Each NBA Team’s Most Pressing questions after the playoffs

By Drew Smith/Guest Writer

Photo Caption: NBA Conference Finals were Tuesday, May 16 for the West, and tonight, Thursday, May 18 for the East.  

Right now, everyone is thinking about the playoffs. But, I thought I would be the Debbie Downer, and ask the really pressing questions each team has going into this upcoming off-season. Where will teams really land after all this is settled? A lot (and I mean a lot) of teams have found ways to convince themselves that they can make a run in the upcoming playoffs, but only four teams make the conference finals, two teams make the finals, and only one wins the chip. So, when the dust settles, where do these teams actually lie? What will the offseason look like for a swathe of teams in chaos? Let’s dig into it. 

Philadelphia 76ers

Will James Harden re-sign? The league’s leader in assists and the 76ers’ perfect match with superstar Joel Embiid, James Harden, has had several rumors circulating about interest in a reunion with the Houston Rockets. But, is that just meaningless postulating by Harden and crew, in an attempt to negotiate and threaten his way towards a supermax deal with the 76ers? Or, is there genuine interest in a reunion and will Embiid be left starless and the 76ers’ organization with no means of fulfilling Embiid’s needs? I think it’s one of the more interesting questions, but I doubt Daryl Morey will lose his buddy James Harden for nothing. 

Milwaukee Bucks

What’s going on with Khris Middleton? I mean, really? Khris Middleton, star small forward for the Bucks, has had a trepid return from injury. Minutes restrictions, coming off the bench, mysterious exits. Plus, Middleton has a player option this off-season that he could willingly decline. While that seems unlikely considering the injury-riddled past two seasons he’s had, it’s still an interesting flux point for the Bucks, as they manage an ever-aging roster built around superstar Giannis Antetokounmpou. Brook Lopez (my personal DPOY), is a free agent this summer. While the Bucks are undoubtedly title contenders, can that status begin to slip this offseason? Are we looking at a disaster in the coming seasons?

Chicago Bulls

What do you do with this roster? A vague question, but this team is weird. They’ve had one of the league’s best defenses this season, despite not having major defensive talent outside of Alex Caruso and (maybe) Patrick Williams, and a small ball, slow-footed center in Nikola Vucevic. But, they’re also a 10-seed in a top-heavy conference. Their young stars, Zach Lavine and Lonzo Ball, both have some injury questions, and Zach Lavine has one of the largest contracts in the league, despite not even being an All-Star this season. Demar DeRozan, their mid-range maestro, has questions around his success in the playoffs. And, to dig deeper into the Lonzo Ball stuff, Ball has just had a rough go-of-it with his injuries, and reports suggest he could miss all of next season after another knee surgery. So, where does this team really go? They’re interesting, and they have too much talent to tank, but not enough talent to really do anything meaningful. Hey, nothing’s wrong with just trying to win basketball games, and who knows, maybe they can get back to the 1-seed they held at last year’s all star break, if things break nice for them this upcoming season. 

Cleveland Cavaliers

Does Evan Mobley make the offensive jump? Do the shots start falling from 3? Does his post-up game evolve? How does he improve his catch-and-go opportunities? Can he adequately improve both the spacing and rim-finishing? Evan Mobley, Evan Mobley, Evan Mobley. That’s all I am worried about for the Cavs. And I have to say, I am fairly confident he’ll make the jump. He’s put some games together this year that have been pretty impressive, and I won’t be surprised if next season he makes another leap. Pretty crazy that as time has gone on since the 2021-22 season, how much further ahead Mobley is than the rest of the guys in his class. 

Boston Celtics

Does Jaylen Brown get the supermax contract extension? Can the noise finally be quieted with 200+ million dollars? Probably. The Celtics are set in a pretty meaningful way, and if Jaylen Brown makes an All-NBA team, he will be eligible for the supermax extension. Not many players have ever turned that down. I think securing Jaylen Brown is #1 priority, and outside of their front court depth with an ever-injured Robert Williams and aging Al Horford, they don’t have too much to worry about. 

Los Angeles Clippers

Oh boy. If the Clippers don’t win it all this year, which seems unlikely with a Paul George injury and a first-round matchup against the Kevin Durant led Phoenix Suns, what does this team do? They have these two insanely talented superstar wings who just have never put together a really great regular season together, full of health and winning. The Clippers have as much wing depth as you could want, one of the most expensive teams of all time, a new stadium in the works, and a somewhat revitalized Russell Westbrook. I don’t really know how to feel about this team going forward. Is it inevitably going down the path of blowing-it-all-up?

Memphis Grizzlies

Can the drama stop? Can the Dillon Brooks antics stop? Can Ja Morant not have a cringe news story come out during the season? Can they just focus on the basketball? This team is full of young talent, one of the best young guards in the league and a DPOY candidate every year in Jaren Jackson Jr., along with an insanely gifted shooter in Desmond Bane. Not to mention, plenty of depth sprinkled around them, with plenty of draft assets available to trade. The Grizzlies were rumored to have offered four draft picks to the Brooklyn Nets for Mikal Bridges, a deal that fell out at this year’s trade deadline. They have so much they can build, they just need to not let dumb things get in the way. 

Atlanta Hawks

Do you trade Trae Young? I mean, right? Do you move on from the franchise superstar and call it wraps? Get as much as you can for him and get out? Probably not a bad idea. Young is one of the worst defenders in the league, short with a small stature, and a lack of effort and defensive IQ. But, he’s also one of the premier offensive players in the league, with elite lob-passing and scoring ability. Young, while having a down-shooting season, is also an excellent shooter. But, his refusal to put significant effort towards playing off-ball, and tweaking his play to assist Dejounte Murray, who, reminder, the Hawks traded three first round picks for (3 is really crazy when you think about it) is concerning. This team has been one of the most lost teams in the league, suffocating at just around .500. Jump ship before you end up like the Washington Wizards. 

Miami Heat

Oh, the Miami Heat. Do you get rid of Pat Riley? The current, albeit legendary President of Basketball Operations has truly put one of the most horrid rosters around superstar wing Jimmy Butler, while also handing out a wreckless contract extension to Duncan Robinson and an admittedly, retrospectively horrific signing of Kyle Lowry. The team just seems asleep at the wheel, they have one of the best coaches in the league, and significant talent, but a lack of outer depth to properly buoy the team. They also have an incredibly small amount of options, with a lack of significant draft capital to really do much of anything. It’s just such a shame to see this team fledgling and look so directionless. Maybe things will reveal themselves next season. 

Charlotte Hornets

Can this team just start winning? And, more importantly, can they win the draft? Can they add a Victor Wembanyama, a Brandon Miller, a Scoot Henderson, an Ausar Thompson? This team doesn’t really need more talent, it just needs things to break the right way. A significant addition from the draft would help, but really they just need health and consistency. The talent on the roster isn’t half bad, and I like rookie center Mark Williams. Their coach, Steve Clifford, has done a solid job of generating buy-in to his defensive scheme, and I’m actually excited to see how that looks with LaMelo Ball next season, with his off-ball activity. I think things will ultimately resolve themselves for the Hornets, and they just need more time for things to figure themselves out and for roster pieces to start clicking. 

Utah Jazz

I don’t really know what this organization wants. It seemed that they had expressed interest in tanking this season, with the roster construction, but they just won. A lot. Their new head coach, Will Hardy, did an excellent job, and Lauri Markkanen revealed himself as an all-star, but this team ultimately fell out of the play-in race. I guess, my main question would be, can this team find a direction? Do they want to build with Lauri, with the draft, or maybe they’re doing both? I just don’t know how fruitful being too good to be high in the draft order, while also being too bad to be in the play-in is. 

Sacramento Kings

Can you add defensive talent to this roster without giving too much up on offense? The Kings held the league’s best offensive rating ever, but there’s a reason there’s so much doubt surrounding this team going into the postseason. There is nowhere near enough defensive talent to properly bolster this team. But, you don’t wanna fix something that ain’t broke. I think the key for the Kings is finding two-way talent. I really think a player like Jarred Vanderbilt would be great for their team, the motor and athleticism to bloom in their quick-hitting offense, and the versatility as a rim protector and perimeter lockdown to give the Kings switch-ability on the defensive end. They’re a great story, but how will things shape out if they can’t make a playoff run, and just making the playoffs isn’t enough to satisfy Kings fans?

New York Knicks

Can the Knicks get the guy? Can the Knicks bring in a significant superstar, a spectacular addition, that allows star point guard Jalen Brunson and likely All-NBA forward Julius Randle to relax more into their roles? They have plenty of draft assets and a plethora of young talent, as well as the contracts to match. If the Knicks can get the right guy, the superstar, then things look better. They have a solid team, but not nearly enough to compete with the top teams in their conference. 

Los Angeles Lakers

Is this the roster? Is this really the roster that, going into next season, could be a top-3 seed in the conference? The Lakers have had the best record in the West after the All-Star break. But, is that really enough? While I like the new additions of Jarred Vanderbilt, D’Angelo Russel, and Malik Beasley, is that really enough to make them contenders? Do you want to shell out the massive contract required for Russel? How about drafted, fan-favorite Austin Reaves, who could be looking at a sizable contract this offseason? I guess, while I like this team, and in theory it has solid pieces, I’m so unsure of what this team really is and what it can look like. What really is the ceiling, especially going into next season, as LeBron James ages another year, as well as an ever-injured Anthony Davis? It feels like the floor could fall out beneath them at any time if James declines. I guess, really the question is, can LeBron James continue to be great?

Orlando Magic

I will be the first to admit that I did not watch a lot of Magic games. I think the Magic’s biggest question is, will Paolo Banchero get better? And I am confident he will, to some degree, but the outside shot is concerning. Here is your franchise cornerstone, the guy who is supposed to carry you through the next couple seasons, and evolve into a top-10 player, and I have serious concerns about his ability to shoot the ball in a league that requires shooting more and more. While Paolo Banchero was not my Rookie of the Year, I respect his massive (literally) talent, and trust his playmaking ability, but when I watch him, I don’t see a top-10 player. 

Dallas Mavericks

Wow, this team makes me sad. This team has the league’s most exciting young talent, an MVP caliber player since he was 20-21, and yet they have built such an ugly roster around him. The blunders are apparent. Let’s look back at the track record of the Mavericks’ moves around Luka Doncic: First round picks and contracts for Kristaps Porzingis (who they traded at last year’s trade deadline), a failure to make a contract extension with blooming star Jalen Brunson (who they let walk for nothing), and then, finally, a trade for headcase Kyrie Irving (who they traded Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, and a 2029 first round pick for), who has one year left on his deal and very well could walk this offseason. Can the Mavericks keep Luka Doncic happy?

Brooklyn Nets

I love the Nets roster but I do wonder what exactly the ceiling is. Can Mikal Bridges continue to make offensive leaps? Can Cam Thomas add enough to his defense to earn more minutes? This team has all the supplemental pieces, championship-level role players and an excellent defense bolstered by DPOY candidate Nicolas Claxton, I guess you just wonder if they have enough offense to really push the needle. I want to see Cam Thomas, who seems to score 40 points any time he gets in the starting lineup, make improvements in his point-of-attack defense and help contribute to Nets switching scheme in at least some regard. I also want to see Mikal Bridges give us more and more of that offensive punch, and upgrade his passing to punish doubles and help. This team is exciting. I just want to see more from the pieces they already have. 

Denver Nuggets

Can we get more from Michael Porter Jr.? I mean, at this point, it feels like we already kind of know what we’re getting, elite shot-making, but sloppy defense. I would love to see Porter Jr. improve his defense, improve his help-rim protection, and give the Nuggets some more versatility in how they operate around Nikola Jokic’s lackluster defense as a center. The Nuggets are going to be good for awhile, I just think the supplemental pieces are going to have to reflect the 2011 Dallas Mavericks to some degree. How much defense can you put around Jokic without losing too much on offense?

Indiana Pacers

The Pacers need wing-defense, bad. The Pacers had the 26th worst defensive rating in the league. Can the Pacers add someone in the draft to improve that? Best-case scenario, they grab Brandon Miller, a two-way wing who can shoot, create, pass, and defend (outside of the best case scenario being that they get the 1st overall pick and can draft generational prospect Victor Wembanyama). I also want to see Benedict Mathurin return to the level he started the year at. The shooting will regress to the mean, but I want to see more confidence and decisiveness in the shot. The defense needs to take a step up as well. 

New Orleans Pelicans

Do you trade Zion Williamson? Is that really worth it? You have enough talent, enough of a supporting cast, along with the continued improvement of Brandon Ingram, that there is an argument that you move Williamson on for an All-NBA caliber player. Williamson has only played 114 (!!!) games in over four seasons in the league. The injuries are frequent and awkward, and have odd and ever-changing timelines. While Zion Williamson is one of the best prospects to ever come to the league, I have serious concerns about his health and his ability to remain on the court. It might be smart to move on from him while his value is still high. 

Detroit Pistons

Is Cade Cunningham returning healthy enough for this team to be significantly better? Cunningham has kind of become an afterthought over the course of the season, as a shin injury took him out for most of the year. We didn’t get to see any improvement, anything new really click for the young guard, so it’s going to be interesting next year to see how he fits in and finally gets to have his sophomore season. I’m excited for the Pistons and I think all of it centers around Cade Cunningham becoming an elite offensive player. Can he become that?

Toronto Raptors

Can team president Masai Ujiri finally blow this team up? Or is he still holding onto the scraps of a 2019 championship team? Scottie Barnes, last year’s Rookie of the Year, has hit a wall and we haven’t seen much offensive improvement. The defense has slipped as well. Plus, there are some serious concerns about Scottie Barnes’ fit with Pascal Siakam, and oh, OG Anunoby, and oh yeah, this roster is full of 6 ‘8 wings with similar skill sets that it’s bound to make someone redundant in any lineup. This team has been teetering between lottery-bound and playoff-hungry. They need to clear the board, reset the pieces, and focus on improving Scottie Barnes and adding young pieces around him. 

Houston Rockets

This team can’t lose next year. They legitimately can’t. They owe their 2024 first round pick to Oklahoma City, so losing is not much of an incentive. Can this team add a coach who can get serious buy-in from these players? Because this team was absolutely putrid in its offense, and was happy to allow anyone to the basket on defense. The James Harden rumors, which I talked about, I really don’t like from the Rockets point-of-view. You have two offensive guards who need to see improvement and need reps on the ball. Bringing in James Harden, I promise you, he will dribble that ball till it has no air left in it. Yes, Harden has had an elite season as a point guard and setting up his teammates, but I doubt we see that same Harden when he returns to his helio-centric stomping grounds and does not have a Joel Embiid to swallow up possessions. Just build upon what you have. Don’t get ahead of yourself because you’re so scared of losing. 

Portland Trail Blazers

Please trade Damian Lillard. This relationship is getting toxic at this point. I know Damian Lillard wants to stay, he wants to be a one-jersey, one-team player. But this team has no realistic chance of improving around him. Can the Blazers move on from Lillard and build around an insanely talented young roster? Shaedon Sharpe has had a ridiculous stretch to end the season, putting up 20+ points on several occasions. Anfernee Simons had a case for Most Improved Player last season and is an insanely talented off-the-dribble, off-screens three point shooter. The team brought in Matisse Thybulle and Cam Reddish at the trade deadline, two young players who are interesting prospects. I just want to see this team not suffocate its youth under its overly ambitious goals. 

San Antonio Spurs

If you are the Spurs, you are crossing your fingers that you get the 1st overall or even 2nd overall pick. This team desperately needs shotmaking and a player for an offense to be structured around, someone who can really move the needle. But, does legendary Coach Greg Popvich stay around? Even if the Spurs luck out and draft generational prospect Victor Wembanyama, will Coach Pop stay around for the ride? How does the Spurs culture change without him? How will things shape out in his absence? I don’t think people often think this much about a coach’s impact, but Popovich has had an elite history and control of an organization’s culture. I would love for him to stay around, to nurture the league’s best prospect since LeBron James, or even the super athlete Scoot Henderson, but I totally understand a 74 year old’s desire to retire. 

Phoenix Suns

Can Chris Paul not fall off a cliff? Chris Paul is age 38, turning 39 this playoffs, and his play has significantly taken a step down this season. I have serious concerns that Paul could only age worse, making a sort-of big three in Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Chris Paul, into an elite two of Kevin Durant and Devin Booker. The Suns have to win now and so ultimately their biggest question is do they win the championship or not? And if not, what moves need to be made around the edges to make this a championship level team?

Oklahoma City Thunder

I love this team. When do the Thunder become buyers? They have 3 insanely talented young players, an injured and resting Chet Holmgren, 15 (!!!) first round picks in the next five years, and they have an absolute superstar in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. So, when do the Thunder decide, “Hey, we’re trading for this superstar.” Or, do they have enough confidence in their ability to draft, that they hold onto as much of their draft capital that they can. But, there’s a certain rule when it comes to drafting and scouting, never get too confident in your own evaluations. Now, if there is any exception to that rule, it would likely be Sam Presti, but (and this is a big but), this team needs to not get too high on its own stuff. You have had an insanely productive stretch of drafting and trades, don’t get too greedy. Build around what you have ascertained. This is the team that has the undeniable package, the package so insanely enticing, that teams will be willing to give up MVP-caliber players in return. I could see this team trading for a Jimmy Butler, a Kawhi Leonard, maybe even a Joel Embiid (although I doubt Embiid would be excited to live in Oklahoma City). All I’m saying is, what you’re doing is great, but don’t mistake the sky for the horizon, and end up lost in your own flood of young talent and draft picks you have no clue who to use on. 

Minnesota Timberwolves

How soon before you have no other choice but to trade Rudy Gobert? The absolute mess that this team has become in a complete spiral of the last game of the season, punches thrown on the sideline, hands broken on walls, suspensions, lackluster chemistry, a team lacking any semblance of depth. This team has become ugly. Not to mention, Rudy Gobert was traded for four first round picks, Jarred Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley, Patrick Beverly, oh and don’t forget, Rookie of the Year candidate Walker Kessler, who has served functionally as a Rudy Gobert-esque player, with a higher ceiling offensively. Rudy Gobert punching Kyle Anderson was a cherry on top. I can’t believe this team has fallen this low. The complete lack of chemistry, and the fact that Rudy Gobert’s contract is so expensive, this is looking like an inevitable Rudy Gobert trade. I don’t understand how we got here. But, it seems the Timberwolves might have to salvage their relationship with star Anthony Edwards by moving the French center to another team, for likely way less than they paid to bring him to Minnesota. 

Golden State Warriors

Do you really let Draymond Green walk? The end of a dynasty, just like that, because you wanted to shell out a 140 million dollar contract to Jordan Poole, who has looked worth way less than his pay grade this year. I understand it has been messy. The Warriors two timeline vision has been way worse than “not working out.” It has arguably sabotaged their chances of winning a championship this year and the years to follow. The Warriors got greedy. They thought they could do something no team or organization has ever done. Because the truth is, you don’t find Steph Curry’s, Draymond Green’s, and Klay Thompson’s in the draft all the time. These caliber of players are rare. The NBA draft is a crapshoot, every year. Not even #1 overall picks are guaranteed to be anything. The Warriors tried to bridge two eras, but what really bothers me about it, is that they are taking for granted the franchise’s greatest player ever. This team should be true-blood contenders, but as they currently stand, they are a #6 seed who will have to play on the road in any Game 7 they play-in, and they have been horrid on the road this year. Leading into next year, the organization is forced to reflect. It’s creepy how much this reflects Michael Jordan’s tenure with the Chicago Bulls, where organizations and front offices can convince themselves that they are better than the players they drafted and put on the court. That these things are easily replicable. This team needs to take advantage of the talent they have. And get over the teams they could have in the future. Nothing is guaranteed for the future, but what is guaranteed is that you have Stephen Curry on your roster. Stop playing pretend championships for the future, and start putting the pieces together to win championships now. 

Washington Wizards

Do you really want this to be the franchise? Is 35, 38, maybe even 42 win seasons this franchise’s destiny? Because if so, then this team needs to accept that they will never go anywhere. They can’t even make the play-in tournament. Nothing suggests that they are heading in the direction of winning basketball. This team would be better off losing every game than putting this same lackluster roster out next year and crossing their fingers that they get lucky. Who knows, they could get extremely lucky and jump up several spots to have a high draft pick. But, for all I’m concerned, this team does not have a track record of luck. 

So, that’s it! That’s every team in the league, painstakingly covered and overthinked. Some teams have more pressing questions than others. Each team has its own angle and each team has its own issue to be resolved. It wouldn’t be the National Basketball Association if there wasn’t a flurry of drama surrounding every situation. The league is exciting, and before you have a panic attack about your team’s future, just enjoy this year’s playoffs (if your team made it). It’s a great time to be a fan, and there has never been so much talent. Don’t get too caught up on the future and miss the greatness in front of you. 


Photo Caption: NBA Conference Finals are coming up Tuesday, May 16 for the West, and Wednesday, May 17 for the East.