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Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press
For the eight teams already eliminated from the NBA playoffs, offseason improvement could be tough to come by.
It’s very difficult to go from good to great, especially since these squads will all be picking 15th overall or later in the draft. Some will have cap space, while others are already staring at a luxury-tax bill.
The one way all can improve? Through the trade market.
Most, if not all, of these franchises will only be looking to get better instead of tearing things down. For all eight to make it past the first round next season, these moves will certainly help.
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Steve Dykes/Associated Press
Boston Celtics Receive: PG Damian Lillard
Portland Trail Blazers Receive: PG Kemba Walker, SF Aaron Nesmith, C Robert Williams III, G/F Romeo Langford, 2021 first-round pick, 2022 first-round pick swap, 2023 first-round pick (unprotected), 2024 first-round pick swap, 2025 first-round pick (unprotected)
Few teams have the kind of draft picks and young talent to make a serious run at Lillard, if he eventually asks Portland for a trade.
The Celtics are one.
Putting Lillard together with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Tristan Thompson and company puts Boston back towards the top of the East, with a squad that can suddenly go toe-to-toe with the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks.
Lillard and Taytum have already proven their abilities to deliver in the playoffs, with the two combining to average 64.9 points per game in the first round this season.
The Blazers should only trade Lillard if he requests out, and this move keeps them competitive now and loads up on picks and young players for the future.
A backcourt of Walker and C.J. McCollum is still extremely lethal, with Nesmith and Williams looking like the future of the small forward and center positions.
Three unprotected first-rounders and a pair of swaps gives the Blazers plenty of trade ammunition moving forward, or rebuilding assets should Portland eventually choose to tear things down.
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Dallas Mavericks Receive: PF Darius Bazley, 2021 second-round pick
Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: PF Kristaps Porzingis
While Porzingis-Bazley is an extremely uneven swap of talent, Dallas makes this move from a financial aspect.
Porzingis is owed $101.5 million over the next three years, and is set to be the Mavs’ highest-paid player next season at $31.6 million. Swapping Porzingis for Bazley clears $29.1 million in cap space for Dallas this offseason, giving them a chance at two max contracts.
While the selection of talent this year is OK (DeMar DeRozan, John Collins, Norman Powell, Duncan Robinson and Richaun Holmes would all be nice fits), this is more about clearing salary cap space for 2022. Next year’s free agent class is the Mavs’ best chance at adding another superstar, with players like Kevin Durant, James Harden, Bradley Beal, Zach LaVine, Jimmy Butler and others all potentially hitting the market.
Bazley, 20, is a nice young player to have around for Dallas his well. He averaged 13.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists as OKC’s starting power forward this season. The Mavericks are without a pick in the 2021 draft, so netting a high second-rounder helps add young talent.
The Thunder are projected to have $51.4 million in cap space, so even taking on Porzingis leaves them with a cool $20 million to spend.
It could also be one of the easiest ways to add a star.
Porzingis still fits a rebuild at age 25, and if he stays healthy could form a terrific one-two punch with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
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Los Angeles Lakers Receive: PG Russell Westbrook
Washington Wizards Receive: C Montrezl Harrell, PF Kyle Kuzma, SG Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, 2023 second-round pick, 2024 second-round pick
With little to trade in terms of draft picks and young talent, the Lakers need to be eyeing overpaid stars on teams looking for salary relief instead.
Westbrook is still one of the league’s most devastating forces, especially when he’s taking smart shots and limiting his turnovers. He led the NBA with 11.7 assists per game this season, pulling down a career-high 11.5 rebounds and scoring 22.2 points a night.
A healthy LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Westbrook together should firmly be back in the hunt for the 2022 title and trading for the 2017 MVP would mean not having to pay Dennis Schroder this summer.
If Washington ends up trading Bradley Beal before he hits free agency next summer, there’s no reason to keep Westbrook around.
Getting off his two-year, $91.2 million deal would be a nice relief, especially if broken down into three more manageable contracts.
Kuzma looked better all-around this year in the regular season, and Harrell (who’d have to pick up his $9.7 million player option) forms a nice center rotation with Daniel Gafford.
Washington also gets a pair of second-round picks while getting off Westbrook’s contract, the main goal here.
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Memphis Grizzlies Receive: F Jerami Grant
Detroit Pistons Receive: PF Brandon Clarke, G/F Justise Winslow, SG Grayson Allen, 2021 first-round pick
Memphis is full of good, young talent, and should be looking to swap some of it for win-now help.
Grant, 27, is at the perfect age to contribute now and for years to come. His first season in Detroit ended with averages of 22.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.1 blocks, with his versatility making Grant able to play and defend multiple positions.
A lineup of Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Grant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Jonas Valanciunas is a playoff lock, with the Grizzlies able to go small at times with a Grant-Jackson frontcourt.
Detroit gets a nice haul back in return. Clarke (10.3 points, 5.6 rebounds) likely becomes the team’s new starting power forward, Allen (10.6 points, 39.1 percent from three) could compete for the shooting guard job and Winslow (25 points, 13 rebounds and four assists in his only start this season) still has a lot of potential when he can stay healthy.
All are 25 or under, and the Grizzlies first-rounder represents good value in the middle of the first round.
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Miami Heat Receive: G Malcolm Brogdon, F T.J. Warren
Indiana Pacers Receive: SG Tyler Herro, PG Goran Dragic, PF KZ Okpala
Brogdon and Warren fill out a Heat starting five that once again become a major threat in the East.
With Brogdon, Jimmy Butler, Duncan Robinson (assuming he re-signs), Warren and Bam Adebayo, Miami has plenty of scoring, defense, playmaking and even spacing around its existing stars.
Brogdon, 28, put up a career-high 21.1 points per game this season to go along with his 5.3 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 45.3/38.8/86.4 shooting splits. Warren, 27, missed all but four games following foot surgery, but was Indiana’s leading scorer (19.8 points per game, 40.3 percent shooting from three) in 2019-20.
Indiana is stuck in the middle of the conference for now, but could soon be on the rise if Herro turns into a star. The 21-year-old averaged 15.1 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists in his second pro season.
Dragic takes over the starting point guard job to keep the Pacers competitive, and a lineup of Dragic, Herro, Caris LeVert, Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner could be back in the postseason as early as next year.
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Kathy Willens/Associated Press
New York Knicks Receive: SG CJ McCollum
Portland Trail Blazers Receive: G Immanuel Quickley, PF Obi Toppin, F Kevin Knox II
While the Knicks looked like a rebuilding squad heading into last season, a fourth-place finish in the East should encourage New York to cash some of that young talent in to help win now.
If the Blazers enter a rebuild this offseason, McCollum would be a perfect fit in the Knicks backcourt.
The 29-year-old averaged 23.1 points, 3.9 rebounds and 4.7 assists this season while hitting 40.3 percent of his three-pointers. He can play on or off the ball, letting RJ Barrett and Julius Randle take over the offense for stretches and setting them up at others.
Keeping Barrett is a must, but giving up Quickley and Toppin for a player of McCollum’s offensive talents is worth it.
If Portland indeed tears things down, Quickley and Toppin represent two quality building blocks. While he may never be a true point guard, Quickley already has a terrific floater and is a good three-point shooter. Toppin doesn’t carry the same upside, but should at least be a solid starter with his athleticism and overall feel for the game.
The Blazers could also squeeze some potential out of Knox, 21, who fell out of the Knicks rotation.
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Steve Dykes/Associated Press
Portland Trail Blazers Receive: C Myles Turner, G Marcus Smart
Indiana Pacers Receive: G Anfernee Simons, C Tristan Thompson
Boston Celtics Receive: C Jusuf Nurkic, F Nassir Little, SF Derrick Jones Jr.
If the Blazers want to keep Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum together and continue to build around them, they’ll need some defensive help.
Portland finished 29th in defense this season (115.3 rating), besting only the Sacramento Kings. Given that stat, the Blazers were lucky to even make the playoffs.
Turner is one of the league’s best defensive big men, leading the NBA in blocks (3.4 per game) and block percentage (8.8 percent). He’s a better three-point shooter than Nurkic, keeping the floor spread for Lillard and McCollum to drive.
Smart is still one of the premier defensive guards in the NBA, able to cover multiple positions. He could start off the bench and later share the floor with either of the Blazers existing stars, taking on the toughest defensive matchup. He’s made the postseason in every one of his seven years, a total of 67 games of playoff experience.
In return, the Pacers get Simons, the best young player on the Blazers roster. The 22-year-old scoring guard was one of the league’s best three-point shooters this season (42.6 percent). Thompson helps make up for the loss of Turner, as he can start at center or come off the bench if Indiana goes small with Domantas Sabonis.
Failed contract negotiations or the fear of losing Smart in free agency next year could cause the Celtics to trade their beloved guard. Nurkic is a big upgrade over Thompson as the team’s starting center, however, and Little is a good defender with upside who can play both forward positions.
Jones gives Boston an athletic wing off the bench.
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Garett Fisbeck/Associated Press
Washington Wizards Receive: C Al Horford
Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: PF Davis Bertans, C Thomas Bryant
If the Wizards want to keep Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook together and make another run, adding some frontcourt talent with playoff experience is a must.
Horford played well for the Thunder last year (14.2 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 36.8 percent from three) and would be a big upgrade over Alex Len or Robin Lopez at center in Washington. Even if the Wizards want to start Daniel Gafford, Horford could play big minutes off the bench and would be a perfect role model for the young center to follow.
If Horford starts to show his age, only $14.5 million of his $26.5 million salary for next year is guaranteed.
The rebuilding Thunder get much younger in this deal and move off their highest-priced contract.
While Bertans’ deal runs for four more years, his average salary doesn’t go above $17 million. He’d be a good floor-space for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to play next to as well.
Bryant is coming off a torn ACL but is 23 and was proving to be one of the best three-point shooting big men in the NBA before his injury.