Atlanta Hawks

Are the Hawks playing for the future or for the now?

Last year the Hawks shocked everyone when they traded Luka Doncic for Trae Young on draft night. Both players posted great rookie campaigns and in hindsight the trade was fairly even. This year the Hawks used the draft again to add to their young core with the additions of Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter and the Hawks also acquired Evan Turner and Jabari Parker.

With this new young core the Hawks could very well be in the mix for a high seed in the Eastern Conference, meaning the team will have a decision to make towards the second half of the season. To tank or not to tank? Is there a benefit to getting some young players playoff experience vs getting a better chance at another high draft pick to continue building out a promising core?

Boston Celtics

Is Utah Jazz Gordon Hayward back?

On October 18th 2017 Gordon Hayward severely injured his lower leg just five minutes into his career as a Boston Celtics. After missing the entire 2017 campaign, Hayward returned last season playing 26 minutes a game and scoring just under 12 points a game as Kyrie Irving took the reins of the offense.

Now entering this season Kyrie and Al Horford are gone and with them over a third of the Celtics scoring. Even with the talented log jam Boston is blessed with at guard, Hayward may be best suited to work with his former college coach to help this team make a postseason run and reclaim his spot as an All Star.

Brooklyn Nets

Is Kyrie a good teammate?

We now have enough of a Kyrie Irving sample size to ask if Kyrie Irving is taking problems with him. After four straight trips and one Finals victory in Cleveland, Kyrie apparently wanted out so that he could have his own team. Then when Kyrie was traded to Boston and finally had his own team, he was eager to tell the media how hard it is and his newfound appreciation for former teammate LeBron James. After telling season ticket holders he was planning to stay in Boston, he instead is now a member of the Brooklyn Nets.

Kyrie has every right to change his mind as many times as he wants but that does not make it easier to be his teammate. The end of Kyrie’s tenure in Cleveland and Boston can both be categorized as not-ideal and both teams historically under-preformed their expectations at the end of the day.

Is this third stop finally where Kyrie will shine again or will we see another year of strange quotes to the media and an team that does not meet expectations?

Charlotte Hornets

What is Scary Terry’s ceiling?

This offseason the Hornets swapped arguably the greatest player to wear a hornets jersey, Kemba Walker, for the Eric Bledsoe kryptonite that is Terry Rozier. The move makes sense for a franchise that didn’t want to pay a super max player on a team destined for a high playoff seed, but bringing in Terry Rozier at nearly $20 million a year doesn’t necessarily make a whole lot of sense either.

Rozier will go from being the lead dog in the pack when Kyrie Irving was injured to the day-to-day work horse for the Hornets. How well Rozier acclimates to the new responsibilities will go a long way to decide whether this team stays in NBA purgatory or has a chance at a really good draft pick.

Chicago Bulls

Is it playoff time for the Bulls?

There is no denying that the Bulls now have the talent on the court to win basketball games. NBA GMs tank for entire seasons for talents like Lauri Markkanen and the Bulls have surrounded him with athletic young talent both in acquisitions and draft additions. On top of that Jim Boylen is entering his first full season as head coach. On paper that sounds like the recipe for a playoff appearance for a young team on the rise.

But this team has found a way to trip themselves up in the past. Zach LaVine is injury prone, Boylen is not Gregg Popovich and Bulls GM Gar Forman has never been in the running for GM of the year. But if the Bulls can overcome their own faults – they are talented enough to play postseason ball.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Who will be on the roster next year?

Not that it’s too soon to look ahead to next year… but the Cavaliers are in the midst of a rebuild for the ages. Of the fifteen man roster, only five have contracts that go through next season and two more players are on team options. Players like Tristan Thompson, Brandon Knight, Jordan Clarkson and John Henson all could end this season on different teams as they all are on the last year of their contracts.

If you are a Cavs fan this season could be really good for you (if you are okay with losing a lot of games). If this offseason proved anything it’s that a number of different teams believe this year is their window to win and nothing makes a fan base feel better about a championship window than trading a future draft pick for an expiring contract!

Dallas Mavericks

Can Dallas get Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis help?

Luka and Kristaps are two of the most dynamic players in the league today but they can’t ascend the mountaintop on their own. Or I should say they cannot take Dallas to the promise land when their next best players are Justin Jackson and Tim Hardaway Jr.

Thankfully the Mavericks are in a very advantageous cap situation. The team will have some decisions to make as the season progresses as to what/if any roster updates to put around their two budding stars.

Denver Nuggets

Is Michael Porter Jr. the Nuggets third horseman?

Last season we saw the peak of the Nuggets powers as currently constructed, 54 wins and a postseason exit in the conference semifinals. Now Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic could both continue to progress in their young careers but compared to other dynamic duos in the Western Conference it seems unlikely the pair can close the gap in just one offseason.

Enter former first round draft pick Michael Porter Jr.

The 21 year-old 6’10” forward spent the last season rehabbing from an injury he sustained during his college career but now looks to have a breakout season adding to the Nuggets offensive options. If Porter is as good as advertised when it is all said and done, the Nuggets will be a championship contender for quite a few years to come.

Detroit Pistons

Just how good is Dwayne Casey?

Former NBA Coach of the Year Dwayne Casey immediately found a new home in Detroit following his tenure in Toronto. The result? A playoff birth with one of the more oddly constructed rosters in the modern NBA.

In year two not much has changed for the Casey regime. The team still has over a third of their cash tied up in Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin and did not add any major stars to the roster. On paper this is a high playoff seed but Dwayne Casey could coach five clones of myself to 20 wins so I’m not counting the Pistons out just yet.

Golden State Warriors

Is this the year Steph reminds us of his MVP status?

No Durant. No Iggy. No Thompson. No problem?

The Warriors will certainly feel the loss of Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala but the team did add D’Angelo Russell and (in case you forgot) Steph Curry is still one of the best players in the NBA. Now the road to the Finals will not be as guaranteed as before and there is a very good chance the Warriors string of Finals appearances will snap this year, but they won’t go down without a fair share of NBA Jam style on fire Steph Curry highlights.

Houston Rockets

Is there enough basketball to go around?

Ever since the inception of the moneyball Houston Rockets the team has faced scrutiny from media and fans claiming that the Rockets brand of basketball is ruining the NBA. Regardless of how you feel about the team’s analytical approach, no one can argue its effectiveness. But this strategy is not flawless. Namely, Houston has yet to be able to support two ball dominant stars but they will try again with Harden and his new teammate Russell Westbrook.

Unlike previous iterations, these two MVPs are coming off a season ranked in the top 10 in usage rate with Harden clocking in at #1, head and shoulders above second place, and at Westbrook at #10. Statistically it’s hard to imagine one or both players not seeing their numbers affected by the other like the gravitational pull of a planet pulling another moon along with it. The question is – who is the planet and who is the moon? History says James Harden will remain top dog but good luck telling Russell Westbrook that.

Indiana Pacers

How long can this team float without Oladipo?

Victor Oladipo’s second season with the Pacers was cut short due to a ruptured right quad. The Hoosier faithful will be eagerly awaiting his return because Indiana has high hopes for this scrappy team.

But those hopes rest on a man who hasn’t played competitive basketball in nine and half months with a shaky timetable for his return to action. The jury says we could see Oladipo as soon as December – January but potentially on a minutes restriction. Until he is back the hope of the basketball crazed Indiana fans rests on a rotation of non All Stars like
Malcolm Brogdon, Myles Turner, and Domantas Sabonis. Hopefully Christmas comes early for the Pacers.

Los Angeles Clippers

Is this Los Angeles’s premiere team?

For the first time since Lob City the Clippers and Lakers games are must see TV with four of the best fifteen players on planet earth sharing the same court. With the new look Clippers the L.A. rivalry will be strong once again and the best team in L.A. will not only mean something in the city but for the landscape of the Western Conference and playoff seeding.

Los Angeles Lakers

Does this team have enough depth to go to The Finals?

Every season for LeBron is championship or bust and this year is no exception. Coming off a season with no playoff appearance and a the big trade acquisition of Anthony Davis, once again the bright lights of L.A. will be on the Lakers. Unfortunately beyond the glitz and glam of the Lakers starting lineup is… nobody.

The Lakers fifth-tenth men appear to be: Quinn Cook, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, JaVale McGee, Avery Bradley and Jared Dudley. A real murderers row of basketball talent.

Long has LeBron the GM’s problem been a lack of foresight when it comes to roster construction. The shine of Anthony Davis distracts you until you realize you have Jared Dudley and KCP flanking your wings in a meaningful playoff game.

Memphis Grizzlies

Is Ja Morant the best bet for Rookie Of The Year?

This year Memphis continues its road back to NBA relevance with a major upgrade. The Grizzlies have crossed over from bad team to young team territory. this transition doesn’t guarantee more victories but it certainly is a lot more fun to follow along.

This upgrade comes in the form of a Ja Morant sized shot in the arm. Morant is not just going to be a league pass must watch for many teams but also a serious contender for the Rookie Of The Year award now that ESPN reported that Zion Williamson will miss a period of weeks.

Miami Heat

Is Jimmy Butler in on Heat culture?

After striking out on big name free agents since LeBron James left, the Miami Heat finally landed their next star in Jimmy Butler. Butler comes to the Heat on the most 2019 millennial route possible – a viral practice meltdown followed by an ESPN interview then a plane ride from from Minnesota to the Philadelphia 76ers and finally deciding after the season that he did not want to stay in Philly and was headed to south beach.

Even though Butler came to Miami of his own accord, it would be decidedly reckless for even the most enthusiastic of Heat fans to not pause for concern about the state of every franchise Butler has left in his wake. Chicago, Minnesota and now Philadelphia tell the story of a talented NBA guard who doesn’t get along with everybody.

And now Butler will have the infamous ‘Heat Culture’ to go along with a new set of teammates. But contrary to his previous situations, the culture may be just what the doctor ordered. One thing is for sure – for good or for bad Jimmy Butler will let us know what he thinks of his new locale.

Milwaukee Bucks

How far can Giannis take the Bucks?

This offseason the Bucks were stuck between a rock and a hard place when it came to Kris Middleton. They opted to pay their All Star a five-year $178 million dollar contract with the added cost of losing Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic. On paper this team is on par if not slightly less talented than last year which means once again the offensive and defensive burden will fall on the broad (and I mean really broad) shoulder of leageue MVP Giannis.

Minnesota Timberwolves

How long does the Timberwolves core stay together?

The Timberwolves have made the playoffs once in the last fifteen years and their lone appearance came from a literal play-in-game against the Nuggets followed by a first round exit. Minnesota has showed zero signs of progress even though Karl Anthony-Towns is a franchise player who has been surrounded by a rotating cast of high draft picks that have not panned out.

This season unfortunately looks to be no different unless Andrew Wiggins can find the motor he’s been searching for since draft day and rookie Jarrett Culver immediately contributes. If this year is like the previous decade how much longer do the Timberwolves hold their cards before reshuffling the deck?

New Orleans Pelicans

How fast can this team mesh together?

Don’t let Zion distract you from the rest of the young and talented Pelicans roster. While Zion will miss some time at the beginning of the year due to a knee injury, New Orleans will still have fellow lottery pick Jaxson Hayes, the Lakers core of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart, and veterans J.J. Redick and Jrue Holiday. The Pelicans have arguably the best war chest of young talent when you combine on the roster members and future picks so now the waiting game begins for the New Orleans faithful but the postseason is probably closer than they think.

New York Knicks

Will the Knicks stay on schedule?

This offseason the Knicks missed big on their free agency plan but they kept the end goal in mind: sign top tier free agents…eventually.

So when plan A didn’t work the Knicks plan B was short term contracts with mid tier free agents for the team to be relatively competitive but still flexible enough for the next batch of talent coming in 2021. But under the bright lights of New York City can the Knicks stay the course while the pressure mounts to win now?

Oklahoma City Thunder

How long is Chris Paul on the Thunder?

Chris Paul with suit up for his third team in four years this season as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. While the Thunder have stated that they intend to keep Paul and have him play for their team – he doesn’t make any sense on the roster or for where the team is in their rebuild.

The Thunder’s trades with Houston and the Clippers netted them a cashe of young talent and future picks to jump start their rebuild. An aging and overpaid point guard is an expensive and bad fit for a team that has no interest in doing any winning anytime soon.

Orlando Magic

Have the Magic already peaked?

The Magic might have the strangest roster construction in the NBA. In a world obsessed with analytics and winning in the margins, the Magic have dumped the majority of their capital into front court players that can’t shoot and that’s not even counting their recent addition of Markelle Fultz.

The Magic went over .500 last year for the first time since 2010 and yet it only got then a 7th seed in the playoffs and a first round exit. This roster’s ceiling might be a high playoff seed but for the time being Orlando is probably okay with that.

Philadelphia 76ers

What are the goal posts for this 76ers team?

Ever since the 76ers proved the tanking template is the best way to successfully rebuild a franchise, their expectations have grown year to year. Playoffs are no longer a goal but a right of passage for this team and now the goal may be even higher with a fan base itching for a Finals appearance and some hardware.

But expectations are the thief of joy and even though this team has reloaded again with another talented roster, the Eastern Conference is once again top heavy and the 76ers will have to overcome some familiar foes.

Can they do it? Sure! Will they do it? I don’t know but even an Eastern Conference Finals appearance feels like it should be a win for Philadelphia.

Phoneix Suns

What the hell are the Suns doing?

The Suns enter the 2019 season being, “a year away from being a year away,” for what feels like the 4th consecutive year. This team starts every year in the conversation for most talented young roster but the team has yet to meet the lofty expectations put upon them. In the same time we have seen the Suns reshuffle the deck over and over again, the 76ers young core rose to prominence, the Lakers traded their core for Anthony Davis and the Celtics paired their core with veterans and are perennial playoff performers.

And meanwhile the Suns are still the Suns, bottom dwellers with top draft picks. Is this the year they at least take a step towards relevance? Probably not.

Portland Trailblazers

Are the Trailblazers fine with second round playoff exits?

I have mortgaged everything I can mortgage and taken out as many lines of credit as financially inadvisable to purchase the most Dame Time stock I can – and yet somewhere I know in my heart of hearts that this Portland team is not destined for the Western Conference Finals.

The Trailblazers either believe that their team has a shot to win it all or is comfortable being a competitive playoff team with a second round ceiling. If it is the former then the franchise has optimism bordering on foolishness and if it’s the latter than the team is toying with their fan base’s heartstrings.

Sacremento Kings

Can the Kings keep this team together?

The Kings were fun last year but now are experiencing the growing pains of young talent….paying said young talent. Buddy Hield became the unofficial leader of the Kings Pay the Players movement when he talked to the media about his contract negotiations with the franchise. Hield is set to extend his rookie contract or become a free agent this upcoming summer and negotiations are (to put it mildly) not going well.

Hield is reportedly looking for a four-year $110 million dollar deal but was only offered in the $90 million dollar range. The Kings have not paid top dollar for talent since DeMarcus Cousins graced Sacramento with his presence but this should become the norm for the team moving forward. The Kings have a chance to change the narrative of their franchise by taking care of their own and letting this team continue to grow.

San Antonio Spurs

Why do we always sleep on the Spurs?

The Spurs will surprise us again this year even though history has told us that Gregg Popovich is a really really good coach and whatever 15 guys you give him will find a way to win 42+ games and be a tough playoff out.

This is a preemptive reminder that will fall on deaf ears but just remember it when Get Up! does an opening segment on the Spurs hot start following a prime time game the night before on ESPN.

Toronto Raptors

Do we have to call this team the defending champs?

The Toronto Raptors won the 2019 NBA Championship. The Larry O’Brien trophy is in Canada. Technically the Toronto Raptors are defending champs.

But to refer to Toronto as such without mentioning that the most important factor contributing to their victory is no longer on the roster seems like an unforgivable oversight. I’m not 100% sure what the protocol for this unique situation should be but anytime someone beats Toronto the headline should not read, “X team defeats defending champs.”

Utah Jazz

Can the Jazz reinvent themselves this year?

The Utah Jazz have a particular brand of basketball that includes a strong defensive identity and enough offense to win a majority of their games. Unfortunately this identity has not gotten Utah over the hump the past few seasons and this season looks to be no different. The most inventive teams in the NBA are built around the three point line and no matter how good the Jazz’s defense continues to be, they cannot stop all of the threes a majority of NBA teams are hoisting up.

The Jazz either need to take their defense to new heights to accommodate surging NBA offenses or find the offensive firepower to keep up. If the Jazz come out with the same strategy as the past few years we will see another first round exit.

Washington Wizards

Will John Wall and Bradley Beal play together again?

John Wall will not play a game this season for the Washington Wizards. The former Kentucky standout is set to cash close to $40 million dollars without stepping foot on the court as the Wizards attempt to rebuild on the fly. Meanwhile the Wizards resigned other All Star guard Bradley Beal to an extension giving him the option to stay with the team through 2023.

But if you team is dishing out $75 million dollars on two players and attempting to rebuild a decrepit roster – something has to give right? It’s hard to find a trade partner for John Wall’s behemoth of a contract but there appears to be a market for the younger Beal.

Washington should do this rebuild right and sell high on Beal while a number of teams believe they are a piece away from winning the title this year.