The NBA offseason continues to march on. The draft and Summer League are already in the books and most free agents have signed fresh deals. But while the offseason has provided answers to some big questions, it has also birthed plenty of others. With the start of the regular season still more than two months away, here's a look at five lingering questions that will go a long way toward shaping the league next season and beyond.
What will happen with Damian Lillard and James Harden?
Two of the top guards in the NBA -- and two members of the league's 75th Anniversary Team -- have both requested trades and made it clear they want to land with one specific team. For Damian Lillard, it's the Miami Heat; for James Harden, it's the Los Angeles Clippers. How those requests are ultimately settled will go a long way toward shaping the league next season, and beyond.
After spending the entirety of his career to this point with the Portland Trail Blazers, Lillard requested a trade earlier this offseason after it became clear that the team wouldn't be able to quickly build a legitimate contender around the 33-year old. Lillard has made it abundantly clear through his representation that he only has eyes for Miami when it comes to a trade.
Despite the fact that Lillard's request came a full month ago, no deal appears imminent. Ultimately, the Blazers are in complete control of the situation, as Lillard still has three years remaining on his current contract, plus a player option, and doesn't possess a no-trade clause. So, Portland could technically ship Lillard wherever they want -- it doesn't have to be Miami. At the same time, Lillard is arguably the best player in franchise history and has been immensely important to the team over the past decade-plus, so there's certainly some desire on the team's part to accommodate his wishes.
Understandably, Portland is seeking a hefty haul in return for Lillard in any potential trade. Their Philadelphia 76ers are maintaining a steep asking price for Harden, who requested a trade away from Philly this summer. Harden has been a member of the Sixers for less than two years, but he is already at odds with the front office and ownership, and as a result he wants to continue his career elsewhere.is reportedly set at around four first round picks and two quality rotation pieces. Similarly, the
Harden reportedly hopes to land in Los Angeles to suit up for the Clippers, but the Sixers haven't made much, if any, progress towards a deal at this point. The Sixers remain firmly in win-now mode with reigning NBA MVP Joel Embiid on the roster, so they only want to make a move if it's beneficial for them in the present, which narrows the number of potentially acceptable offers.
It's possible that both Lillard and Harden have already played their best ball, but both are still clearly capable of contributing to a contender in a major way, and as a result, their futures remain major storylines.
How will Kristaps Porzingis fit in Boston?
The Boston Celtics made arguably the biggest gamble of the offseason by trading former Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart, who was the team's longest-tenured player, for former lottery pick Kristaps Porzingis. Smart was often referred to as the "heart and soul" of the Celtics throughout their recent string of deep playoff runs. He set the tone for the team with his defensive tenacity and effort, and that's typically tough to replace.
Porzingis is coming off a solid season with the Washington Wizards -- he averaged a career-high 23.3 points per game to go along with 8.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.5 blocks in 32.6 minutes per game last season. However, he has a history of injury issues, he's never been known for his defensive prowess, and he's unaccustomed to the pressure that comes with playing on a Celtics squad with legitimate championship expectations. Porzingis has played in a total of 10 playoff games at this point in his career. For comparison's sake, Smart has played in 108.
The Celtics clearly sacrificed some defense in favor of more offensive firepower with this move. Time will tell if it's a decision they come to regret. Boston figures to be a major factor in the Eastern Conference playoff picture yet again, and how well Porzingis jells with his new team could go a long way toward determining just how successful they'll be.
What will Chris Paul's role be in Golden State?
The Golden State Warriors shook things up in a major way over the offseason by trading for former rival and 12-time All-Star Chris Paul. Paul, 38, is a surefire future Hall of Famer and one of the best point guards ever. However, it's fair to wonder what his exactly role with Golden State will be, as the Warriors also already have another one of the best point guards of all time on the roster in Stephen Curry.
It seems somewhat unlikely that coach Steve Kerr will start both Curry and Paul in Golden State's backcourt given size and defensive limitations, and that has led to a lot of speculation that Paul could come off of the bench for the Warriors. To this point in his career, Paul has played in 1,214 regular season games, and he has come off of the bench exactly zero times. So, needless to say, shifting to a reserve role -- if that's' what ultimately happens -- would be a major adjustment for Paul.
For the time being, Paul is taking a wait-and-see approach when it comes to his role with his new squad.
"At the end of the day, it's basketball," Paul said after the trade, via ESPN. "I'm going into a situation with a bunch of guys who've been playing together for a long time. I'm not as worried about it as everybody else is. ... We'll figure all of that stuff out at camp... You don't have the answers right now. We'll practice, and I'm sure there will be things I've got to learn about them, they've got to learn about me, but that's the case with any team."
Ultimately, even if Paul doesn't start, that doesn't mean he won't play major minutes, or play down the stretch of games. It will likely be a situational thing, and it will be up to Kerr to figure out how to best utilize his newest piece.
How good will Victor Wembanyama be as a rookie?
The San Antonio Spurs used the first overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft on French phenom Victor Wembanyama. Wembanyama is probably the most highly-hyped prospect since LeBron James in 2003, and ironically enough, James has already been pretty complimentary of Wembanyama before he ever stepped foot on an NBA court.
"Everybody's been a unicorn over the last few years, but [Wembanyama] is more like an alien," James said earlier this year. "No one has ever seen anyone as tall as he is but as fluid and as graceful as he is out on the floor. At 7-4, 7-5, 7-3, whatever the case may be, his ability to put the ball on the floor, shoot stepback jumpers out of the post, stepback 3s, catch-and-shoot 3s, block shots, he's for sure a generational talent."
Wembanyama himself has some lofty expectations for himself for his rookie campaign. "I've been looking into all the data of the past No. 1 picks and what impact they've had," he said recently. "I'm trying to be better than every guy before me."
So, just how good will Wembanyama be as a rookie? That question is an extremely intriguing one, because many expect him to be one of the best, if not the best, ever. Obviously, expectations should be tempered for any player who has never played in the league before, but Wembanyama has professional experience, and an unparalleled skill set for his size. Those factors should help him be a very productive player, and make a legitimate impact, pretty quickly.
The Spurs will likely limit his workload early on, so he shouldn't be expected to play major minutes right out of the gate, but it will be fascinating to see how quickly he can start to look like the star -- or superstar -- player that most expect him to become.
How much does LeBron James have left in the tank?
The NBA's all-time leading scorer is 38 years old and entering his 21st season in the league. At this stage of his storied career, it's fair to wonder just how much gas he has left in the tank. James' on-court production hasn't dropped much, if at all. He averaged 28.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 6.8 assists in 55 games last season, and he was able to lead the Lakers to the Western Conference finals after the team retooled at the deadline. But, after being remarkably durable throughout the first 15 years of his career, James has been somewhat hampered by injury issues over the past few seasons, and he publicly for the first time after last season.
James obviously isn't ready to hang up his signature Nikes quite yet, and he has the physical capability to be a productive player in the league for years to come. But, for how much longer can he be the top option on a contending team, because that's exactly what the Lakers need him to be. Sure, Anthony Davis is there, but he's yet to grab the reins as L.A.'s unquestioned best player, as that title has consistently belonged to James. L.A.'s roster as currently constructed hinges on James being, well, James. If he misses extended time with an injury, or if he production starts to drop, the Lakers' outlook will drop simultaneously.
As it has been since he signed with L.A. in 2018, the Lakers' championship hopes -- and the playoff picture in the Western Conference -- will continue to be shaped by James in the '23-24 season.