The Question Every NBA Team Has Failed to Answer This Season

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 7, 2021

The Question Every NBA Team Has Failed to Answer This Season

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Lessons are learned on every step of the NBA's marathon journey through the regular season.

    Preseason questions can go months without an answer. New inquiries can arise amid personnel changes or when on-court performances don't align with expectations.

    Usually, there's enough data by the halfway point to form some kind of conclusions. But we're approaching the three-quarter mark of the 2020-21 campaign, and every team has at least one question it has failed to answer.

Atlanta Hawks: Is John Collins a Keeper?

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    So far the Hawks have opted against splitting from John Collins, but holding him through the trade deadline isn't the same thing as ponying up the money he's after in free agency. The last time these two sides talked contracts, he was angling for a max deal, and they were putting about $90 million on the table, per ESPN's Brian Windhorst.

    "Atlanta's not in love with him," a front office executive told B/R's Jake Fischer.

    The Hawks have several possible replacements in-house—including Danilo Gallinari and De'Andre Hunter at the 4, plus Clint Capela and Onyeka Okongwu at the 5—so they'll be cautious about overpaying. Saying that, Collins is a 23-year-old with career averages of 16.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.0 blocks and 0.9 threes in 28.7 minutes per game. Letting a player this young and this skilled walk away for nothing wouldn't be easy.

Boston Celtics: Can Kemba Conquer His Knee Trouble?

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    The Celtics need Kemba Walker to pan out for a lot of reasons. They're paying him like a superstar, for starters, and they need him to perform like one since their margin for error slimmed down when Gordon Hayward exited in free agency.

    But Walker hasn't looked right all season, which he started late due to ongoing issues with his left knee. His 39.7 field-goal percentage is his lowest since 2014-15. Same goes for his 34.9 three-point percentage. The gap between his assist percentage (23.4) and turnover percentage (11.2) is the smallest it's ever been. He still can't play both ends of a back-to-back.

    He was a principal part of Boston's championship plans coming into the season. But if he can't get his knee to cooperate, he might wind up as the reason this organization needs to postpone them.

Brooklyn Nets: Can They Get Stops When They Need Them?

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Defense doesn't win championships by itself. It's just that it makes for a catchier slogan than the real truth: Two-way balance wins NBA championships.

    But defense is half of that equation, which makes Brooklyn's outlook a bit murky. If a team could ever score its way to a world title, this might be it. The Kevin Durant-James Harden-Kyrie Irving trio alone is an offensive cheat code come to life. But their struggles at the defensive end, where the Nets rank 25th rank 25th in efficiency, have potential to be a fatal flaw.

    "Offensively, we're one of the best teams in this league," Harden said in early February, per NBA.com's Shaun Powell. "But can we man up and get stops individually?"

    Two months later, that question hasn't been answered. It won't be until the Nets are facing the Association's elite on basketball's biggest stages. Only then will we discover whether this offensive magic show can summon up the energy, effort and attention to detail needed to secure have-to-have-them defensive stops this postseason.

Charlotte Hornets: Who's Their Center for the Future?

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    Jacob Kupferman/Associated Press

    Just about everything was coming up Hornets this season before LaMelo Ball's wrist got in the way. Even now, as the franchise's star freshman works his way back from surgery, this roster might still have enough to not only secure its first playoff trip since 2016 but actually skirt past the play-in tournament to get there.

    These are exciting times for Charlotte—until your eyes run across the center spot. It's as uninspiring as ever down there, and it will only get trickier to manage as both Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo head off into unrestricted free agency this offseason. Even if Hornets fans are ready to move on, there aren't internal replacements beyond P.J. Washington (as a super-small-ball 5) and untested rookie Vernon Carey Jr.

    The Hornets have at least explored some solutions. They explored deadline deals for Andre Drummond, Myles Turner, Montrezl Harrell and Richaun Holmes, per Fischer. But since none came to fruition, Charlotte is no closer to solving this problem than it was when the season tipped off.

Chicago Bulls: Who Moves the Ball?

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    The Bulls aren't short on scoring threats, but without a top-shelf floor general to bring them together, this offense is like a high-powered engine without no one at the wheel.

    Five players average more than a dozen points per game, including All-Stars Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic. Chicago has a top-10 field-goal percentage and a top-half three-point splash rate. This should be an attack that strikes fear in every opponent.

    Instead, it slots in at 16th overall in efficiency, nestled in between the Indiana Pacers and Hornets. The problem is both a lack of impact passers—no one averages more than Tomas Satoransky's 5.0 assists per game—and an inability to control the basketball (27th in turnover percentage). Each could be solved with a standout point guard, but Chicago is left carrying over its search for one into the offseason.

Cleveland Cavaliers: What's the Best Way to End the Kevin Love Saga?

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    Matthew Hinton/Associated Press

    Tea leaves weren't needed to know that Kevin Love's extension with the post-LeBron James Cavaliers was always headed toward a mess. When he put pen to paper on a four-year, $120 million extension in July 2018, he was already 29 years old. What role was a pricey elder statesman supposed to play on a team that had just been forced out of the championship hunt?

    Injuries have kept the Cavaliers from needing to think too hard about that question. Love lost most of 2018-19 to a toe injury, while a calf injury has limited him to six appearances this season. He stayed mostly healthy in 2019-20, which meant he averaged the second-most minutes and points on one of the worst teams in basketball (29th in winning percentage and net rating).

    It's time for this fish-out-of-water situation to end, but how? A trade seems the obvious answer, but the Cavs are asking for too much at the moment. As of July, Cleveland.com's Chris Fedor reported they were eyeing "some combination of draft picks and young, ascending players for Love," which isn't remotely possible.

    If the Cavs can't set a realistic asking price (which might be salary relief and nothing else), then this awkward partnership will continue.

Dallas Mavericks: When Is the Third Star Coming?

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Dallas' vision for a championship roster sounds fascinating.

    It starts with Luka Doncic as the epicenter of the foundation. He's a 21-year-old MVP candidate and 6'7" premier playmaker. You decide which label sounds more flattering, but they're both accurate and absurd. From there, the building blocks include 7'3" shooter and shot-blocker Kristaps Porzingis and a mythical third star they've been chasing for years.

    Let me guess: You spotted the issue. Yeah, that third star doesn't exist in Dallas, and frankly, it's getting harder to tell where this club can find one. The 2021 free-agent pool is drying up, and there isn't an obvious high-level player to target in trades (at least until Bradley Beal wants out). With Doncic becoming extension-eligible this offseason, the time to get a third star is now—if the Mavs can sniff one out.

Denver Nuggets: Can Michael Porter Jr. Be a Champion's Third Option?

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Because Michael Porter Jr.'s career started with the NBA's equivalent of a medical redshirt, and because the 6'10" scoring forward has made net-shredding seem so simple, it's easy to forget how young and inexperienced he is.

    The 22-year-old has just 94 regular-season games under his belt so far. Mikal Bridges, the player taken four picks ahead of Porter in 2018, has played 203. That means plenty of fascinating things for Porter's future, like if he's toying with NBA defenders to this degree now—he owns a career 52.4/43.8/78.9 shooting slash—what kind of offensive wizardry will he cook up once he really gets comfortable?

    But the Nuggets are less worried about that than what he can do right now—or in a few months, when the spotlight brightens for the NBA playoffs. They might have a championship formula featuring an MVP candidate in Nikola Jokic, a fiery star sidekick in Jamal Murray and the big-wing defender they needed in Aaron Gordon. But they also need Porter to consistently be a difference-maker, and the jury is still out on whether he can pull that off on the postseason stage.

Detroit Pistons: Is Killian Hayes a Cornerstone?

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    The Pistons were always locked into playing the long game from the second they made Killian Hayes the seventh overall selection of the 2020 draft. He had shown flashes of advanced footwork and intriguing vision, but there were obvious weak spots, too, like an allergy to going right and erratic shooting off of the catch.

    Since Detroit was already stepping into a top-to-bottom rebuild when Hayes arrived, there wasn't much urgency attached to his transition. At the same time, being able to have a rough sketch of his NBA trajectory was going to prove invaluable in terms of proper roster construction.

    His first seven games showed more miss than hit—literally, as he was bogged down by a dismal 27.7/25.0/50.0 shooting slash—and then disaster struck in the form of a hip injury that wound up knocking him out for three months. He recently returned to the lineup, but with only a little more than two months remaining in the campaign, Detroit will likely head into this offseason not knowing how big of a role Hayes can handle in its future.

Golden State Warriors: Is James Wiseman a Better Prospect or Trade Chip?

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    One look at the post-LeBron James Cavaliers or James Harden-less Houston Rockets is all you need to understand the potential perils of leaving the cupboards bone-dry after a furious championship chase. From that standpoint, it makes sense for the Warriors to be wary of over-investing in the present at the expensive of the future.

    At the same time, Golden State could have reasons to feel good about its championship odds already next season. Slot a healthy Klay Thompson alongside Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins, and you could have the outline of a contender. But the rest of the roster needs work, and that's where an uncomfortable conversation could spawn.

    The Dubs boast some of the Association's top trade chips—should they choose to put them in play. James Wiseman, this year's second overall pick, is firmly in that discussion as an athletic 7-footer who can play above the rim and maintain effectiveness away from it. But he's also really rough around the edges, and smoothing those areas out will take time.

    So, is it sensible to work with Wiseman on his development, knowing that slower than expected progress could put next year's championship hopes in jeopardy? Or is it riskier to dump him for a win-now piece, which might not push this team over the top, and wind up watching him put it all together elsewhere? That's a conversation that's surely keeping the franchise's top decision-makers up at night.

Houston Rockets: What's the Timeline?

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    Troy Taormina/Associated Press

    It can sometimes take years to properly evaluate a blockbuster trade. Houston's January split from James Harden does not look like one of those mega-deals.

    Frankly, the Rockets blew it. One day, they rostered one of this generation's most explosive offensive weapons. The next, they had shipped him out for a package of draft picks (good!) and a group of players that could have included Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert but instead was headlined by Victor Oladipo (huh?).

    Houston either figured it could field a more competitive club with Oladipo—which obviously didn't happen as the team torpedoed through a 20-game losing streak—or thought it could flip him for something more substantial at the deadline. The Rockets did deal him to the Heat at the deadline, but netted only Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and pick-swap rights for 2022.

    That's what's known in the business as an Oomph!, a horrifically mishandled pair of exchanges that make you wonder what exactly the Rockets are chasing. They have some interesting pieces in the likes of Christian Wood and Jae'Sean Tate, but since both are already 25 years old, they aren't what you'd typically expect to find at the center of a long-term rebuild.

    When is Houston even hoping to be decent, and how the heck does it plan to get there?

Indiana Pacers: Is the Supersized Frontcourt Working?

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    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    This is the second season in which the Pacers have rolled out their jumbo frontcourt combo of Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis in the same starting lineup. It's a large zig (in more ways than one) against the nearly league-wide zag toward small-ball.

    Last season, it worked well enough for Indy to snag the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. This year, it's simply not coming together the way it needs to. The Pacers are down to ninth in the East. They're a forgettable 17th in net rating and less efficient than normal when Turner and Sabonis share the hardwood (minus-0.2 net rating on the season, minus-1.1 with the twin towers together).

    The Pacers made clear they weren't interested in maintaining the status quo when they axed former coach Nate McMillan in August and replaced him with Nate Bjorkgren. But they haven't changed up the frontcourt yet. Is it time to pull the plug on this unique (outdated?) approach, and if so, which big man is worth keeping around?

Los Angeles Clippers: What's the Fix at Point Guard?

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Rajon Rondo wasn't the Clippers' biggest splash acquisition at the trade deadline. That distinction instead went to the mythical hooper known as Playoff Rondo, a player who has handled critical roles on a pair of NBA champions and a bunch of postseason participants.

    But is this really the solution for L.A.'s lack of playmaking? Rondo hasn't been a full-time starter since 2017-18, and prior to the trade, he was underwhelming the Hawks with nightly contributions of just 3.9 points and 3.5 assists in 14.9 minutes. Prior to his Clippers debut, though, he was already being regarded as an impact floor general.

    "Rondo's a leader, you know the point guard, he's a leader," Paul George said, per ESPN's Ohm Youngmisuk. "We're going to listen to him. I look at him as a leader, a leader of this group. He'll hold a lot of weight."

    That feels like wishful thinking for a 35-year-old with declining regular-season production, but again, this isn't about regular-season Rondo. If the Clippers can somehow summon Playoff Rondo, maybe they'll finally give this franchise its first world title and Kawhi Leonard a big reason to stick around in free agency.

Los Angeles Lakers: Does This Supporting Cast Have Enough?

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    The Lakers are limping toward the stretch run with six losses over their last nine outings. Considering they've been playing without both LeBron James (ankle) and Anthony Davis (calf), some of these struggles were expected.

    Saying that, though, they do increase the spotlight on a supporting cast that hasn't always inspired great confidence this season. The center spot has yet to click. Wesley Matthews has been on a season-long search for his three-ball. Kyle Kuzma hasn't been immune to duds. Talen Horton-Tucker has been as up-and-down as you'd expect for a 20-year-old getting his first real taste of NBA action.

    Assuming James and Davis are healthy when it matters most, the Lakers will make the short list of the league's top contenders. But they'll need role players to deliver in major moments, like Rondo, Dwight Howard and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope did last season. Can this group deliver? That's hard to say.

Memphis Grizzlies: Who Else Is in the Long-Term Core?

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    Garett Fisbeck/Associated Press

    The Grizzlies have one of the Association's most electric young stars in reigning Rookie of the Year Ja Morant. But how many other players on this roster will be around The Bluff City for the long haul?

    Jaren Jackson Jr. is probably in that group, but he's had injury issues before and hasn't suited up at all this season while recovering from knee surgery. Speaking of injuries, it's starting to seam Justise Winslow's inability to avoid them could prevent him from establishing himself in this nucleus.

    Brandon Clarke, Desmond Bane, De'Anthony Melton and Xavier Tillman are reasonable answers, but it's hard classifying any role player as indispensable. Jonas Valanciunas and Kyle Anderson are fine, but are they worth more to this club than what they'll collect in 2022 free agency? Does Dillon Brooks do enough to offset his quick trigger and inefficient shooting?

    Long-term, Memphis' arrow is pointing up, but it's tough to tell how many of these players not named Ja Morant will be around when the Grizzlies actually make the leap.

Miami Heat: Who Handles Power Forward?

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    Mike Stobe/Associated Press

    It isn't often an NBA franchise is haunted by the free-agency exit of a role player, but there's a reason Heat fans are still lamenting the offseason departure of Jae Crowder.

    It's not that Crowder is great—though he certainly had some great moments in the bubble—it's that Miami never put in the effort to properly replace him. The Heat either overvalued what they had in-house or overestimated what they'd be able to add externally. The latest attempted solution is 35-year-old Trevor Ariza, a 6'8", 215-pounder who hadn't played in over a year after opting out of last season's restart for personal reasons.

    The position label may not matter much in an increasingly position-less league, but it's more about coach Erik Spoelstra finding his best five-man lineup to handle the biggest playoff moments. One can argue that Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro have all secured their spots, but the last one is proving trickier than Miami might have imagined.

Milwaukee Bucks: Are They Finally Ready for Playoff Adjustments?

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    In each of the last two seasons, the Bucks reigned supreme in the regular season and promptly collapsed in the playoffs without escaping the East. They have taken steps to strengthen their roster since—notably, adding Jrue Holiday, P.J. Tucker, Bobby Portis and Bryn Forbes—but have they done enough to avoid their previous pitfalls?

    Swapping out Eric Bledsoe for Holiday will help at both ends, and Tucker should give this defense more flexibility. Their willingness to switch more defensively will make them less predictable, as will their decreased reliance on Giannis Antetokounmpo (32.8 usage percentage, down from 37.5) and expanded offensive menu with Holiday steering the ship.

    Milwaukee still needs to prove it can unload a counter punch when teams inevitably pack the paint against Antetokounmpo, though. The Bucks don't win a championship unless he's playing great, so they have to show they can find ways for him to succeed against defenses game-planning against the things he does best.

Minnesota Timberwolves: How Does Karl-Anthony Towns Get More Help?

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    Craig Lassig/Associated Press

    Karl-Anthony Towns made a single playoff trip in his first five NBA seasons. He won't be booking his second during year No. 6, as his Timberwolves have tumbled to the bottom of the conference standings.

    Now what? Sure, it would help if this roster was healthier, but does anyone look at this group and spot anything close to a contender? Can anyone even see that possibility coming to fruition at some point in the future? My crystal ball sure can't.

    The Wolves went all-in on offense, and their attack (26th in efficiency) is basically no better than their defense (27th). With D'Angelo Russell back at the helm, can they at least spruce up the offense enough to generate some kind of optimism for next season?

    Russell and Towns have only played six games together, so theoretically there's still hope these two can build something together. But if it doesn't happen during the stretch run, vultures will really start circling the Gopher State and trying everything they can to pry Towns loose.

New Orleans Pelicans: Is Lonzo Ball Sticking Around?

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    Matthew Hinton/Associated Press

    Last season, the Pelicans needed to see Brandon Ingram perform at a high level before giving him the bag. Could the same thing be playing out with another principal member of the 2019 Anthony Davis mega-deal?

    For a while, it seemed Lonzo Ball wouldn't be long for New Orleans. The Pelicans were listening to trade calls for Ball in January, per The Athletic and Stadium's Shams Charania, but Ball's play perked up almost immediately after that report, and he stayed put through the deadline.

    However, some of the bigger factors behind those trade talks—Ball's impending restricted free agency, and New Orleans' need to create more playing time for young guards Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kira Lewis Jr.—still exist. If Ball's sprint to the finish line (44.3/43.1/85.3 shooting slash over his last 26 games) dramatically increases his upcoming pay raise, will the Pelicans be on the hook for it?

    Even if they like him, there's surely a walkaway price point. But good luck figuring out what that amount is.

New York Knicks: What's the Plan at Point Guard?

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    Elsa/Associated Press

    Just last season, Julius Randle's sixth in the NBA, Marc Berman of the New York Post reported some of Randle's teammates "were frustrated by Randle's penchant for not distributing the ball quickly enough and overdribbling."

    One year later, Randle is the club's top shot-creator by a mile. That says two things. The first is he's growing in that role, having nearly doubled his assists average from 2019-20 (6.0, up from 3.1). The other is that New York's lengthy point guard search is very much ongoing.

    In an ideal world, Randle wouldn't be tasked with primary playmaking duties. Same goes for Derrick Rose, RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley and Elfrid Payton. Rose is ticking through the twilight of his career. Barrett and Quickley are programmed as scorers. Payton is over his head as a starting point guard.

    Even with development from Randle, Barrett and Quickley and the addition of Rose, the questions at this premier position aren't going away.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Other Than SGA, Who Are the Keepers?

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    Mark Black/Associated Press

    Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is running unopposed in the best-player-on-the-Thunder elections. As for their second-best player, there's a chance it's someone on a college or high school roster who will eventually be snapped up with one of OKC's myriad draft picks.

    Luguentz Dort is a relentless defender, but his offensive game is almost nonexistent. Swap Darius Bazley's name into that sentence, and you could copy and paste the rest. Aleksey Pokusevski is fearless on offense, but there hasn't been much substance beneath the swagger. Theo Maledon might be decent, but he's a tough evaluation when a rash of injuries has him handling a much bigger offensive role than he should.

    The Thunder probably aren't banking on all of these youngsters to hit. Rather, they're throwing a bunch darts and hoping to walk away with a bull's-eye or two. It's not the worst strategy for a rebuilder, but it'd be nice to see a few of these players materialize as legitimate building blocks.

Orlando Magic: Who Leads This Team into the Future?

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Credit the Magic for finally pulling the plug on their annual pursuit of the eighth seed and embracing the life of a rebuilder. Now, they need to figure out how they're going to reconstruct their roster.

    They have tipped their hands to some degree, as SI.com's Chris Mannix reported ahead of the deadline that only Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz were "considered untouchable" in Orlando. Considering both inked extensions before the season—four years, $80 million for Isaac; three years, $50 million for Fultz—the report surprised no one.

    But it also shed light on how much—or how little, really—the Magic have set aside for this overhaul. There are good amounts of length, athleticism and defensive potential with this pair, but not a ton of offense so far. Isaac has a single-digit career scoring average. Fultz' career 13.4 player efficiency rating lags behind the league-average mark of 15.0.

    For them to be the obvious keepers here says a lot about whom they have around them.

Philadelphia 76ers: Is This Offense Championship-Caliber?

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Joel Embiid has elevated every aspect of his offense to personal-best levels. Tobias Harris has never been more efficient. Hired gunners Seth Curry and Danny Green have both splashed better than 40 percent of their three-point looks. Shake Milton has a 30-point outburst under his belt. So does rookie Tyrese Maxey.

    So, does it concern anyone else that Philadelphia's offense slots just 14th in efficiency?

    It's not like there are many obvious ways for coach Doc Rivers to squeeze more juice out of this orange. If you'd like to offer up Ben Simmons' embracing the three-point line as a solution, I'd point you to three-plus years of data saying that isn't happening.

    The Sixers are absolutely ferocious on defense, and they have one of the league's most unguardable weapons in Embiid. But knowing that their playoff opponents will sell out on stopping the superstar center, it's hard not to wonder if this supporting cast has enough other scorers and shot-creators to make this work.

Phoenix Suns: What's the Right Role for Deandre Ayton?

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    How much Deandre Ayton is the right amount for the Suns? Two-plus seasons since he arrived as 2018's top overall pick, that answer still isn't clear.

    He has some unstoppable moments that make you think Phoenix should be prioritizing him more on the offensive end. He has others where he disappears to the point you wonder if he'll be passed over in crunch-time playoff situations.

    Since he's no higher than third on the offensive hierarchy—fourth if you go by usage percentage—it's likely his role will keep fluctuating from one night to the next. Some games, he'll need to dominate. Others, he'll take on the blue-collar duties of rebounding and paint protection. It's hard to say if that's good for his development or even in the team's best interest.

Portland Trail Blazers: Will Defense Be Their Undoing Again?

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    Steve Dykes/Associated Press

    If the Nets can chase a championship at the offensive end, why can't the Trail Blazers?

    Because, with all due respect to Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, there isn't the same level of firepower. Oh, and the defense is even worse, yielding a dreadful 115.9 points per 100 possessions—worse than the Nets and every other team not named the Sacramento Kings.

    To be fair, Portland seems more than comfortable with this approach. You don't put Lillard, McCollum, Carmelo Anthony and Enes Kanter on the roster and think you're building a defensive juggernaut.

    The Blazers pack a mean enough scoring punch to knock out any opponent four times in a seven-game series. But asking them to do that in four consecutive rounds is probably too much.

Sacramento Kings: What's the Plan for Marvin Bagley III?

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    Randall Benton/Associated Press

    It's pretty incredible that Marvin Bagley III's father tweeting a trade request to the Kings didn't become a bigger story. It was talked about, sure, but not to the degree you might expect considering Bagley isn't even three years removed from being the second overall pick.

    But that kind of encapsulates the current states of both Bagley and the Kings. He has had several run-ins with the injury bug and rarely moved the needle when healthy. They're getting good mileage out of De'Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton, but they don't have enough to even enter the Western Conference's middle class.

    Bagley's name surfaced around the trade deadline, but there wasn't much response. The Athletic's Sam Amick and Jason Jones reported there was "minimal" interest in Bagley around the league.

    Can Sacramento still get something from this significant investment? Or are the two sides effectively stuck with one another until he reaches restricted free agency in 2022?

San Antonio Spurs: What's the Endgame?

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    Darren Abate/Associated Press

    What are the Spurs chasing?

    It's tempting to say maximum competitiveness, since Gregg Popovich is still calling the shots. But if that was the aim, why did they buy out their fourth-leading scorer, LaMarcus Aldridge? That would seem to point the arrow more toward rebuilding, but why would a rebuilder keep a trio of 30-somethings on expiring contracts past the deadline, like San Antonio did with DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay and Patty Mills?

    The Spurs are kind of just treading water around the Western Conference play-in tournament. Some of their young players might benefit from some postseason experience, but how much would a one-game cameo help? San Antonio is short on young players with sky-high ceilings. It's hard to see how this organization finds its way to one in the near future.

Toronto Raptors: Is This the End for Kyle Lowry?

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Everything seemed in order for a Kyle Lowry trade at the deadline.

    He held what felt like a farewell press conference the night before, which included a phone call from Drake that we can only hope is customary for every Raptor on his way out. On deadline day, Toronto then cleared a couple of roster spots, presumably to make room for the extra players a team would need to send back in order to match Lowry's $30.5 million salary.

    But when the trade window closed, he hadn't left the North. Come this summer, though, everything will be on the table when he enters unrestricted free agency, and the Raptors say they're OK with that.

    "We are comfortable with whatever direction we go," Raptors president Masai Ujiri told reporters. "Maybe we lost a chance here, but we also think we gained a chance in some other things going forward."

    Could the Raptors actually pay the 35-year-old point guard to stick around? On the other hand, is it sensible to let Lowry walk for nothing after he presumably would have netted an asset or two at the deadline?

Utah Jazz: Is There Enough Star Power to Support a Championship Run?

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    I'll be the first to admit it's a little awkward questioning the star power of a team that sent three players to the All-Star Game. It also seems a bit off to question whether what's been this season's best team by far has enough to be the best team again in the playoffs.

    But this is the first time this iteration of the Jazz has been viewed as a top contender. They've obviously earned the distinction—they have the campaign's second-best offense and third-best defense—but newcomers to the elite ranks will always be met with a raised eyebrow. Especially when it's a championship hopeful who might not have a top-10 player on the roster.

    Granted, Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell might land in that tier for some, and they should be near it for most, but this isn't LeBron and AD, KD, Kyrie and The Beard or even Kawhi and PG. Superstars almost always dominate this league, and the jury is out on whether Gobert and Mitchell can rise to that level in the biggest rounds.

Washington Wizards: How Do They Build a Winner Around Bradley Beal?

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    There has to be more than sentimentality keeping Bradley Beal with the Wizards, right?

    Some (including me) have wondered aloud why this club didn't kick-start its rebuild by moving the scoring leader for a mountain of assets. At the same time, it's hard to crush a team for not wanting to trade away a 27-year-old All-Star who is playing the best basketball of his career and might still be getting better.

    If he is staying in the District, though, he needs some help. Russell Westbrook's triple-doubles and the occasional Rui Hachimura outbursts aren't cutting it. The Wizards need a plan to turn this around quickly and not waste Beal's prime. Considering they aren't overloaded with potential-rich prospects and already have at least $116.2 million on next season's books, even traces of such a plan are hard to spot.

                  

    All stats current through April 5 and courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted. Salary information via Basketball Insiders.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.