After a thrilling first-round, there are four matchups, two on each side of the bracket, but what about the eight teams that are watching the game from Cancun? What will their offseason look like? This article will explore what the Eastern Conference round one losers should do these upcoming months if they want to make it back to the playoffs and go further than they did this year.
The first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs is officially over, and with the preparedness and anticipation that comes with the semifinals, there is a different type of preparation that is happening within the organizations that were good enough to make the playoffs but not good enough to surpass their first seven-game series.
The eight teams that exited the postseason early this year are in for a difficult offseason, one that makes them question what really brought them to the playoffs, was it the leadership of a certain player? Was it the poor play designs by the coaching staff? What were the main reasons they were able to achieve what they did and then question what was holding them back once they arrived in the playoffs?
They’re in for questions from the national media, as well as the fans, about what seemed like it worked during the regular season but didn’t work out in the playoffs. Not to mention the inevitable questions about star players being added or leaving their team in the hopes of playing on a super team.
But, as the saying goes, “when one door closes a window opens.” Something that owners and GMs should take seriously this offseason.
These next few months the eight NBA franchises that we’re unable to break through to round two have a lot on their plate, some have tough decisions, and some have one or two question marks that need answers quickly…but every one of them needs something.
Below are what the four Eastern Conference teams need to focus on before their next official tip-off:
The Miami Heat
The 2020 Eastern Conference champions had a fall from grace that nobody expected them to have after their bubble performance last season. They were the first team to be defeated in this year’s playoffs, and, to add insult to injury, they were swept by Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks.
The very first issue they need to address is just how well does Tyler Herro fit in with Erik Spoelstra’s system? Last season, during the bubble, Herro was a household name and looked to be the sort of star you didn’t mind rooting for (even if he kept trying to be the villain that Trae Young has grown to become).
Herro was averaging 16 ppg during the playoffs, and the fans were ecstatic that he was showing such potential at such a young age (20 yrs old), which was why the fanbase didn’t seem to mind that the organization was going all-in on Herro rather than focusing on getting James Harden while the Rockets were shopping him around the league.
But that was last year.
This year he was used much more often during the regular season, even after the addition of Victor Oladipo, despite the early part of his ’21 season being filled with costly turnovers and far less consistency than he showed in the bubble last season.
Then came the playoffs where he only averaged a measly 9.3 ppg, less than two assists per game, and went 6-19 from beyond the arc (the place he shined in the bubble), all while he averaged almost ten whole minutes less than he did in any series during their run to the Finals last season.
What does that mean? That means even Spoelstra and the Heat could tell that they may have bitten off more than they could chew with Herro and his decisions on the court.
After Herro’s situation is addressed, there needs to be a conversation about where to put Bam Adebayo to get the most out of him. He has not progressed at the rate that the Heat thought he would at center when they drafted him in 2017, but he made a splash when they moved him to power forward during the playoffs.
If the Heat decides to keep him at PF, he is going to improve his three-point shooting and make quicker decisions when playing further from the paint than he’s used to.
The Boston Celtics
After the 4-1 series loss to the heavily-favored Brooklyn Nets, there was concern over what was going to happen with Brad Stevens this offseason, almost immediately those concerns were put to rest when Danny Ainge, President of Basketball Operations, announced he was stepping down after 18 years. Brad Stevens would be stepping up to that position, leaving coaching behind for the moment.
This throws all sorts of questions at the Celtics’ front office and their decisions during the upcoming months but one thing will remain a constant in the choices they make: Jayson Tatum is a star and he should be the centerpiece of this team.
Tatum signed a five-year, maximum-salary contract extension in November of last season which makes the decisions easy at his position, but the pieces around him have proved to be inconsistent and (as of late) injury-prone.
Jaylen Brown showed he has the makings of an All-Star and if it weren’t for his wrist surgery late in the season there were plenty of people debating whether or not Brooklyn’s “big three” could handle Boston’s “big three” (Tatum, Brown, & Kemba Walker) consistently for four games.
So who could be available? Who would fit the best? They do need a consistent big that can stretch the defense and help in the paint, an area they struggled in this season (20th in the regular season–45.8 ppg).
A reliable shooter would also be a step in the right direction, someone with a strong body to get in the paint whenever he pleases but a nice enough shot that trusting him with the three-ball would never be a bad decision…someone like Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal possibly??
The Washington Wizards
After blowing the Pacers out in the final play-in game, the Wizards were put up on the big stage of the postseason for the first time since 2017. Back then, Bradley Beal was in his sixth season and had the likes of John Wall and Kelly Oubre Jr. helping him out. This season, he came into the playoffs with “Mr. Triple-Double” himself, Russell Westbrook, and…that’s about it.
That’s not discounting the great work that Coach Scott Brooks did this year with the likes of 22-year old Rui Hachimura, who started 57 games, and “the Latvian Laser” Dāvis Bertāns, a reliable bench player that could be utilized any number of ways.
But, with Westbrook projected to be the fourth-highest-paid player in the league next season, there is cause for concern around Bradley Beal who is due a new contract after nine seasons with the Wizards, five of which ended in playoff berths and none of which ever made it out of the second round.
Beal made a name for himself this season, and even after adding Westbrook, there seemed to be arguments made for him to take his talents somewhere more ‘deserving’ when his contract expires, somewhere like Los Angeles or Boston–teams that are almost there.
Beal could remain loyal–it’s happened before and it will happen again–but with the big names that are taking max contracts in a new city during the yearly blitz of offseason acquisitions, there is likely going to be many suitors for Beal if the Wizards don’t lock him up and prove to him that they’re ready to help his talents reach the NBA Finals.
The New York Knicks
The next team to be eliminated from second-round contention was the team that it seemed like everybody, but Georgia was rooting for, the Knicks. Why? Because it was the first time that Madison Square Garden and the rest of the world were able to watch them in the playoffs since 2013.
But all that togetherness and unity for the legacy-driven franchise fell short when the ’20-’21 Most Improved Player, Julius Randle, seemingly disappeared and left former MVP Derrick Rose and second-year starter RJ Barrett to fend for themselves against a dangerous shooting team in Atlanta.
And while the narrative surrounding the series revolved around Trae Young and his newfound villain status there were a lot of promising takeaways for anyone paying attention to the Knicks and not the deep-ball shots Young was draining.
So what’s next for this team that has been trending upwards for the past two seasons? Firstly they need to decide if they’re going to bring back Rose, who played his heart out during his second stint with New York (he started 64 games for them back in ’16-’17) and really seemed to be the leader of the squad during the first-round matchup against Atlanta.
Rose’s 14.9 ppg and 4.2 assists earned him third place in the Sixth Man of the Year award, which was eventually given to Jordan Clarkson, and it also gave him a place to showcase why he can still be essential to a team like the Knicks who need good, experienced leadership if they want to succeed with this young team.
With Randle and rising star Barrett under contract for the near future they also need to build around the inside in the draft, one spot, in particular, is under the basket where Nerlens Noel has been inconsistent and injury-prone. 23-year old Mitchell Robinson looked to be the face of that position for them before fracturing his foot and throwing his future with the team into question.