Reload or Rebuild? What will the Suns, Lakers and every other first-round loser do now?

LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Damian Lillard and Khris Middleton.
Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal.
Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, Paul George and Russell Westbrook.
Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey.
Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.

It seems weird to think that not a single one of those All-Stars made it past the first round, but that’s exactly what just happened in the 2024 NBA Playoffs. A lot of these teams had championship aspirations — and equally high payrolls to boot — so after being forced home early, where do they go from here?

Do they start a complete rebuild? Reload and try again? Somewhere in the middle? That’s what we’ll try to figure out here, as we run down the next steps for every NBA team that faced a disappointing early exit.


Phoenix Suns

49-33 season, Lost 4-0 to Timberwolves

Under contract: Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal, Devin Booker, Jusuf Nurkic, Grayson Allen, Nassir Little, David Roddy

Player option: Eric Gordon, Josh Okogie, Damion Lee, Drew Eubanks

Current team salary: $209 million, according to Salary Swish.

Projected salary cap space: From $62 million to $100 million over the cap (already over Second Apron)

Next moves: Get a point guard, and (maybe) a new coach?

Minnesota Timberwolves v Phoenix Suns

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Suns’ roster around their very expensive “big three” of Durant, Booker and Beal showed shaky chemistry and fit throughout the year, then got swept in the first round.

“The house is not on fire. We’re in a great position!” Suns owner Mat Ishbia claimed recently, sounding almost like a real-life version of the This is Fine meme. And despite failing to win a single playoff game, he’s doubling down, paying massive luxury tax bills, and sticking with his core.

That’s partly because they don’t really have much of a choice, having already traded away almost their entire future for these long, expensive contracts. Beal, the weakest member of the big three, also has a no-trade clause and $161 million remaining on his contract through 2027.

They’re now reportedly considering firing Frank Vogel, so part of this offseason could be spent looking for a new coach. They also have a real need for defense, depth, and possibly a point guard — even if they disagree — so how can they improve?

That expensive starting five means they’re once again going to be in the dreaded second tax apron. This limits the moves they can make, and they will again rely on veteran’s minimum players to fill out a roster that was already the second oldest in the league.

The biggest change can only be done via trade, and contrary to popular belief, they will actually have two first round picks they can move on draft night. The Suns can trade the No. 22 pick and another first-rounder all the way in 2031, and they also have a 2028 second round pick available.

It’ll be interesting to see if they make another big swing, and if they send out even more picks with either Nurkic ($18 million) or Little ($6.7 million). Allen ($15 million) can’t be traded until October by virtue of his recent extension, and they might want to hold on to the 46% 3-point shooter.

I’m not sure if just mortgaging an entire decade of picks for this big three will pay off, or if a new coach can magically fix their issues. But they’re going all in again, and it’ll at least be fun to watch unfold.

Reload or Rebuild?

They don’t really have much of a choice or much to work with, so this will probably be close to a full reload apart from a new coach and minor changes.

Los Angeles Lakers

47-35 season, IST champion, Lost 4-1 to Nuggets

Under contract: Anthony Davis, Rui Hachimura, Austin Reaves, Gabe Vincent, Jarred Vanderbilt, Jalen Hood-Schifino, Maxwell Lewis

Player option: LeBron James, D’Angelo Russell, Christian Wood, Jaxson Hayes, Cam Reddish

Current team salary: $179 million, according to Salary Swish.

Projected salary cap space: From $30.7 million under the cap, to $83 million over (already over the First Apron)

Next moves: Re-sign LeBron, get a new coach… and a third star?

Los Angeles Lakers v New York Knicks

Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

LeBron James impressively keeps fending off Father Time, but this first round exit seems like a waste of great (and healthy!) seasons from both him and Anthony Davis. They went above and beyond what was expected, but basically everyone else failed them.

The inconsistent Lakers dropped so many winnable games, which led to the worst possible first-round match-up and an early exit. Darvin Ham and his staff have been fired, and a lot of blame got (fairly) put on his questionable coaching, but it should also go to the Lakers management. Jeanie Buss and Rob Pelinka were the ones who hired Ham, constructed the flawed roster, and made moves designed less for basketball and more for cost-cutting. From lowballing coaches, to letting Caruso walk, to not giving Reaves, Christie and Horton-Tucker longer rookie deals, or always leaving an empty roster slot despite being ravaged with injuries, the Lakers kept making short-sighted decisions for small “savings” that only ended up costing them more in the long run.

At their best, this current Lakers core has still been pretty good, winning the inaugural In-Season Tournament, and looking like a contender in flashes. “Pretty good” isn’t going to cut it though, and the Lakers are reportedly going big game hunting yet again, for better or worse.

A (somewhat weird) coaching search is already underway, and with LeBron said to be opting out of his deal, he will likely use his free agency as leverage to force roster improvements as well.

I’d argue it’s better to package those picks for cheaper starters so they can upgrade and not trade away all their young players, but that’s not the Lakers’ style and they want the biggest name to lead the post-LeBron era (Technically, the Lauri Markkanen pipe dream ticks both boxes, but many teams can outbid them there).

We don’t know if the Lakers can get a blockbuster deal done, or if any of those stars are even really available, but expect them to be involved in just about every NBA rumor in the next several weeks.

Reload or Rebuild?

The Lakers will fall somewhere in the middle. They’re most likely going to reload with their two stars, but we can expect a new coach and a rebuilt supporting cast.

New Orleans Pelicans

49-33 season, Lost 4-0 to Thunder

Under contract: Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum, Herb Jones, Larry Nance Jr., Dyson Daniels, Trey Murphy III, Jordan Hawkins, EJ Liddell, Malcolm Hill

Non-guaranteed: Matt Ryan

Team option: Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Jose Alvarado

Current team salary: $155 million, according to Salary Swish.

Projected salary cap space: From $3 million to $63 million over the cap

Next moves: Rethink core, outbid everyone for star?

New Orleans Pelicans v Philadelphia 76ers

Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Even ignoring the disappointing sweep and the lacking supporting cast, there are also many concerns with the Pelicans’ core players.

Zion played 70 games this season, but got injured yet again late, leaving the same questions about health and conditioning. Ingram is currently due for a contract extension, but he was also flat-out bad in the playoffs, and has an offensive game based on taking shots that opposing teams want him to take.

Both are still young, but it’s hard to be optimistic about where this current group can go, and perhaps it’s time to make major changes.

The Pelicans should hope Zion’s conditioning and work ethic continues to improve this offseason, but they do have a lot of draft capital they can package with Ingram to get major upgrades.

They could also choose to package McCollum instead, but he seems to be a better complementary piece right now. Either way, the Pelicans have options and a LOT of tradable assets, with two first round picks this year, and several more until 2030.

The media cycle will be about big market teams going big game hunting, but the Pelicans can be the dark horse that outbids everyone. New Orleans has never paid the luxury tax though, so it’ll be curious if this will be the year they decide to add more salary.

Reload or Rebuild?

I’d say they should rebuild around Zion, but does their management pull the trigger? And what can they get with Ingram’s stock possibly taking a hit in the postseason?

Los Angeles Clippers

51-31 season, Lost 4-2 to Mavericks

Under contract: Kawhi Leonard, Norman Powell, Ivica Zubac, Terance Mann, Bones Hyland, Amir Coffey, Kobe Brown, Jordan Miller

Player option: Paul George, PJ Tucker, Russell Westbrook

Non-guaranteed: Kai Jones

Current team salary: $173 million, according to Salary Swish.

Projected salary cap space: From $32 million under the cap to $103 million over the cap (over the second apron)

Next moves: Blow it up?

Utah Jazz v Los Angeles Clippers

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: They had a great season! Harden just had a bad game! Things would’ve been different if Kawhi wasn’t injured!

It’s easy to throw out tired and oversimplified narratives about the Clippers, but there are very real issues surrounding the league’s oldest — and second most expensive — “super team.”

Clippers had first round exits in the last two postseasons, and did not qualify in the year prior. Next season, Leonard will be 33, George 34, Harden 35, and Westbrook 36.

Repeatedly hoping recurring issues will somehow disappear as they further move away from their primes doesn’t make much sense. But fortunately, this offseason could be the best time to actually try something else.

Harden is a free agent, while George, Tucker and Westbrook have player options that can either be cleared from the books or used in trades.

The Clippers can recoup some assets, have cap flexibility and restart anew. They can try getting younger and change the main pieces surrounding Leonard, but early reports seem to indicate that they’re just going to try and run it back yet again.

To do that, they’ll have to max out Paul George, who will be in really high demand this offseason. Then they’ll have to re-sign Harden to a pretty expensive new deal as well.

The Clippers are moving to a new arena and owner Steve Ballmer doesn’t seem to want a rebuild. He kept doubling down in recent years, and doing so again probably puts them back over the second apron as a repeat offender, which means they’ll have even fewer avenues to improve.

I’m sure this time it will work though. After all, it’s just a few bad games from Harden, and it would’ve been different if Kawhi wasn’t injured… right?

Reload or Rebuild?

I think they should start a slow rebuild now that they can, but that may not be Ballmer’s style.


Miami Heat

46-36 season, Lost 4-1 to Celtics

Under contract: Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Terry Rozier, Duncan Robinson, Jaime Jaquez Jr., Nikola Jovic

Player option: Caleb Martin, Kevin Love, Josh Richardson, Thomas Bryant

Non-guaranteed: Orlando Robinson

Current team salary: $182 million, according to Salary Swish.

Projected salary cap space: From $32 million to $66 million over the cap (already over the first apron)

Next moves: Extend Adebayo, then have serious conversations about the rest of the team.

Miami Heat v New Orleans Pelicans

Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The Miami Heat were the fifth oldest NBA team (27.3 average age), but perhaps more importantly, they looked rundown when they unsurprisingly lost to the top-seeded Celtics.

The biggest concerns for the Heat now involve the four players who are extension-eligible: Butler, Adebayo, Rozier, and Robinson.

Adebayo will be eligible for a max extension, which the young DPOY finalist clearly deserves. The decisions on the three others won’t be as simple.

Butler will be 35 next season, and while he’s still under contract, he reportedly wants a two-year max extension worth $113 million. Rozier is also extension-eligible, but he and Butler didn’t play in the playoffs after dealing with neck and knee injuries, respectively. Robinson did come back from back issues, but he didn’t look the same at all.

Does Riley think Butler would still be worth that hefty price tag, with his mileage and injuries? What will they do with Robinson and Rozier? The Heat can also end up in the second apron, which will likely factor into all of their next moves.

Even with “culture” and great coaching, they’re definitely not going to be a contender with this current roster. And at that price, they will need to take a serious look at what to do next.

The Heat have their 15th pick in the draft this year, plus future first round picks in 2030 and 2031 available for a trade.

If he really doesn’t get that max extension, Butler could be on his way out. Expect the Heat to also shop Herro, Rozier, Robinson, plus a pick and at least one of their two promising prospects in Jovic or Jaquez. We’ll see if they get any takers though.

Reload or Rebuild?

I think they should completely rebuild around Adebayo, but that’ll really depend if other teams are even interested in what they can offer.

Milwaukee Bucks

49-33 season, Lost 4-2 to Pacers

Under contract: Damian Lillard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Bobby Portis, Pat Connaughton, MarJon Beauchamp, Chris Livingston, Ryan Rollins, Jaylin Galloway

Non-guaranteed: AJ Green, Andre Jackson Jr.

Current team salary: $183 million, according to Salary Swish.

Projected salary cap space: From $49 million to $66 million over the cap (already over the first apron)

Next moves: Tweak role players, get healthy, get more reps.

Indiana Pacers v Milwaukee Bucks - Game Five

Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

It’s fair to blame injuries for this series, but the Bucks also have more issues than that after now exiting in the first round for two consecutive years. This season they were the third oldest team in the NBA, with a flawed roster that lost their trademark guard/wing defense. They also had a mid-season coaching change.

I still don’t think hiring Doc Rivers was the best move for the Bucks, who went just 17-19 with him. But he’s their coach now and they won’t just change that after getting him a fresh $40 million contract. There are also rumors of a GM change, so it’ll be interesting to see if that moves forward.

Milwaukee was over the second apron this season, and will likely stay there for the next one. They’ll need youth and defense, but it’ll be hard to do as they likely won’t have much flexibility or assets available.

The Bucks won a title in 2021, but next season, their core will see Giannis turning 30, Middleton at 32, and Lillard at 33. If he remains with the team, Lopez will also be 36.

Without much flexibility, the best they can hope is that minor tweaks can plug some holes, and that more reps and better health from both Giannis and Dame can get them back to title contention.

Reload or Rebuild?

Like the Suns, Bucks have minimal assets and flexibility, so this will probably be close to a full reload, with only minor tweaks to the roster.

Philadelphia 76ers

47-35 season, Lost 4-2 to Knicks

Under contract: Joel Embiid

Team option: Jeff Dowtin

Non-guaranteed: Paul Reed, Ricky Council IV

Current team salary: $63 million, according to Salary Swish.

Projected salary cap space: From $55 million to $72 million under the cap

Next moves: Get a star with all that cap space, then take care of Tyrese Maxey.

Philadelphia 76ers v New York Knicks - Game Five

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The 76ers had a disappointing series against the Knicks, but will have the most flexibility among all these playoff teams this offseason. Harris and Hield had bloated deals, but Philly pretty much only has Embiid under contract now. They have a lot of cap space to build a contender around him and restricted free agent Maxey, who looks like a bonafide star.

The Sixers will probably target a wing player, and the biggest names available will likely be Paul George, James Harden, DeMar Derozan, Pascal Siakam, Klay Thompson, OG Anunoby, and, although unlikely, LeBron James.

They’re already being linked to George, but that cap space also means being able to absorb entire contracts from a trade. According to ESPN, they’ll also be monitoring some of the possible targets we mentioned above, in Jimmy Butler and Brandon Ingram.

The team will definitely have options, even if it just means bringing in one key star/starter and then re-signing most of their current core. Either way, Sixers are likely to fill up their roster first to maximize that space, before finally taking care of Maxey and signing him over the cap.

Reload or Rebuild?

Embiid and Maxey will stay, but the Sixers have a lot of flexibility, so this could go anywhere from adding one or two key players, to a completely rebuilt roster.

Orlando Magic

47-35 season, Lost 4-3 to Cavs

Under contract: Cole Anthony, Paolo Banchero, Wendell Carter Jr., Jalen Suggs, Anthony Black, Franz Wagner, Jett Howard

Team option: Joe Ingles, Moritz Wagner

Non-guaranteed: Jonathan Isaac, Caleb Houstan

Current team salary: $105 million, according to Salary Swish.

Projected salary cap space: From $19 million to $58 million under the cap

Next moves: Use all those picks and cap space for a star and more veterans?

Orlando Magic v Chicago Bulls

Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

The Magic have a promising young core around Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner and Jalen Suggs that impressed this season, and they just got invaluable experience during their seven-game playoff series with the Cavs.

The future seems bright, but what’s better for them is that they have so much cap space and a large stash of draft picks to outbid teams and make even bigger improvements. Banchero, Suggs and Wagner are still on rookie-scale contracts, and the Magic will have a lot of flexibility to add to an already promising team.

They can use some veteran leadership and another guard, which makes it no surprise that they’re already being tied to Paul George as well.

The Magic could also opt for someone a bit closer to their young core’s timelines, like OG Anunoby or Malik Monk, before picking up veterans on any of their exemptions. They could also absorb big contracts through trades with that space, like say Dejounte Murray or maybe Anfernee Simons.

After filling up the team, they can re-sign some of their own free agents like Gary Harris or Markelle Fultz (should they choose to bring him back), before eventually handling the rookie extensions of Franz Wagner and Jalen Suggs.

This offseason can go a lot of different ways depending on who is truly gettable in free agency and what Orlando is actually willing to spend, but the Magic are in a great position to just add key pieces to a young playoff team that has already overachieved.

Reload or Rebuild?

Reload with the same core, but with key additions and veteran leadership.

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