The largest domino of NBA free agency dropped on Sunday evening, with LeBron James announcing through his agency that he had agreed to a four-year, $154 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers. James moves to the Western Conference after spending the first 15 seasons of his career with Cleveland and Miami.
James was a favorite to land with the Lakers for a host of reasons, and the title odds most places reflected that. It wasn’t coincidence that a 35-win Lakers team from a year ago had some of the best odds of winning the title in 2019 before any LeBron news dropped. But there was some movement post-James decision, and now that the world’s best player has found a new home it’s time to assess the 2019 NBA championship odds and where your money can be placed best.
Let’s not allow LeBron’s third Decision to overshadow the defending champs. Kevin Durant signed a two-year deal to remain in the Bay Area, and while that may be a factor in his long-term plans it bodes well for the 2019 Warriors. They only have eight players under contract right now, but those players are four All-Stars (Durant, Curry, Green, Thompson) plus Andre Iguodala, Damian Jones, Jordan Bell and Quinn Cook.
They’ll have no problem filling out their bench as players take discounts for a shot at a ring – think Nick Young and JaVale McGee a year ago. They also have a real shot to bring back young role players in Patrick McCaw and Kevon Looney. Don’t worry about the roster. It’ll fill itself out.
This is a team that has won 265 games the last four regular seasons and had one series go past five games in the last two postseasons on their way to titles. It would take a catastrophic injury – and maybe two – to derail the Warriors from a three-peat. These are the highest odds, but also the best ones.
We’ll begin with a disclaimer here: The Lakers aren’t real contenders until the other shoe drops and they acquire another star. But the clock is always ticking on a LeBron-led team, so expect Los Angeles to be aggressive, whether it’s trading for Kawhi Leonard or signing someone like DeMarcus Cousins. So with the Lakers at +450 you’re betting on getting these odds before another star joins LeBron.
There’s really no analysis needed on why to bet LeBron. The last time LeBron James wasn’t playing in the NBA Finals, iPads were just hitting the market. Brandon Ingram is a budding superstar, Lonzo Ball posted unprecedented rookie numbers and Kyle Kuzma should have been an All-Rookie Team member. Even if one of those players goes in a Kawhi deal, the Lakers are loaded with young talent. There’s even a chance Julius Randle returns as a restricted free agent.
Simply put, if LeBron makes the postseason he’s a threat to win it all. Get in before another star comes on board and these odds move.
LeBron’s decision to bolt for the Western Conference means there will be a non-LeBron team representing the East in the Finals for the first time since 2007. The East is wide open, and the Celtics look like the team to beat considering all they accomplished despite myriad injuries a season ago.
That Celtics team won 55 games and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals despite five-time All-Star Kyrie Irving missing 22 games and the entire postseason, and Gordon Hayward suffering a gruesome season-ending injury on Opening Night. When healthy there’s an argument that this is the deepest team in the NBA.
Aside from their three All-Star players, supporting cast pieces in Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Aron Baynes and Terry Rozier give the Celtics an incredibly balanced core. Oh, and they’re led by the league’s best X’s and O’s coach in Brad Stevens.
Boston has lost to James and the Cavs in the Conference Finals each of the last two seasons. Now James is gone. And the Celtics played the Warriors well in the regular season a year ago, winning in Boston and nearly toppling them in Oakland, with Steph Curry’s 49 points the difference maker. These are juicy odds.
Much like the Celtics, the 76ers’ championship window just flew open. An injury-depleted Celtics team crushed a healthy Sixers team in last year’s postseason, but it’s tough to bet against what All-Star Joel Embiid and Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons are doing in Philadelphia at such young ages.
Dario Saric, Robert Covington and the recently re-signed J.J. Redick make up a solid supporting cast, and No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz should be vastly improved after a rookie campaign to forget. The Sixers are high on first-round draft pick Zhaire Smith, and let’s not forget they’re still very much in play for Kawhi Leonard on a potential trade.
It’s more likely that the Sixers are a year or two away from being true contenders, but if Embiid and Simmons make jumps to super-stardom and Fultz pans out, they could very well be the top seed in the East. And they match up well with the Warriors in a potential Finals given their defensive length. These odds will only rise as the season progresses.
Let’s get wild. Denver has increased its win total each of the last four years, from 30 to 33 to 40 to 46 last season. They bring everyone back from a team that ranked sixth in offensive efficiency, and they have the game’s best player no one is talking about in Nikola Jokic. He’ll be an All-Star and an All-NBA member next season.
They also have the game’s best young backcourt in Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, and they nearly made the postseason despite free agent acquisition Paul Millsap missing 44 games with a wrist injury.
Will they win it all? Probably not. This pick would play much better if Denver resided in the East. But if you’re looking for a true wild card pick, it’s Denver. They’re going to be really, really good in 2019.
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