The NBA playoffs are a cruel exercise that eventually designates 15 of the 16 participants as losers.

Not every team that falls short of a title goes out in the same way, though. Some departures are more painful than others. 

The squads we'll cover (and try to remedy) here suffered postseason defeats that came earlier or in more disappointing fashion than expected. 

Low seeds that got bounced early are more than a quick fix away from avoiding the same fate next year. We aren't interested in them. Instead, we're looking for relatively simple, practical moves to shore up weaknesses on teams that may only need a little boost to advance past the level they reached in 2022.

In the emotional wake of elimination, it sometimes feels like wholesale changes are in order. But for the clubs we'll highlight, small tweaks may be all it takes. 

 

Brooklyn Nets: Find Some Size on the Perimeter

Ensuring Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons' availability goes way beyond a quick fix, so we'll cross our fingers and assume they're both going to return to full-time status next year.

With those two back in the fold along with a healthy Joe Harris, the Brooklyn Nets might not need much else to better their 44-38 record and first-round elimination from this past season.

The Nets didn't have enough size among their defensive wings and couldn't support Kevin Durant with enough shooting to challenge the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. Boston's ongoing run through the postseason makes the Nets' ability to hang tough in four close games look better in hindsight, but a sweep's a sweep.

Harris' return will be a boon to Brooklyn's spacing. Shooting won't be an issue with him, Patty Mills (player option) and Seth Curry dotting the perimeter.

Harris has also long been underrated defensively. He wasn't particularly mobile prior to the ankle surgery that cost him most of the season, though, and the Nets certainly can't go into next year relying on him as a second stopper next to Simmons.

Bruce Brown (unrestricted free agent) can defend, but his lack of shooting will make him difficult to play alongside Simmons. Yes, Brown shot an outlier 40.4 percent form deep last year, but on extremely low volume. He's still sitting at 32.7 percent for his career and doesn't scare defenses.

If Brooklyn could combine Harris' stroke and size with Brown's defense and athleticism, it'd really have something. Unfortunately for the Nets, gene-splicing technology isn't quite advanced enough, and the collective bargaining agreement probably frowns on playing God.

The Nets should throw their taxpayer mid-level exception at Otto Porter Jr. or Kyle Anderson. Both could command more money elsewhere, but they'd fill the need for more size and defensive heft around the Nets' stars.

 

Milwaukee Bucks: Land a Playmaker

It feels wrong to call the Milwaukee Bucks losers following a short-handed seven-game loss to a Celtics team playing some of the best defense we've ever seen in the playoffs. But the defending champs still bowed out before the conference finals, and that wasn't the plan.

The so-easy-it-hurts fix here is for Milwaukee to have a healthy Khris Middleton. His absence was impossible to miss against the Celtics. Every time Jrue Holiday (rightly) forced up five or six extra shots per game or Wesley Matthews (wrongly) tried to do anything off the dribble, the realization hit.

That's what Middleton would have been doing.

Even with Middleton back, the Bucks will need more creators. Boston held Milwaukee to 95 or fewer points three times in the East semifinals, even with Giannis Antetokounmpo's relentless attacking and all of the layups, kickouts and free throws it generated. The Bucks averaged the second-fewest passes per game among postseason teams and endured long stretches of stagnant play.

George Hill is the easy scapegoat here. The Bucks backup point guard played 76 minutes, shot the ball five times, scored only five points and handed out three assists in the series. Hill wasn't the only underwhelming performer in the playoff rotation (hi, Grayson Allen!), but his total inability to create opportunities for himself or others stood out.

As is the case for most teams at their level, the Bucks will likely be over the luxury-tax line next season, which limits their resources in free agency. That means they need to fined a distressed asset like, say, a 31-year-old point guard coming off a torn ACL—maybe one renowned for his passing.

Unrestricted free agent Ricky Rubio ranked sixth in assist percentage on drives last year (among players who drove at least 12 times per game). His shooting is an issue at 33.9 percent from distance with the Cleveland Cavaliers prior to his injury, but Hill was worse than that this season in Milwaukee. So the downgrade wouldn't hurt as much as it seems.