By Eli Hershkovich
When the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook released next season’s initial NBA title odds, the Lakers were positioned at 20-1 — tied for the eighth-lowest with the Raptors (20-1).
Fast-forward over a month. Frank Vogel’s squad boasts the league’s lowest odds (3-1), thanks to Los Angeles general manager Rob Pelinka acquiring ex-Pelicans forward Anthony Davis in a blockbuster deal on Saturday. It’s seen the biggest jump among NBA futures in the process, as LeBron James is once again paired with a superstar in an attempt to manufacture his fourth championship.
But where do the Lakers rank among teams with the most value? Not too high.
Pelinka has formed one of the game’s top duos — on paper. James is 34 years old, and despite Los Angeles gearing towards load management following last season’s groin injury, there’s no guarantee he’ll reach the level of years past. Moreover, the Lakers are projected to have a maximum of $23.7 million in cap space, which likely wouldn’t be enough to lure a third star to their core sans clearing additional room.
If that doesn’t scare you off, a slow start from James and Co. would increase their odds and provide more in-season value as a result. Don’t pounce on their current price just because public bettors are.
While the Bucks (6-1) or Rockets (8-1) have the talent to claim the title, neither of their odds are expected to dip without adding another big-named piece. Hence, there’s not much immediate value. I’m also unwilling to put money down on the Warriors’ futures (12-1) without knowing Klay Thompson (torn ACL) and Kevin Durant’s (ruptured Achilles) return date and likely landing spot, respectively.
So, let’s breakdown which futures to keep an eye on with free agency on the horizon.
Toronto Raptors (10-1): The Clippers, which are in the mix for Kawhi Leonard’s services, boast the third-lowest odds across the league (7-1). One of Los Angeles’ teams landing the two-time NBA Finals’ MVP isn’t a lock, though, and the Raptors obviously can’t be counted out after the 6-foot-7 forward guided them to their first-ever title.
Beyond him, plus Marc Gasol (player option) and Danny Green (unrestricted free agent), the rest of Nick Nurse’s championship-winning team returns. Its ceiling is tied to Leonard’s decision, but there’s also a boatload of value if there’s even a slight hint that he’ll stay loyal to Canada.
Philadelphia 76ers (12-1): Brett Brown’s unit showcases a similar formula to how I determine some worthy college hoops’ futures. Even after hyping up the Raptors, Leonard’s game-winning jumper to beat the 76ers in the conference semifinals was fluky. If Philadelphia avoided the incredible and went on to knock off the eventual champs in overtime, there’s room to believe a title was en route.
Expecting Philadelphia to retain Jimmy Butler or Tobias Harris is reasonable, and Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons both retain plenty of potential. Unless Embiid deals with another illness next postseason, they’ll be in the mix to come out of the Eastern Conference.
Denver Nuggets (16-1): The Western Conference gets intriguing amid the Warriors’ expected regression, and the Nuggets are right in the middle of it. Much like how the 76ers were a bounce away from reaching the next round, the Trail Blazers received oddly-strong performances from Evan Turner and Meyers Leonard to derail Denver in the conference semifinals.
Plus, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, respectively, proved their potential dominance in each of the Nuggets’ two series. Tim Connelly — Denver president of basketball operations — was reportedly in the mix for Davis, and it’s on track to reel in another impact player. If Paul Milsap (RFA) doesn’t return, now-UFA Julius Randle is available to help deliver a sound futures play.