The NBA All-Star break is upon us and there will be plenty of NBA stars landing in Chicago for the upcoming weekend. The pageantry will be on full display in the Windy City, but what happens afterwards when players go back to reality. There are some teams that have great expectations and others that have done some unexpected things. And in between all of that, there are questions for each NBA team.
Can the Atlanta Hawks build momentum going into next season?
The Atlanta Hawks were expected to be a little better than what they currently are. With injuries and the suspension of John Collins early in the season, the Hawks were stuck in neutral despite the heroics of budding superstar Trae Young. With the team healthier, Young still playing well and the addition of big man Clint Capela at the trade deadline, it will be interesting to see if they can all mesh to build heading into the 2020-2021 season.
Are the Celtics done adding to their lineup?
The Celtics have been a much better version this season with the addition of Kemba Walker at the point guard spot, replacing Kyrie Irving (left for the Brooklyn Nets this offseason). Their young stars, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, have played well and combined with Walker, give them three 20 point scorers along with Gordon Heyward playing well. While they have all these things going for them, they seem to be one big man away. Enes Kanter can score but is having an off year and besides him, it seems the Celtics are one big man away. Will they get that big man potentially from another team buying out a big man (rumors of the Cavs buying out Tristian Thompson are out there)? Only time will tell what happens.
Can Brooklyn get some sense of direction with Kyrie on the court?
We have seen Kyrie as the Batman on the floor before. We saw it in Boston and that did not end well, with the team chemistry not looking so good. In Brooklyn, they seem to be having the same sort of issue when Kyrie plays. Although it will only be for one year that he is the Batman of their team and not the Robin, it will be interesting to see if he can start putting together some chemistry and maybe string together a few wins to shed some of that bad energy that surrounds Irving as the leader of a team.
Are there young stars in Charlotte?
The Charlotte Hornets aren't doing so well this season and they recently acknowledged their season isn't going anywhere with the buyouts of Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. With those two out of the way and many young players getting time, is there a star among them? We know the play of Devonte' Graham has been good but they need a star and it more than likely has to be someone they drafted based on their history. Will it be PJ Washington Jr., Malik Monk, Miles Bridges or someone else not mentioned? Either way, Charlotte has to find somebody and find somebody fast or they will be stuck in basketball quicksand.
When will Bulls' brass see enough of Jim Boylen?
The Chicago Bulls have talent. Sure, they have had some injuries, but they have enough talent to be competitive for the playoffs. Unfortunately, they have not been and a big part of that reason falls on head coach Jim Boylen. It seems as if the team tunes him out and the rotations seem interesting at best. Add to it that they have the makeup of a team that should be playing at a faster pace and therein lies some of the issue with the Bulls. Boylen isn't the only issue there, but he sure isn't part of the solution. It will be something to watch if the Bulls decide to wash their hands of him after the year (and if Jerry Reinsdorf has had enough of general manager Gar Foreman and vice president of basketball operations John Paxson).
Is Cleveland just a layover for Andre Drummond?
The Cleveland Cavaliers shocked everyone trading for the talents of big man Andre Drummond. And what was even more shocking was they gave up nothing of consequence to get him. Cleveland has said they want to make him a long-term player there, but with him having the ability to opt out of the last year of his deal, is that likely? Cleveland will surely through the bag at him this summer, but will he take it or bolt? That is a huge question that hangs over the rest of Cleveland's season. They are going to do everything they can to make the decision as hard for him as possible.
Who's the third guy in Dallas?
The Dallas Mavericks have been better than anyone thought they would be. The Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis have been the one-two punch for the Mavs and will continue to get better. The question remains who will be that consistent third option for them. Tim Hardaway Jr. is capable but he has had moments where he has disappeared. Whoever is going to be that guy, he has to show himself soon because the playoffs are approaching and even though Doncic and Porzingis are budding stars, they have not reached superstar status yet and them carrying a young Mavs team all the way to a title is not necessarily the most ideal picture.
Can the Nuggets get it done come playoff time?
The Denver Nuggets are one of the top teams in the NBA's Western Conference. While they are second in the West, not many are believing they will come through come playoff time. The challenge for them isn't in the regular season, but the postseason. Do they have enough to beat the Lakers or the Clippers when it counts? Plenty don't think so and that isn't just fans talking. So while they may play well the rest of the regular season, they need to step it up a level when the games really count. As of right now, they are showing themselves to be just a regular season team and not a championship-caliber team.
Where is Detroit headed?
The Detroit Pistons traded away one of their best players during the trade deadline. They freed up cap space, but they didn't get any pieces back in return that are going to help them when they weren't very good to begin with. So with another piece of their team gone, what is the direction of this team? Do they build around Rose and if so, who do they pair with him? And in free agency, who are they going to get to come there? These are all questions that are going to get answered one way or another, but right now, they have to start moving in one direction and it would be nice if someone knew what direction that was.
Do the Warriors really bring back Steph Curry this season?
The Golden State Warriors haven't had the season they hoped for. Klay Thompson was expected to be out, but the Warriors weren't expecting Steph Curry to be injured. The result of the injuries and lack of quality depth has brought them down a notch. They have played better as the youth of the Warriors has gotten experience and the Warriors have said that Curry will be back this year as well. The question is should they even bring him back? Why even have him come back when they aren't going to be playoff participants and as they lose, they could win when it comes to the lottery. We will see what happens, but the decision of bringing Curry back this year will be one to watch.
Can this small ball play really work long-term?
The Houston Rockets traded away Clint Capela and acquired forward Robert Covington. And in doing so, they became the smallest team in the NBA, but that's just the way the Rockets want it. D'Antoni, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and crew went to this small lineup when Capela got hurt and had success, so D'Antoni has bought all the way into it and benched all big men he has. They have won some and lost some since buying in, but it will be interesting to see how this all works out for the rest of the season. Long-term, everyone is saying this will not work, but there were people who said the Warriors brand of jump-shooting basketball wouldn't work either and we saw what happened there. One thing we do know is it will be exciting to see on the court.
How long before Victor Oladipo is Victor Oladipo?
The season began with Oladipo out as he was recovering from a ruptured right quad tendon. The team has hung in the playoff race while he was gone and now he is back. As expected, there have been some hiccups. And with him on a minutes restriction right now, there will be some unevenness when he plays. As the season goes on, what bears watching is how well Oladipo continues to work his way back, trusting his body to not let him down. And along with that, it will be something to keep an eye on how Domantas Sabonis reacts to becoming the second option again eventually.
Can the Clippers get it going at the right time?
The Clippers have all the pieces to make it happen. They have scoring, perimeter defense and depth galore, but the main thing for them has always been the playoffs and more importantly, playing for the title. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have missed games as they follow the plan for the playoffs, but does that hurt the chemistry sometimes? As the season goes on, the Clippers need some run with all their pieces so they can get even more in sync. The more that happens, the more dangerous they will be. The question is how much we will see that after the All-Star break and if they can gain that rhythm as well.
Do the Lakers have enough?
The Los Angeles Lakers have two of the top five players in the NBA in Anthony Davis and LeBron James. The pair has led the Lakers to the best record in the Western Conference and the second-best record in the NBA. While that is nice from where the Lakers were the past few seasons, the goal is much bigger than a better record. The goal is the title and with how they currently stand, some believe they don't have enough, and more specifically, a consistent scorer who can create offense. We shall see if they get that option via buyout or not, but either way, the two elite players on the Lakers will be shouldering a lot of the championship aspirations of the Lakers and some are wondering if they have enough energy and stamina to make it happen.
Can Memphis keep up their pace for the playoffs?
The Memphis Grizzlies were not expected to even compete this year for the playoffs this year, but they were expected to take another step in their growth process. Well, they not only have grown but they are currently in the eight spot in the West with rookie Ja Morant leading the way. Can the Grizzlies keep this up with the young cast and the keep the rest of the West at arm's length? Only time will tell.
Does Miami have enough?
The Heat weren't thought to be this good, but here we stand as the Heat are a team some think can come out of the Eastern Conference. They have Bam Adebayo as the main support player to Jimmy Butler, but will that be enough for them to make it? They definitely have been overachieving and playing well over the season, but when playoff time comes around, will some of the same players stepping up stay at that level or fall off some? Only time will tell and we will definitely get an answer come playoff time.
Do the Bucks learn from last season?
The Milwaukee Bucks were the class of the Eastern Conference in the regular season. When the postseason came around, things didn't go as planned as the Toronto Raptors took them out before they wanted to go and in the process, Giannis Antetokounmpo wasn't himself as the series went on. The Greek Freak will definitely be looking to atone for last year along with Eric Bledsoe and the rest of the Bucks squad. The question is have they learned from last year? Only the playoff will tell us that.
How will this D'Angelo Russell/Karl-Anthony Towns pairing work out?
Russell and Towns have been wanting to play with each other for a while and Minnesota had been angling to get Russell from the Warriors all season. Well, it finally happened as the Wolves ridded themselves of Andrew Wiggins' contract to bring him in and now we have the two good friends playing with each other. The question now is how will this pair work out together? And if this pair works out, what can the Wolves do to enhance their supporting cast?
Can the Pelicans march with Zion on into the playoffs?
The New Orleans Pelicans were doing okay to start the season, but as they played together more, the team began to get better. And now, they have their Rookie of the Year candidate Zion Williamson on the court helping them. With the amazing numbers he is putting up as a rookie and the energy he brings, the Pelicans are playing better basketball and are fighting to make the playoffs. Will they have enough though is the question and can Zion keep this pace up?
How does New York play without their best player in Marcus Morris?
The Knicks weren't exactly setting the world on fire, but one player that was for them this season was Marcus Morris. The veteran small forward was their most consistent shooter and took all the big shots for them, but unfortunately he has been traded and the Knicks are left moving forward without him. It will be interesting to see how they make things happen in clutch moments without him there with them and most importantly, it will be interesting to see who steps up while he is gone.
Can Chris Paul keep his play up?
The Oklahoma City Thunder were expected to be cellar dwellers this season after trading away Russell Westbrook and Paul George this offseason. What they got back in the trade, however, has been nothing short of masterful on the court with the pieces they have. One of those pieces was veteran guard Chris Paul, whom the Thunder got when they traded Westbrook to Houston. He has been nothing short of great for the Thunder this season, having his lowest turnover total since the 2011-2012 season and averaging 17.4 points per game. Now the question is can he sustain this type of play? He has been known to have an injury or two slow him down.
Will we ever see signs of Mo Bamba starting to make an impact this season in Orlando?
The Orlando Magic are not doing as well as some thought they would. Some players are playing well and others, well, are still trying to find themselves or excel. One of those players still trying to find themselves is Mo Bamba. The sixth overall pick of the 2018 draft has yet to make an impact in the NBA and is only averaging 5.5 points this season. Will he make an impact this season or will he ever make an impact in Orlando? That's a question no one has the answer to at this point.
Can the 76ers find a way to get Al Horford, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons playing well at the same time?
The 76ers were picked by some to be the representative of the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. As it stands right now, the biggest word to deal with them is underwhelming. And right along with that word is two words: uneven fit. It seems the fit of Horford next to Embiid at the power forward position and Simmons and the 76ers seem to play more wide-open with Simmons out there and Embiid sitting down. Brett Brown has to figure out how to get all three consistently playing good at the same time. Maybe the move to put Horford on the bench right before the All-Star break was a good one. Whatever is going on, the 76ers have to figure it out in the second half of the season or it could be curtains on any hopes they have of coming out of the East.
Can Monty Williams get the Phoenix Suns back on track?
It seemed like the Suns were going to break through this season with the start they had. Unfortunately, that start did not last and they have fallen back down to reality. Monty Williams has some work to do and he has to figure out who is in and who is out. Hopefully for him he can figure it out this season going into next so he can save a few headaches later on. Phoenix is talented, but they aren't near ready to make the playoffs and make an impact in the West yet.
Can the Trailblazers go on a run to make the playoffs?
As it currently stands, the Portland Trailblazers are four games back of the Memphis Grizzlies for eighth place in the Western Conference. The Trailblazers have made runs to close out the season and make the playoffs before and this year, they are needing another one to happen. Do they have enough to make it happen with what they currently have is the question. Only time shall see, but they sure have their work cut out for them.
Can the Sacramento Kings show any sense of direction?
The Sacramento Kings have not exactly been the picture of consistency unless you're speaking of bad results. They just cannot get right no matter what they do and this season is no exception. They have talent to be better is probably the saddest part of it all. Sacramento may be in for more changes this offseason, but for now, it will be interesting to watch and see if they find a sense of direction with the rest of the season.
When do the kids play down by the Riverwalk?
The San Antonio Spurs are known for having veteran teams with some young players sprinkled in, and with that, they are use to having success each season. This years, the Spurs have a great mixture of young players and vets and yet they still are tenth place with all that. The Spurs are playing vets in place of young players that could be getting better. With that being said, the Spurs need to decide when they are going to play with their youth. Even if they make some unexpected run to the playoffs, they will not last long. So they may as well play the young guys and figure out what they do and don't have.
How far can Toronto go?
The Toronto Raptors were not expected to be as good with the loss of Kawhi Leonard this offseason. Toronto thought otherwise as they have played good basketball all season and now currently sit at second in the east with a 40-15 record and have a young star that has become their leading player in Pascal Siakam . The team has exceeded the expectations of many. The question is how far can this team go? Can they truly be a threat to win the Eastern Conference or are they just having a good regular season? We shall see once it gets to playoff time.
Does Mike Conley Jr. eventually hit his stride with Utah?
One of the biggest pickups of the offseason was Utah trading for Memphis point guard Mike Conley Jr. The move, along with other offseason moves by the Jazz, had people thinking Utah had an opportunity to be a darkhorse title contender. Well, Conley Jr. hasn't been healthy and when he has, it has been an odd fit. The Jazz are hoping he eventually becomes the guy they thought they got in the trade and can help lead them in the West, but time is running short. Can it happen this season?
How does this audition end for Scott Brooks in Washington?
The Wizards have had some management change and Scott Brooks wasn't the coach they brought in, so naturally they have been watching him and what he has been doing. The Wiz Kids haven't exactly been great this year but the main thing is if Bradley Beal is happy for not. If he isn't combined with the poor results of the Wizards this year, then Brooks is gone potentially. If he is happy, then maybe Brooks survives. These last couple months of the season could tell us whether he will be back or not next season.
The last couple months of the regular season should be interesting to watch and see how things unfold. Tune it. It will be great theater to watch!