NBA playoff eliminations accelerate the grieving process and trim it down to just two steps.
An overwhelming sense of deflation comes first. The realization that an 82-game marathon and first-round tussle have delivered only an early vacation is a gut punch like few others felt in all of sports.
However, bouncing back from said gut punch quickly ushers in a sense of optimism. Once ties to the previous season are severed, then clubs—and their fanbases—can shift all of their attention to the future and work on finding ways to ensure that the next campaign (or, depending on a team’s timeline, perhaps one further down the line) doesn’t have to end the way this one did.
So, while the emotions of the eight postseason exits suffered so far likely remain in their raw and most painful state for now, this exercise is intended to serve as an emotional bandage and a bridge to potentially better days ahead. Let the healing commence, then, as we identify possible summer swaps to explore for the eight organizations knocked out of the playoffs in the opening round.
The Trade: Clint Capela and John Collins to Utah for Rudy Gobert and Nickeil Alexander-Walker
The Hawks are headed nowhere fast as long as they’re unable to beef up their 26th-ranked defense. If anyone can coax even league-average defense out of a Trae Young-led roster, it’s an all-galaxy anchor like Gobert, who finished third in Defensive Player of the Year voting after earning the honor in three of the previous four seasons.
Offensively, Gobert could slide right into the same screen-and-roll duties handled by Capela. Gobert ranked among the 83rd percentile of pick-and-roll screeners; Capela, who had a more dynamic creator in Young than anyone Gobert played alongside in Utah, was in the 87th percentile. So, while this would be a defense-driven trade, it’s possible for Atlanta’s offense to come out ahead, too, particularly if whoever replaces Collins offers more shot-creation.
Alexander-Walker can’t have much trade value after failing to crack the regular rotation following his deadline move to Salt Lake City, but he’s still a 23-year-old who has flashed an ignitable scoring punch. Given this attack’s struggles to function without Young (10.0 points worse per 100 possessions), it’s possible to picture the Hawks thinking Alexander-Walker might help there.
As for Utah, this is the type of trade its decision-makers could pursue if it deems major changes are necessary, and Donovan Mitchell expresses a willingness to stick around. Check both boxes, and Utah would find a ready-made replacement for Gobert in Capela, plus a scoring (and spacing) forward in Collins who might climb as high as No. 2 on the offensive pecking order.
The Trade: Ben Simmons to Memphis for Dillon Brooks, Steven Adams, John Konchar and 2022 first-round pick (via UTA)
When the Nets swapped out the 32-year-old James Harden for the 25-year-old Simmons (and a pair of first-round picks) at the deadline, they theoretically widened their championship window. In reality, though, it couldn’t change the fact that this franchise is running out of time to construct a contender around 33-year-old Kevin Durant.
Is it possible the Nets already pivot off of Simmons, knowing his year-long absence would diminish his trade value? It probably should be.
The Nets can’t count on Simmons going forward. They thought he would give it a go in Game 4, then saw him continue to sit with back soreness and “a mental block … creating stress that could serve as a trigger point for his back issues,” per The Athletic’s Shams Charania. Simmons’ decision to sit out reportedly “triggered frustration and disheartenment throughout the organization.”
Maybe Simmons says all of the right things this summer, but should that matter more to Brooklyn than his decision to skip an elimination game? No one has seen him in action since the 2021 playoffs, and that run didn’t inspire any confidence about his ability to contribute to a championship.