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 Western 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 Western Conference teams need to focus on before their next official tip-off:
The Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies are in a great spot and sadly got quite possibly the worst matchup for their team this season, the team with the most wins and most dominant center (outside Nikola Jokić ) in the league: the Utah Jazz.
Ja Morant has been everything and more that fans hoped he would be when he went 2nd overall in the 2019 NBA Draft, not just that he’s done it with a group of guys that not many point guards would be able to succeed with as well as he has.
So what can they do to build this team up even more?
First off, the team has to revolve around Morant and his ability to spread the floor out as he comes up the court, not only does he do everything on offense exceedingly well he finds ways on defense to get the ball which is one of many reasons why the Grizzlies led the league in steals this season.
Shooting forward Justice Winslow needs to be the next topic of conversation for GM Zach Kleiman and his front office, not only has he sustained three injuries since the Heat traded him to Memphis in February of 2020 but he will take $13 million from the Grizzlies if they decide to bring him back to see if he can boost this team any more than he did in his 26 games this season.
Winslow’s 6.8 ppg and 4.5 reb/game were not strong indicators that he is as valuable as he looked in Miami, which could lead to the Grizzlies cutting ties with him and going somewhere different through free agency or the draft. Either way, Winslow is eating up a large chunk of money and a vital space in the locker room–both of which can be freed up to help Morant cement his place in NBA history.
The Portland Trailblazers
Buckle your seat belts folks because this offseason is going to go one of two ways for the Blazers, a team that can look like the best team on the floor nine times out of ten but can’t seem to put the pieces together whenever it matters most.
One way this offseason might go for the Blazers, who averaged 116.4 ppg this season (fourth-highest in the league), is the way that would end up with Lillard out of Portland in exchange for a bevy of high-round draft picks and compensatory players. This route for Portland would leave them without the face of their entire franchise (other than Clyde Drexler), it would leave them in the midst of a rebuild, and it would leave them unable to make a playoff run for likely another five-six seasons.
But then again, they could always go the other way, especially because Lillard is signed on through the ’24-’25 season thanks to a four-year, $176 million contract extension in 2019. This route would be the most beneficial, but only if the Blazers front office can finally do what people have been telling them to do since “Dame Time” started taking over games and embarrassing superstars who fled to L.A. or Miami: build a superteam around him.
I’m not talking about bringing back 37-year old Carmelo Anthony and adding some old power forward to get the Blazers back into the second round, I’m talking about finally going out and spending serious cash to bring in serious players.
I’m talking about players like DeMar DeRozan or even Kawhi Leonard if the Clippers let him leave. I’m talking about taking shots on guys like Bradley Beal or someone like Chris Paul who has shown that they can lead any team to the playoffs and win, even the tanking OKC Thunder or the down-on-their-luck Phoenix Suns.
If Portland does not pursue the biggest names and the best possible superstar additions this offseason, then it’s obvious they have no respect for the greatness that has fallen in their lap and chosen to stay there. Lillard is the heart and soul of the Blazers, he’s a player who puts up 55 points in a playoff game with ease and is one of only two players in the entire NBA that can make any clutch shot asked of them (the other being Steph Curry) and Portland needs to tread around his situation carefully.
The Los Angeles Lakers
As a born-and-bred Phoenix fan, it’s hard to be completely objective when it comes to the Lakers-Suns series, but it is easy to spot where they started to fall apart once Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton took control of the games, and eventually, the series.
The first sign of weakness shows in the way that the Lakers simply built this team, it’s obvious that they did so with mainly LeBron James’ input and his input only.
What do I mean? I mean that James wanted a team-up with Anthony Davis, and it cost the team $190 million, along with other opportunities to help support the aging superstar. Now they’re paying the price whenever Davis is unable to play, and James has to take any sort of break.
The Lakers were 19-17 without Davis this season and 11-7 without both him and James, both of which show that the team is capable, but not ready, to handle the likes of playoff teams if both of these aging giants aren’t on the court playing 38 minutes or more.
What they need to do this offseason is seeing if any players still want a chance to play with James and help him reach his 11th NBA Finals on a cheap contract. There will likely still be players chomping at the bits to play with greatness, but, for the most part, the superteams are starting to form outside of Staples Center.
If there are not players like Andre Drummond and Markieff Morris floating around at the end of free agency, then the Lakers are going to have to hit a home run in the draft to help replace the two stars as they deteriorate next season and likely miss more games on the road to the playoffs.
Last season, Davis and James had the advantage of getting four months off to rehabilitate and replenish their bodies before ‘the bubble’ playoffs, they showed in the bubble that they could still be dominant and not let any team enforce any sort of will on them but that was, once again, in the bubble.
Now that they had to play a full–although condensed–season, it showed during the first round, with James’ tired nature and inability to keep up with the fast breaks he used to thrive in, and it showed with Davis reinjuring himself and missing even more games than he did this season (he missed half of the 72 regular-season games).
If James does what James always has done, he will likely get his way this offseason. Granted, the Lakers need to make sure that James has an input in the decision-making due to his nature and the fact he has a gifted basketball mind, but that shouldn’t mean he continues to make the type of decisions for the organization that has led them to this unfortunate spot they find themselves in.
The Dallas Mavericks
The Mavericks lost a Game 7 thriller against the Clippers, but in the process of losing that game, it became clearer what they must do if they ever want to see their All-Star Luka Dončić holding an NBA Championship trophy in his hands one day.
Dončić’s 35.7 ppg during the seven-game matchup was by far the best on the team with Tim Hardaway Jr coming in second with only 17.0, and while Dončić may believe that he is the center of a superteam, he is simply the only superstar that has proven himself on that team over the past two seasons.
Kristaps Porzingis, largely believed to be the ‘missing piece’ that was keeping Mark Cuban’s team from reaching the promised land once again, has seemed to morph into a hollow shell of his former self and become somewhat of a liability to the team.
If Porzingis is healthy he can be a great addition to a team that needs a strong presence down under, but with his pesky leg issues, it’s dangerous for any team to rely on him for points, which showed during this most recent series against Kawhi and the Clippers when he averaged only 13.1 ppg, even though he averaged over 33 min/game.
If Dallas wants to keep up with the rest of this league, then they need to start with getting more reliable players in the paint that can ensure a perimeter defense that plays without fear that the paint is vulnerable.
The next thing that Cuban and the front office needs to focus on is a new contract for their third-highest scorer, Hardaway Jr., because if he can continue to play at the level that he was playing at during the latter half of the season, there is no reason why he and Dončić couldn’t become their own version of the Warriors’ “splash brothers”.