How Blockbuster Moves Have Shaken Up NBA Championship Odds
As expected, Las Vegas has taken a keen interest in the NBA's summertime reshuffling of the proverbial deck. Trades and free-agent signings have shaken up the league's hierarchy, switching teams into and out of the title-contention conversation with equal fluidity.
Bookmakers in Sin City have adjusted each squad's title odds accordingly, to mirror changes in the facts on the ground, so to speak. As expected, the dregs of the league—the Charlotte Bobcats, the Detroit Pistons, the Toronto Raptors, the New Orleans Hornets, etc.—are still scraping the bottom of the betting barrel, awaiting the faith of anyone looking for a long shot.
But cellar-dwellers aside, how has the flurry of activity on the open market affected the gambling prospects of those teams most directly impacted by the offseason's myriad of blockbuster maneuvers?
With that in mind, let's have a look at the futures for the league's most notable movers and shakers. All odds listed were lifted from Vegas Insider.
Ray Allen Can't Beat the Miami Heat...so He Joins 'em
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The Miami Heat were already prohibitive favorites to defend their NBA title when the summer began and have only solidified their standing in the eyes of Vegas oddsmakers since.
The addition of Ray Allen's Hall of Fame shooting stroke to a supporting cast that was just good enough to propel LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to the top of the heap in June makes Miami's 2-to-1 odds of ultimate success in 2013 that much more attractive. Even at the ripe ol' age of 36, Allen is still good enough to command significant attention from opposing defenses and, in turn, leave coaches around the league with splitting game-planning headaches.
If teams double down on Miami's Big Three, then Ray will be left wide open in the corner, ready to punish them for their choice by raining down deadly three-pointers from the rafters. And if defenses commit to draping Jesus Shuttlesworth with attention, then they'll have that much less to work with when trying to stop three of the top 25 players in basketball elsewhere on the floor.
In essence, with Allen aboard, it'll be up to Miami's oh-so-unfortunate challengers to play "Pick Your Poison"—a game in which the winner and losers are predetermined—on a nightly basis.
Jason Terry Takes over for Ray Allen with the Boston Celtics
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One team's loss is another team's gain, of course, and in this case, the Boston Celtics find themselves on the losers' side of the ledger.
Vegas has the C's pegged as 20-to-1 favorites to lift the Larry O'Brien Trophy, which wouldn't be so bad on the whole. Except Boston came within one lopsided quarter of playing in the NBA Finals last month.
Frankly, oddsmakers would do well to take another gander at the Celts' current roster, which may actually be better than last year's edition.
GM Danny Ainge has already retained Kevin Garnett to serve as the anchor in the middle between Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo, signed Jason Terry to essentially replace Ray, brought Jeff Green back to bolster the bench, and drafted Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo for some youth and depth to what was a depleted frontcourt. Not to mention the eventual return of Avery Bradley.
And, with some financial flexibility still at his disposal, Ainge may yet have another trick up his sleeve to bolster Boston's case for a title, whether Sin City agrees or not.
Steve Nash Lured by the Los Angeles Lakers
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While the Celtics are busy staving off decline, the rival Los Angeles Lakers are gearing up for another go at a title now that Steve Nash is on board.
The acquisition of the former Dallas Mavs and Phoenix Suns star pushed the Purple and Gold's championship odds up to 6-to-1, ranking them third behind the Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Nash provides the Lakers with the long sought-after sort of presence at point guard who can ease Kobe Bryant's burden, get the ball to Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol in their sweet spots, and change the tenor of the once-gloomy franchise in general.
L.A., though, might not be done dealing. Aside from pursuing veterans like Antawn Jamison and Grant Hill to fill out their shallow bench, the Lakers could still make a play for Dwight Howard, who's still in play after the Brooklyn Nets opted to re-sign Brook Lopez (more on that later).
But for now, 6-to-1 isn't bad and, if anything, is fitting for the Black Mamba, who's seeking his sixth ring to match Michael Jordan in the history books.
Phoenix Suns Move on from Steve Nash
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The Phoenix Suns were never going to be in the championship conversation this fall, with or without Steve Nash, but the decision to move forward and leave the two-time MVP behind has had a dramatic effect on the team's standing in Vegas nonetheless.
More specifically, the Suns are currently on the books as 100-to-1 longshots on the same plane of existence as the Bobcats, Wizards, Pistons and Hornets, among others.
Apparently, the casinos aren't all that interested in a team fashioned around the likes of Goran Dragic, Michael Beasley, Marcin Gortat, Markieff Morris and Jared Dudley.
Nor should they be. If the Suns couldn't crack the playoff picture with Nash the last two years, they certainly shouldn't expect to do so without him.
Deron Williams and Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets
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In other point guard news, Deron Williams is back with the Brooklyn Nets, and Mikhail Prokhorov's play toy is all the better for it.
Bringing back D-Will, Gerald Wallace and Brook Lopez, trading for Joe Johnson and Reggie Evans, and adding Mirza Teletovic to the mix has been enough to bump Brooklyn from the basement all the way up to the penthouse by way of 10-to-1 title odds.
And who knows how much higher the Nets would've climbed with Dwight Howard in the middle?
Of course, that's not going to happen now, much to the dismay of Brooklynite hipsters and Russian billionaires everywhere. Nevertheless, Vegas has considerable faith in Brooklyn's ability to open the Barclays Center with a squad that can (and likely will) make some noise deep into the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Dallas Mavericks Scramble After Losing out on D-Will
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Remember what I said about how one team's gain was another's loss regarding Ray Allen choosing Miami over Boston?
Well, multiply that by, say, 1,000 and you'll get an idea of where the Dallas Mavericks find themselves after whiffing on Deron Williams.
True, D-Will never suited up for his hometown team, so, technically speaking, he was never the Mavs' to lose.
In reality, though, Dallas' hopes for return to relevance hinged on D-Will's decision and, as such, were dashed when he opted to stay put. The Mavs essentially took a pass on defending their 2011 title when they let Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea walk last December, choosing instead to put their eggs in the Deron basket.
Without Williams—and with GM Donnie Nelson surrounding Dirk Nowitzki with the likes of Chris Kaman, Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones—the Mavs sit somewhat tenuously at 25-to-1 and figure to fall even further unless the front office can make a significant move at some point this summer.
Los Angeles Clippers Keep Themselves in the Conversation
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The Los Angeles Clippers had no such ambitious designs on this offseason, outside of keeping the core together and upgrading the roster around the periphery.
The loss of GM Neil Olshey to the Portland Trail Blazers didn't deter the front office from doing just that. The Clips moved quickly to swap Mo Williams for former draftee Lamar Odom, get Chauncey Billups back on the payroll, and essentially replace Nick Young (now a member of the Philadelphia 76ers) with veteran scoring guard Jamal Crawford.
All in all, Vegas has L.A.'s other team at 15-to-1 odds for the 2013 title, with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin still standing at the center of the whole operation.
New York Knicks Nab Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby
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The New York Knicks have gotten older and perhaps better since the start of free agency, though Las Vegas would seem to disagree with the latter part of that statement to some extent.
The additions of 39-year-old Jason Kidd and 38-year-old Marcus Camby to a central cast of Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Jeremy Lin have the Knicks as 40-to-1 dark horses to bring a third championship banner to Madison Square Garden.
Which is to say, the Knicks have quite a bit of work ahead of them if they're to get a word in edgewise in the championship conversation. Can head coach Mike Woodson cook this hodgepodge of solid parts into a cohesive whole? How long will it be until Iman Shumpert can play again, and will anyone other than Tyson Chandler play a lick of defense in the meantime?
More importantly, will Steve Novak whip out the "Discount Double Check" every time he hits a shot?
Orlando Magic Hang onto Dwight Howard...for Now
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Dwight Howard remains a member of the Orlando Magic for now, though—like everyone else whose domicile isn't located under a boulder—the Las Vegas oddsmakers don't think he'll be in central Florida for long.
At present, the Magic's odds of winning it all next season stand at 75-to-1, on par with those of the New Orleans Hornets, the Joe Johnson-less Atlanta Hawks and, interestingly enough, the Houston Rockets.
Those same Rockets, by the way, who've just amnestied forward Luis Scola in yet another move to position themselves to pry Dwight (and a host of toxic assets) away from Orlando.
Surely, Magic fans are thrilled at the prospect of cheering on a team led by Jameer Nelson and Gustavo Ayon...
Other Contenders Stand Pat
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While the rest of the NBA has been busy bolstering its stores of arms in preparation for an all-out assault on the Larry O'Brien Trophy, the Oklahoma City Thunder, the San Antonio Spurs and the Chicago Bulls have remained relatively quiet on all fronts.
As the reigning Western Conference champions, the Thunder have thus far checked in at 3-to-1 odds in Las Vegas, with the drafting of Perry Jones III and the signing of Hasheem Thabeet as the only "noteworthy" moves of the summer.
Then again, it's not like OKC has to do much to maintain its perch in the West, what with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka all still in their early 20s and, thus, likely to improve as a matter of course.
The Spurs appeared prepared to streak their way to the title after winning 20 straight games between the regular season and the playoffs, only to see the Thunder turn the tables in the Western Conference finals. In response, San Antonio's front office has opted to keep the roster intact by retaining Tim Duncan and Danny Green.
Not enough to make Sin City fall head-over-heels for the Spurs, though 10-to-1 title odds are still rather respectable.
Then again, those are the very same odds granted to the Chicago Bulls, whose championship hopes hinge on the health of Derrick Rose's knee. GM Gar Forman has tabbed Kirk Hinrich and rookie Marquis Teague to cover for the 2011 league MVP until he's ready to return and is still weighing whether to match the Rockets' offer sheet for Omer Asik.
Otherwise—aside from letting CJ Watson walk and trying to trade Kyle Korver—the Bulls will go to war next season with essentially the same cast that last took the court, in a Game 6 first-round series loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.