So much for consternation over a wholly transformative trade deadline. Instead of reeling from finally breaking up its longtime core, the Portland Trail Blazers entered the All-Star break winners of four straight games, playing with activity and intensity that had often been absent during Chauncey Billups' inaugural season on the sidelines.

The Blazers can't count on their immediate post-deadline success translating over the season's remainder, though, let alone into 2022-23. They still have many questions to answer as one of the most consequential offseasons in franchise history looms.

Blazers burning questions after All-Star break

Is the new and improved defense real?

Portland's 108.8 defensive rating during its four-game winning streak ranks seventh in the league, per The Blazers are 10th in opponent's turnover rate and 13th in effective field goal percentage allowed over that small sample size, significant improvements on their season-long marks.

The whims of jump-shooting aren't a factor in their suddenly stingy defense, either. Teams are shooting a solid 36.1% from deep against Portland since its short-handed win over the Los Angeles Lakers on February 9th, further evidence that Billups' aggressive, variable, help-based defense has some staying power—when deployed with the right personnel, at least.

The impact made by Josh Hart and Justise Winslow on that side of the ball, both individually and in tandem, has been massive. With Nassir Little set to join them on the wing next season and the team potentially adding another athletic, versatile forward via the draft, free agency or trade, the Blazers should have the foundation of a league-average defense at worst.

But integrating Damian Lillard in lineups featuring Anfernee Simons will complicate matters, even if the former comes back next season more committed to defense than ever. No team knows the defensive pitfalls of an undersized, offense-first backcourt more than Portland. With the right reinforcements beside them, the hope is Lillard and Simons can be part of a healthy defensive ecosystem.

Fingers crossed.

Can Jusuf Nurkic keep it up?

Odds are that Portland re-signs the Bosnian Beast this summer. The team wouldn't have all that much money to spend in free agency otherwise due to cap holds owed to he and Simons, and there isn't a gettable starting center on the open market who'd provide more of a two-way presence than Nurkic.

As much as the Blazers could benefit from a traditional big man who crushes lobs, ably switches on the perimeter and stretches the defense to the arc, those guys are few and far between for a reason.

Nurkic's play over the last two months has made the prospect of keeping him more palatable, too.

Long Portland's most influential defender, he's also become a driver of offensive success since a rash of injuries made Nurkic more of a focal point with his back to the basket. The Blazers' 111.2 offensive rating with him on the floor since January 3rd dips all the way to 102.9 when he’s on the bench, per, an indication of his improved patience and touch on the block as well as his ability to make teams pay with the pass for double-teaming him.

Nurkic won't ever be Nikola Jokic or Joel Embiid offensively, obviously, and even his recent play on that end slots him a level below guys like Damontas Sabonis and Deandre Ayton. Still, any team in basketball could use a threatening source of supplemental offense from the post, especially one like Portland that's so reliant on perimeter scoring. If Nurkic can manage above-average efficiency or consistently draw extra defensive attention as a scorer, it'll go a long way toward the Blazers reaching their ceiling offensively going forward.

Is Damian Lillard coming back before 2022-23?

The writing was on the wall for Lillard's return on January 13th, when he finally went under the knife to address nagging abdominal pain. Nothing that's transpired since then has changed the likelihood of him sitting out the season's remainder, an effort to both reach a completely clean bill of health and continue facilitating Portland's on-the-fly rebuild ahead of 2022-23.

Cronin came close to confirming Lillard wouldn't play again this season during a post-deadline press conference on February 10th. During an appearance on The Draymond Green Show this week, the man himself did the same.

Lillard has consistently prioritized the forest through the trees since his surgery, always maintaining his prospective return would depend on what's best for he and the Blazers long-term. Remember, Portland's first-round pick goes to the Chicago Bulls if its league-long playoff streak extends to nine season.

Go ahead and ignore talk of Portland's 4-0 surge increasing the possibility of his return. Lillard and the Blazers are clearly on the same page here, comfortable with the status quo ahead of perhaps the most consequential offseason of his near-decade tenure in Rip City.

Who's a shoo-in for next season's rotation?

Lillard and Simons will be starting in the backcourt. Nurkic is poised to return up front, with Little opening games next to him on the wing. Hart will get major minutes whether he starts games at small forward or settles in as Portland's sixth man. Winslow, a personal favorite of Billups, has earned himself a rotation spot next season as a snug fit for how the Blazers want to play.

Beyond that quintet, there may not be another player who's guaranteed nightly playing time heading into 2022-23.

The safest bet to snag a rotation role among remaining incumbents is surely Trendon Watford. He's quietly opened eyes since being forced into action over the last two months, showing off natural playmaking traits and quick, active hands defensively while even flashing the ability to switch onto guards. Assuming Watford continues improving over the stretch run of his rookie campaign and first full offseason, he likely enters next season as Portland's third big.

The Blazers will probably part ways with Eric Bledsoe this summer. Joe Ingles, a pending free agent, is a question mark due to both his age-related decline and the season-ending ACL tear he suffered on January 30th. Ben McLemore is also set to hit free agency.

Greg Brown III could be an option at forward, though his lacking fundamentals and raw feel for the NBA game mean he could be another season away from helping a winning team. The same goes for Keon Johnson. C.J. Elleby seems best suited for a deep bench role until his jumper improves.

The trade deadline helped Portland begin to develop the identity Billups strived to implement since training camp. The next step is filling out the rotation with additions who don't just fit that mold, but help chart a path toward contention immediately, down the line or, in an ideal world, both.