NBA championship odds: Where is the value below the top five?
Chris Sheridan assesses the championship odds for the 2022-23 season and finds the value among the outsiders.
We are now more than one week removed from the start of NBA free agency, there have been no signings of note since last Sunday other than T.J. Warren joining the Nets, and DeAndre Ayton of Phoenix remains curiously unsigned as the NBA universe awaits a resolution of the Kevin Durant/Kyrie Irving situation in Brooklyn.
Perhaps things speed up now that almost the entire NBA has relocated to Las Vegas for Summer League. Put a bunch of general managers, coaches and agents in the same city at the same time, and face-to-face discussions are quickly enabled.
Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks is under increased pressure to bring back a massive haul in these deals because of what the Utah Jazz got back (five players, four first-round picks and a pick swap) from the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Rudy Gobert trade. Durant, meanwhile, has gone radio silent and is not communicating with his teammates and fellow superstars, and the end of this waiting game is nowhere in sight.
That makes it difficult to try to figure out who is best positioned to win next season’s championship, but not impossible.
For one thing, the Boston Celtics addressed their greatest need by acquiring a point guard who is not prone to committing the types of turnovers that doomed the Celtics in the NBA Finals against Golden State. Whether or not Malcolm Brogdon starts or comes off the bench does not really matter (except in Sixth Man Award futures markets) because he will be on the floor in fourth quarters.
And that is one of the primary reasons why Boston is the +550 favorite to win the title next season, followed by Phoenix, the Los Angeles Clippers and the defending champion Golden State Warriors at +600, and the Milwaukee Bucks at +650.
Those five favorites have short odds for obvious reasons, but let’s not forget that the Warriors were a rank outsider at this time a year ago when everyone was super-convinced that the two superteams, Brooklyn and the Los Angeles Lakers, were destined to meet in the NBA Finals.
Didn’t quite work out that way, eh?
So, before we give the East to Boston and write off every other team in the West, let’s have a look at a half-dozen very good teams whose odds this summer are enticing. Remember, we are 10 months away from the next champion getting crowned, and injuries, trades and all manner of other unforeseen happenings are possible.
Miami Heat (+1100): They are one of Durant’s preferred destinations, but NBA rules on maximum rookie extensions mean Brooklyn cannot do a deal that brings back Bam Adebayo unless Ben Simmons is cleared from the Nets’ roster first. But do the Heat even need Durant? If Jimmy Butler had not missed a 3-point attempt with 16.6 seconds left at the end of Game 7 against the Celtics, Miami would have been playing Golden State for the title. As things stand now, the Heat are bringing back almost the exact same team with just one major addition, rookie Nikola Jovic of Serbia. Miami finished first in the East last season, and there is no reason to believe they will be anything less than what they have been for the past three seasons. Continuity and chemistry are both hugely important in the NBA, and Pat Riley – if he does not deal for Durant – can follow the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” school of thought, and then tinker at the trade deadline in February if needed.
Philadelphia 76ers (+1200): If not for a fractured eye socket that severely limited Joel Embiid in the second round of the playoffs, these guys might have advanced. Embiid will be even hungrier than he was last season to win the MVP award, James Harden will be around for a full season, Tyrese Maxey showed himself to be a speed demon and shooting machine who may one day be an All-Star, and De’Anthony Melton was acquired from Memphis in what may end up being one of the best sneaky-good moves of the offseason. Adding top-notch defender P.J. Tucker took away one of Miami’s most tenacious defenders, and he will come in handy when someone needs to check Butler or Tatum or Giannis Antetokounmpo in a playoff series.
Denver Nuggets (+1600): Two-time defending MVP Nikola Jokic will have Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. back after carrying this team without its second- and third-best players, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith were acquired from Washington to help shake up a starting lineup that needed a change away from Monte Morris and Will Barton. At full strength, this team is a heckuva a lot better than the squad that Jokic led to a sixth-place finish. Yes, they are in a packed conference, but they also have two Sixth Man of the Year contenders in Bruce Brown and Bones Hyland. And we have always loved Ish as one of the NBA’s most underrated point guards.
Dallas Mavericks (+1400): Their weaknesses last season were power forward and center as they made it to the Western Conference finals, and those weaknesses have more than been addressed with the acquisition of Christian Wood from Houston and the signing of JaVale McGee, who spent last season in Phoenix (and was underutilized in their seven-game loss to these Mavs). The Mavs will no longer have to lean on Dwight Powell as a starter, and Dorian Finney-Smith can become an energizer bunny off the bench backing up Tim Hardaway, who will be back from a broken foot, and Reggie Bullock. Along with the draft steal of Jalen Hardy (G-League Ignite) at No. 37, Dallas had a terrific offseason. No Final Four team is priced higher.
Minnesota Timberwolves (+3500): ARod seems to have overpaid for Rudy Gobert, as the Wolves surrendered five players, four future first-rounders and a pick swap (complicating Sean Marks’ dealings in the process) for the three-time Defensive Player of the Year, but the Wolves seem to be figuring that if they play super-big with Gobert at center and Karl-Anthony Towns at power forward, while everyone else is playing some variation of small ball, they have an edge. And with Anthony Edwards on the board as the favorite to win Most Improved Player after averaging 21.3 points per game in his second season, and with Kyle Anderson having been signed away from the Grizzlies, they are already improved. They were a climber last season, finishing seventh, and made a bold move to give Chris Finch the tools to use his team’s size to do something different and better.
Cleveland Cavaliers (+9000): The Cavs? For real? Well, this team was giving everyone fits last season before Jarrett Allen went down because of their combination of size and speed. When they throw Allen, Evan Mobley and Lauri Markkanen together on the front line, they force other teams to try to match up. Kevin Love still has something in the tank, and Caris LaVert is the ex-Net not named Durant or Irving (when their deals eventually happen and they become ex-Nets) who is most ready for a breakout year after battling so many injuries the past couple of seasons. Bringing Ricky Rubio back was one of the smartest and most overlooked moves of the summer, and assuming Collin Sexton re-signs (he is a restricted free agent) to reunite with speedster Darius Garland in the backcourt, the Cavs are guaranteed to improve vastly on their 44-38 record that brought them a ninth-place finish. Championship-worthy? That may be a reach, but they are going to give everyone matchup fits, and they are most certainly a riser the same way the Memphis Grizzlies were last year. Also, do not forget that the East pretty much stinks when compared to the West. That means a team such as Cleveland can rise all that much more quickly.
Which one is worthy of a championship wager? Perhaps all of them, but the gun-to-the-head pick one answer is Philadelphia.