennis Schroder. Getting Lowry would come at the cost of additional collateral damage. The thing is: He's worth it.
Denver Makes Another Dice Roll
Boston Celtics Receive: Monte Morris, Zeke Nnaji, No. 26 pick
Denver Nuggets Receive: Marcus Smart
Perfectly navigating Jamal Murray's absence for most, if not all, of next season is pretty much impossible. The Nuggets can't replace his off-the-dribble creation and shot-making in one player, and they have other spots to shore up—like their wing defense.
Marcus Smart does not check every single box. He is a twist-of-fate initiator and shooter. He can do one, the other, both or neither depending on the night.
But the Nuggets aren't in dire need of a bankable passer or scorer. Nikola Jokic can power a top-tier offense in the tightiest of spaces, and a healthy Michael Porter Jr. counts as a No. 2 option. They have more use for an elite defender who can tussle with some of the game's best stars.
Smart is just that. Despite standing just 6'3", his range extends well beyond the backcourt. He has seen ample reps against wings and some 4s. Denver's defense would have some real sway any time he and Aaron Gordon share the floor, and Smart hits just enough of his threes—34.8 percent since 2018-19—to be considered an outside threat.
All of which is why the Celtics might not consider trading Smart. He is the heart and soul of their defense. At the same time, they're more than a stone's throw from title contention, and he's one year away from free agency. If they're not prepared to pay him up to $17.2 million in the first year of an extension—or potentially more than that should he reach the open market—they have to look at moving him.
Denver can cobble together a competitive return. Monte Morris is one of the league's best backup floor generals and slated to start a three-year, $27.4 million deal next season. Zeke Nnaji can sponge up minutes at both frontcourt slots and has three-point range. And the cost-controlled contract of a first-round pick has serious value to a Boston team toeing the luxury-tax line.
The Nuggets could feasibly be the side that flinches at this package. They would have Gordon, Smart and Will Barton (player option this summer) all entering free agency at the same time, with MPJ's second contract set to take effect in 2022-23, as well. That's not ideal. But Denver can't afford to punt on a season of genuine contention with the reigning MVP on its roster. Smart ensures the window remains ajar without Murray—and blasts wide-open with him.
Portland Modestly Reshuffles the Deck
Houston Rockets Receive: Derrick Jones Jr. (player option), Nassir Little, 2022 second-round pick
Portland Trail Blazers Receive: Avery Bradley (player option), Danuel House Jr.
The Portland Trail Blazers have a bigger move in them if CJ McCollum is up for grabs, but their blockbuster options seem somewhat contingent upon how the Philadelphia 76ers and you-know-who finish their postseason.
Also: General manager Neil Olshey didn't sound like someone prepared to take a stick of dynamite to his backcourt at his end-of-the-year presser. Upgrading from McCollum—a living, breathing bucket—is incredibly difficult without a ton of sexy buffers to attach.
Diversifying their wing depth feels like a good default.
Danuel House missed half of last season with various injuries and a stint in the league's health and safety protocols, but he offers capable defense across every wing position and even logged some reps against 5s during the heydey of microball in Houston. Avery Bradley dropped in just 27 percent of his threes after getting traded from Miami, but the Blazers have the established playmakers to tee him up with better looks. (This deal blows up if he declines his player option.)
Portland loses some bounce with this package but gains more uitlity. Derrick Jones Jr. wasn't really in the postseason rotation, and Nassir Little's run of bad luck (COVID-19 and injuries) has prevented him from stringing together consistent availability. Bradley and House have the higher ceilings as shooters, and between them, they cover a larger scope of defensive assignments.
The Rockets are just gobbling up a couple of fliers here. Bradley doesn't fit their gradual timeline if he foregoes free agency, and House is on an expiring contract. Jones doesn't turn 25 until next February, can leap tall buildings and fits their defensive theme of endless energy. Little is still just 21 and under team control for another two years, and Houston should have developmental 4 and small-ball-5 minutes to spare going forward.
Miami Plays Chess with Brooklyn
Brooklyn Nets Receive: Precious Achiuwa, Andre Iguodala (team option)
Miami Heat Receive: Spencer Dinwiddie (sign-and-trade)
Brokering a sign-and-trade for Spencer Dinwiddie needn't be the Heat's goal. They will have plenty of cap space to work with over the summer...if they decline team options on Goran Dragic and Andre Iguodala and renounce the rights to Victor Oladipo, along with everyone else other than Kendrick Nunn (restricted) and Duncan Robinson (restricted).
Maybe that's a worthwhile opportunity cost in their book. Dragic ($19.4 million) and Iguodala ($15 million) are on above-market price points, and Oladipo barely took the floor after coming over from Houston.
Still, the Heat are better off trying keep some of their own free agents beyond just Robinson and Nunn. Bigger expiring salaries can be valuable at the trade deadline, and re-signing Oladipo to a flier deal could pay off if and when he recovers from his latest right quad injury.
Retaining even one of Dragic or Iguodala basically obliterates the Heat's cap space. But picking up both team options allows them to dangle one in a sign-and-trade. They could, in theory, get Dinwididie while bringing back Dragic, Oladipo, Nunn and Robinson if they please, a scenario that affords them both depth and future trade trips.
Granted, acquiring Dinwiddie comes with some risk. He missed most of this season with a torn ACL in his right knee and will be looking for a major payday if he declines his player option. But Miami can do much worse if it misses out on the virtually nonexistent bigger fish on the market. A healthy Dinwiddie puts pressure on defenses at every level, even though he's a career 31.8 percent three-point shooter, and can initiate the offense.
Brooklyn doesn't accept a 37-year-old Iguodala as primary compensation under normal circumstances. These aren't normal circumstances. The alternative is losing Dinwiddie for nothing. That's probably OK; he's superfluous on a team with three ball-dominant megastars. But Iguodala can still provide stretches of quality wing defense, and his salary could prove useful at the trade deadline. Getting a look a the high-energy Precious Achiuwa is a rock-solid carrot, particularly if the 21-year-old improves his jumper.
New York and Washington's Blockbuster
New York Knicks Receive: Bradley Beal
Washington Wizards Receive: Immanuel Quickley, Obi Toppin, No. 19 pick, 2022 first-round pick (unprotected), Dallas' 2023 first-round pick (top-10 protection), 2024 first-round pick (unprotected), 2026 first-round pick (top-eight protection)
Let's begin with a disclaimer: The Wizards are not planning to entertain Bradley Beal trade offers over the offseason, according to The Athletic's Fred Katz, which means this proposal runs counter to their purported reality.
That doesn't make it completely whimsical. Beal is slated for free agency in 2022 (player option). Every star's future is discussed in these terms when they're so close to reaching the open market.
Plenty of teams will come calling if Beal becomes available. The Knicks are among the possible suitors who will phone the Wizards even if he's not. They are flush with future draft equity, have a handful of intriguing prospects and their surprise playoff berth coupled with Julius Randle's All-NBA ascent no doubt has them plotting the future with more urgency.
Any package they throw at the Wizards begins with a fundamental question: Does it have to include RJ Barrett? The reflexive answer is yes. He has established himself as their bluest-chip prospect after improving his outside touch and his all-around defense. But two years have already burned off his rookie-scale deal—he'll be extension-eligible in 2022—and we've now seen two teams prioritize future draft picks over tangible talent in their star fire sales: Houston with James Harden, and New Orleans with Jrue Holiday.
Washington could be different or merely insist upon Barrett's inclusion. That should not be a deal-breaker for Knicks. But it should lower their offer to something along the lines of Barrett, Obi Toppin, No. 19, a 2022 first and 2024 first, with tighter protections.
Either way, they have the capacity to offer the motherlode. And if the Wizards are getting two to three first-round picks that trickle past Beal's free agency, in addition to Toppin—who played well to close the season—and other draft assets, they should at least think about starting over in the event he hasn't yet committed to signing an extension.