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1 Trade Idea for Every Eliminated NBA Playoff Team

Zach Buckley

Losing an NBA playoff series can feel all kinds of deflating.

Still, it's an inevitable outcome for 15 of the 16 teams that make the cut.

Eight clubs have already felt that sting, but this is not the time for licking wounds. Rather, their front offices should already be hard at work plotting ways in which their next playoff ventures can deliver better endings than these.

We're here to help with that page-turning by identifying roster needs and brokering summer swaps for players who can address them.

Atlanta Hawks

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The Trade: John Collins and 2023 second-round pick (via Pelicans) to the Indiana Pacers for Buddy Hield and T.J. McConnell

The Atlanta Hawks showed enough fight against the second-seeded Boston Celtics for us to assume they'll avoid the demolition option of trading Trae Young. Still, their season underwhelmed in ways that could nudge the front office into action, perhaps the kind that finally morphs John Collins from a trade candidate into a trade participant.

Atlanta needs more scoring threats to take some heat off Young, and Buddy Hield's movement shooting could be a release valve. He is nearly unmatched as a quantity-plus-quality marksman. He has hit better than 260 triples in each of the past five seasons, splashing those long-range looks at a 40-percent clip.

Beyond Hield, though, Atlanta would also add T.J. McConnell and maybe finally avoid the pitfalls that have so often come when Young needs a breather. McConnell is a playmaker at both ends, consistently flashing sound decision-making on offense (career 5.0 assists per game against 1.6 turnovers) and boundless energy on defense.

Indiana, meanwhile, would fill a glaring hole at power forward with Collins, who, at age 25, is a much cleaner timeline fit with the 23-year-old Tyrese Haliburton than 30-somethings Hield and McConnell.

Brooklyn Nets

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The Trade: Spencer Dinwiddie, Ben Simmons, Cam Thomas, Day'Ron Sharpe, 2023 first-round pick, 2025 first-round pick (via Suns) and 2027 first-round pick (via Suns) to the Portland Trail Blazers for Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkić

After dealing both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving by the trade deadline, the Brooklyn Nets must decide whether to chase replacement stars or start over. You could make a case for either, but if the right star shakes loose, they sound ready to answer opportunity's knock.

"In this day and age, we've all seen players demand trades ... teams change—whether it's ownership groups or front offices—and next thing you know, they pivot," general manager Sean Marks told reporters. "So we just have to be ready for whatever comes our way, and if we can make a change that [means] we can compete, then we'll be strategic about it."

There aren't many players who could make the Nets contenders overnight, but Damian Lillard is on that short list. Get him to Brooklyn, where he'd have the help he lacks with Portland, and he could be the offensive focal point the franchise needs to quickly scale the ladder.

With Lillard, who just pumped in a career-best 32.2 points per game, steering the ship, Mikal Bridges could fall back into a better-fitting co-star role. As the rest of the roster trickles down behind them, they could have a two-headed monster on offense and a highly disruptive defense with considerable length and depth.

As for Portland, if Lillard ever wants out, it's time to start over. The Blazers could do exactly that with three first-round picks and two prospects in Cam Thomas and Day'Ron Sharpe. Ben Simmons would mostly be a money-matcher—Portland could dump Jusuf Nurkić and his deal for taking on Simmons—but he could be a lot more if he finds his way back to the hardwood. Spencer Dinwiddie would be a serviceable placeholder until the Blazers are able to flip him for even more long-term assets.

Cleveland Cavaliers

AP Photo/Duane Burleson

The Trade: Cedi Osman, Lamar Stevens, 2025 second-round pick (via Bucks) and 2026 second-round pick to the Detroit Pistons for Alec Burks

The Cleveland Cavaliers have an obvious hole to fill at small forward. What they don't have is an obvious manner to address that void. The Donovan Mitchell deal depleted their asset collection, and it's too soon to entertain dramatic changes to this core, like flipping Jarrett Allen for a wing.

Stretching what's left of the trade budget seems like the only choice. If that's enough to nab Alec Burks, it would make this a productive offseason.

He functions as something close to a three-and-D wing, though he offers more off-the-dribble juice than that label implies. He can pilot an offense for short stretches, but he's best used as an off-ball shooter (career 38.4 percent from three-point range) and slasher. On defense, he will compete against most guards and wings. He isn't great, but he has more two-way value than any wing on the roster.

If the Pistons part with Burks, it'll be their acknowledgement that they won't be competitive in time to capitalize on the remainder of the 31-year-old's prime. If they don't plan on being down for long, though, they could see value in Cedi Osman, a 28-year-old jack of all trades, and Lamar Stevens, a 25-year-old energizer. Detroit could keep the picks or use them as trade chips once it is ready for a win-now deal.

Los Angeles Clippers

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The Trade: Marcus Morris Sr., Brandon Boston Jr., 2023 second-round pick and 2024 second-round pick (via Raptors) to the Charlotte Hornets for Terry Rozier

The Los Angeles Clippers had to be pleased with what Russell Westbrook gave them down the stretch. While that could perhaps increase their motivation to re-sign him, it could also simply communicate to the top decision-makers what an impact point guard can do for this club.

Given L.A.'s limited trade funds, Terry Rozier might be the closest thing to an impact point guard it can afford. He was one of 23 players to average 20 points, five assists and four rebounds per game this season, and while he struggled with efficiency, that hadn't been an issue in recent years (44.7/38.1/83.3 shooting slash over the previous two seasons).

Rozier works best as a complementary playmaker, which would make him a snug fit alongside Kawhi Leonard and Paul George (neither of whom should be shopped, if you were wondering). Rozier plays with a force that's similar to Westbrook's, only without the same degree of turnover trouble and with much more consistent defense.

The Hornets have no real reason to keep Rozier, as they won't compete any time soon and need to give their young players as many touches as possible. They could clear the runway for Brandon Boston Jr. and hope he joins their young nucleus. Marcus Morris Sr. should be able to fetch something on the trade market, even if it's only a few second-rounders.

Memphis Grizzlies

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The Trade: Brandon Clarke, Ziaire Williams, 2025 first-round pick (top-three-protected) and 2027 first-round pick to the Toronto Raptors for O.G. Anunoby

The Memphis Grizzlies seem a little young to embark on a summer of soul-searching, but being ousted by a No. 7 seed and losing the finale by 40 points can have that effect.

"Your culture's going to get tested," Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins told reporters. "... We've had a lot of success in our first [four] years, and in my opinion, this is probably that moment in time that's going to be the ultimate wake-up call."

Even before Memphis' unsightly demise, it was clear this club needed an upgrade on the wing. The Grizzlies heavily pursued O.G. Anunoby at the trade deadline, and reigniting that pursuit should be a no-brainer.

He is somewhere between the gold standard of three-and-D swingmen and a two-way star. He silences scorers of all sizes and styles, shoots threes at a good rate (career 37.5 percent) and seems to perpetually grow his offensive game. At 25 years old, he also happens to be on the same developmental track as the 24-and-under trio of Desmond Bane, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant.

As for Toronto, the ouster of coach Nick Nurse could spell the beginning of the end for its core. If the Raptors think this nucleus has topped out, they have to find assets to build the next one. The picks are the biggest prizes, but Ziaire Williams still has considerable two-way potential, and Brandon Clarke fits as a keeper or another trade chip.

Milwaukee Bucks

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The Trade: Pat Connaughton, MarJon Beauchamp and 2024 second-round pick (via Trail Blazers) to the Brooklyn Nets for Dorian Finney-Smith

The Milwaukee Bucks will mull major changes after becoming just the sixth No. 1 seed ever upset by a No. 8 seed. Few are worth considering, though. Letting Khris Middleton (player option) or Brook Lopez leave in free agency would solve nothing since they don't have the means to replace them. Trading Jrue Holiday probably wouldn't deliver a player who means more than he does. (A coaching change might be a different discussion.)

The Bucks' best bet is cobbling together the assets they have and finding someone with a realistic shot of cracking their closing lineup. Dorian Finney-Smith could be that kind of pickup.

He is the proverbial big-wing defender (6'7", 220 lbs—the perfect size to throw at, say, a scorching-hot Jimmy Butler) with enough strength and speed to slide around different spots. Finney-Smith didn't have a great shooting season in 2022-23, but that was in his bag before then (38.9 three-point percentage over the previous three campaigns). He is, more or less, what you picture a three-and-D wing to be.

Speaking of three-and-D wings, the Nets might be the only team with more of them than they can use. Flipping one for assets would make sense, regardless of if Brooklyn is pushing forward or willingly falling back. Pat Connaughton could assume Finney-Smith's spot in the rotation, but the Nets would want those minutes to eventually go to MarJon Beauchamp, a 22-year-old who flashed high-end tools and drool-worthy defensive potential as a rookie.

Minnesota Timberwolves

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The Trade: Taurean Prince, Wendell Moore Jr., Josh Minott, 2023 second-round pick (via Knicks), 2024 second-round pick (via Grizzlies or Wizards) and 2025 second-round pick (via Jazz) to the Orlando Magic for Gary Harris

Minnesota Timberwolves skeptics might call for something major this summer, like trading Karl-Anthony Towns. That'd be premature. Towns played only 27 games alongside Rudy Gobert, and those two shared the floor with Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels just 24 times. The Timberwolves need more time before considering abandoning ship.

In the meantime, they should beef up their supporting cast to give this core a fair shake. They don't have much left to deal after spending a fortune on Gobert, but Gary Harris (barely) fits the budget. He could be worth it, too, as an upgraded version of what they were getting from Nickeil Alexander-Walker late in the year.

Harris defends and rains in shots from distance. His skill set doesn't stretch any further, but if Towns stays healthy while Edwards and McDaniels keep improving, it wouldn't have to. Harris could be a high-mileage option in the rotation as a finisher and stopper. Having him, Edwards, McDaniels and Gobert on the same defense could deliver what Minnesota had in mind when it went all-in on a rim-protecting center in the summer.

The Magic, meanwhile, might see the 28-year-old Harris as a touch too old to fit their core and could want assets instead. Wendell Moore Jr. and Josh Minott didn't make much noise as rookies, but Orlando could remain intrigued by their long-term outlooks. Taurean Prince could offer reliable minutes on the wing until a win-now suitor comes calling with a worthwhile trade offer.

Sacramento Kings

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The Trade: Keegan Murray, Richaun Holmes, 2027 first-round pick and 2029 first-round pick to the Brooklyn Nets for Mikal Bridges

The Sacramento Kings may have just snapped a 16-season playoff drought, but the clock might already be ticking for them to level up. With Domantas Sabonis turning 27 on Wednesday and De'Aaron Fox celebrating his 26th birthday before the calendar flips to 2024, this could be the perfect time for them to make a splash.

How about winning the bidding war for Mikal Bridges? In a single transaction, they could greatly beef up their 24th-ranked defense (worst among all postseason participants) and diversify their offense.

Bridges proved with Phoenix he can thrive in a complementary role, but with Brooklyn he showed he can handle the spotlight, too. Get him to Sacramento, and he'd have a chance to do both. The Fox-Sabonis-Bridges tandem has serious Big Three potential, and since this package is built mostly around future-focused assets, the Kings would still have a formidable supporting cast around their stars.

The Nets, meanwhile, might want to consider going head-first into a rebuild since a trade for a star (like our aforementioned Damian Lillard megadeal) could deplete their asset collection and still not position them to contend. So, starting over might be their best option, and they'd snag a possible centerpiece in Keegan Murray plus two future firsts. Richaun Holmes would be a money-matcher, but maybe he could help fetch an asset in a later deal.

Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com.

Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.


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