B/R's NBA Title Odds Post-Free Agency: Which LA Team Would You Take?
Most NBA offseasons are transformational for a select number of teams.
This one reverberated across the entire basketball world.
Every day seemed to bring about a different superstar changing addresses. Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Anthony Davis all reside in Los Angeles. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant took their talents to the Big Apple. Kemba Walker opted for Boston, while Al Horford ditched Beantown for the City of Brotherly Love.
It was enough to make your head spin—especially if you tried crunching the numbers to find the Association's new favorites.
Assuming the dust has mostly settled, though, we should have enough information to start assessing the seemingly wide-open 2019-20 championship race. By weighing established strengths and weaknesses against the potential impact of roster changes, we've calculated the post-free-agency title odds of all 30 teams.
Charlotte Hornets: 2000/1
The Hornets went from having an All-Star starter at point guard (Kemba Walker) to someone who's yet to prove capable of providing even league-average play at the position (Terry Rozier). If this underwhelming, overpriced supporting cast couldn't win with the former, imagine how this will play out with the latter.
Cleveland Cavaliers: 2000/1
The Cavs could be weirdly fun. Essentially, all of their draft pulls were made with the offensive end in mind, they're too invested in the players not to experiment with a Collin Sexton-Darius Garland, and new coach John Beilein making the NBA jump at age 66 should be fascinating. This team won't be any good, but at least it has some interesting narratives around it.
Memphis Grizzlies: 2000/1
Ja Morant plus Jaren Jackson Jr. plus Brandon Clarke equals aerial artistry in the present and maybe eventual contention in the future. The Morant-Jackson combo has a chance to be one of the Association's better point guard-big man tandems in the near future, and Clarke may spend his entire NBA existence above the rim. Memphis' developmental state will show up in the standings, but the Grizzlies are clearly building toward something.
New York Knicks: 2000/1
In an alternate universe, next season's Knicks will roster Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Zion Williamson. But in this one, they're left with Mitchell Robinson, RJ Barrett and every power forward who hit the 2019 free-agent market. Robinson is a walking highlight reel, and Barrett's quest to quiet his critics could be compelling, but this club will be brutal.
Phoenix Suns: 2000/1
Imagine losing 60-plus games for the second straight year and then failing the offseason. That's life for Phoenix, which reached for Cameron Johnson on draft night, overpaid Ricky Rubio at the start of free agency and salary-dumped T.J. Warren to fit Kelly Oubre Jr. and his 11.8 career player efficiency rating into the budget. How long before #FreeDevinBooker gets trending?
Still Not Happening
Chicago Bulls: 1000/1
The Bulls are deep enough into their rebuild to know who's worth keeping (Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr.) and who probably isn't (Kris Dunn). But they're still in the discovery phase with most of this roster, and they'll want to learn quickly how rookie Coby White does behind the wheel. They'll track their progress through incremental growth, not actual wins and losses.
Oklahoma City Thunder: 1000/1
From championship-or-bust to the back end of the lottery, it's been quite the ride for the now Paul George-less and Russell Westbrook-less Thunder. OKC's willingness to keep Chris Paul around, per Bleacher Report's Ken Berger, might indicate just how little trade interest exists for the pricey 34-year-old. The Thunder's focus is suddenly on the youngsters, and there aren't nearly enough of them around yet.
Minnesota Timberwolves: 500/1
Can Karl-Anthony Towns get some help please? The scoring 7-footer just became only the 12th player in NBA history to average at least 24.0 points, 12.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.5 blocks. Minnesota rewarded him by going young and cheap in free agency, letting the likes of Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson and Tyus Jones walk while adding players like Jordan Bell, Noah Vonleh and Jake Layman.
Jarrett Culver, this summer's sixth overall pick, might be the second-most intriguing player on this roster. This time last year, he was nowhere near the NBA's radar after averaging 11.2 points and 4.8 rebounds as a freshman at Texas Tech. Good on him for making the leap, but his place on Minnesota's hierarchy doesn't say much for the incumbent collection of players and prospects.
Washington Wizards: 500/1
A total teardown still seems a matter of when—not if—for the Wizards, who are hamstrung by John Wall's atrocious contract and frightening injury. Bradley Beal could likely fetch a rebuilder's starter kit on the trade market, which is why he'll continue being a likely trade candidate no matter how often Washington insists he's off limits.
The scoring guard is potent enough to help the Wizards win more games than you'd think. He's been busy piling one career year on top of the next, which last season culminated with him as one of only six players to average 25 points, five rebounds and five assists. Still, his supporting cast will be horrific no matter if the team opts for its veterans or its youth.
Atlanta Hawks: 330/1
The Hawks aren't quite ready to take flight, and they know it. That's why they're still willing to house bad money provided they get an asset for doing so.
But they're close to taking off, and once they do, they should fly a long way up. Trae Young has superstar potential, John Collins is almost an All-Star already, and Kevin Huerter carries a three-point cannon around wherever he goes. De'Andre Hunter is exactly what this roster needed, and Cam Reddish looms as the kind of high-level wild card that could take this core over the top.
Probably Not Happening
Orlando Magic: 330/1
Last season, the Magic snapped a six-year playoff drought thanks in no small part to the contract-year eruptions from late-20-somethings Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross. What if those players aren't the same on this side of their massive paydays?
The question marks for this club go well beyond this handsomely compensated duo. Why is this team stocking up big man like it is preparing for the fall of small ball? Is D.J. Augustin the right point guard to solve this puzzle of a roster? Can Mohamed Bamba recover from a rough rookie season? Is Markelle Fultz even interesting anymore?
Detroit Pistons: 200/1
It's been a productive summer for the Pistons, particularly given their roster restraints. To enter this offseason with limited flexibility and leave it with Derrick Rose, Markieff Morris and Sekou Doumbouya, the Motor City might've impressed as much as it possibly could.
But this was a .500 team last season. It's more than a few marginal upgrades away from contending-level relevance. Assuming Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond have reached (or at least neared) their peaks—collectively they provided 41.8 points, 23.1 rebounds and 6.8 assists in 2018-19—it's tough to say which internal leap would significantly change this club's outlook.
Miami Heat: 200/1
The previously star-less Heat now have Jimmy Butler, which is wild considering the financial barriers this team faced coming into the summer. If you're big on summer-league breakouts, you probably want Tyler Herro mentioned here as a second star, but we'd just caution that Las Vegas typically produces more than its fair share of mirages.
The Heat are better with Butler than without, and the fact they added him without needing to sacrifice Goran Dragic or Kelly Olynyk should help the on-court product. But a Russell Westbrook trade was their one opportunity to make a huge jump up the standings, and they balked at the asking price, per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. That doesn't mean it was the wrong decision, but it didn't help their 2020 championship chances.
New Orleans Pelicans: 200/1
New Orleans' future outshines its present to a dramatic degree, but the new-look Pelicans will already be a handful. This could be a jazzed-up version of Lob City, as Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday can put alley-oops on silver platters for aerial acrobats Zion Williamson, Jaxson Hayes, Derrick Favors and Brandon Ingram. But without several massive leaps from the youngsters, this is more of an exciting team than a formidable one.
Dallas Mavericks: 150/1
If Kristaps Porzingis returns to All-Star form and Luka Doncic springs forward from what was a historic rookie season, the Mavs will have a tremendous twosome at the top. Of course, that will only make it all the more infuriating that Dallas still failed to convert ample cap space into tangible star power. Continuity is fine, but it's less helpful when the pieces involved contributed to a 33-49 record.
"This was the summer to add a [star free agent,]" Kevin Sherrington of the Dallas Morning News wrote. "... Everybody else got one, scrambling the entire Western Conference and setting up a half-dozen teams as legitimate contenders. Except for the Mavs."
Stranger Things Have Happened
Sacramento Kings: 150/1
The Kings are unquestionably trending up, and if they can build off last season's 39-win emergence, this club might sniff out its first playoff berth in over a decade. De'Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley III have each hinted at All-Star potential, while Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Harry Giles III all shine in supporting roles.
Sacramento might have overspent on Harrison Barnes, Trevor Ariza, Dewayne Dedmon and Cory Joseph in free agency, but at least all four will fill helpful rotation roles. One or more of the youngsters must take a superstar leap for this team to matter in the championship race, but it's moving in the right direction nevertheless.
Toronto Raptors: 150/1
The offseason departures of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green haven't led the Raptors to reconsider the futures of their remaining vets yet, per TSN's Josh Lewenberg, but a sluggish start seems capable of sparking a fire sale.
Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka are all entering the final year of their contracts. With this core's championship window almost assuredly closed, flipping these veteran rentals for future assets might be the best path forward for the champs.
Indiana Pacers: 100/1
While the Pacers will miss the likes of Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young and Darren Collison, they still had a productive summer. Goga Bitadze was a good value at the 18th pick (even if he's a bit redundant with this roster), T.J. Warren was a steal, and free-agency gambles on Malcolm Brogdon and Jeremy Lamb were risks worth taking.
That said, this is still a one-star squad. And that solo star, Victor Oladipo, remains sidelined for the foreseeable future by a ruptured quad tendon suffered in January. This has the makings of a pesky playoff opponent more than a full-fledged contender.
San Antonio Spurs: 100/1
There may have been a time not long ago when LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan could've carried their team to championship contention. But in 2019, this duo is no longer dynamic enough to even guarantee a postseason spot.
San Antonio is caught between two time periods, as it isn't short on veterans but has a slew of young prospects needing all the seasoning they can get (specifically, Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV and Jakob Poeltl). The Spurs will likely chase maximum competitiveness with 70-year-old skipper Gregg Popovich calling the shots, but growing pains could be unavoidable with this group.
Brooklyn Nets: 66/1
The Nets sprinted into the championship race this summer by inking Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan to multiyear deals in free agency. The question is which championship chase they entered. The obvious answer would seem 2020, but Durant's ruptured Achilles could make that impossible—assuming he's out for the season, which Brooklyn isn't ready to declare.
"A timeline will be given in due time," Nets general manager Sean Marks said, per Brian Lewis of the New York Post, "but as of now, we're certainly not going to comment on when or if and make any sort of hypotheticals. It's too early."
If Durant joined the team and looked mostly like his pre-injury self, the Nets might rocket into the top five. But assuming they practice precaution with KD—they could have as much as $164 million invested in him—the bump from D'Angelo Russell to Irving probably isn't enough to get them in the title hunt.
Portland Trail Blazers: 66/1
Given the Portland Trail Blazers' lack of flexibility, president of basketball operations Neil Olshey had quite a summer.
On draft night, they bought comically low on uber-athletic former top prospect Nassir Little. The trade market delivered three-and-D swingman Kent Bazemore and interior anchor Hassan Whiteside, who can hold down the frontcourt until Jusuf Nurkic recovers from a broken leg. In free agency, they kept isolation scorer Rodney Hood around while taking low-cost fliers on sharpshooter Anthony Tolliver and wild card Mario Hezonja.
Bazemore's arrival could be big. By adding him for Evan Turner, Portland shipped out someone with 10 catch-and-shoot triples at a 22.2 percent clip for someone with 68 catch-and-shoot splashes at a 35.4 percent rate. With Whiteside, a former blocks and boards leader, manning the middle, the Blazers might have their answer for perking up their 16th-ranked defense.
These are complementary additions, but that's what Portland needed. No matter how this summer went, the team was going to follow the lead of backcourt stars Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Their lives should be easier due to the shooting threats of Tolliver and Bazemore and the vertical spacing from lob threats Whiteside and Little.
This might be Portland's strongest roster in over a decade.
Boston Celtics: 50/1
The Boston Celtics could not have found a better Kyrie Irving replacement than Kemba Walker. The two scoring guards play a similar style—they are elite pick-and-roll ball-handlers who can create shots for themselves and teammates—and even if the younger Irving is a tick more talented, Walker might prove a better locker room fit with the rest of this roster.
Bake in developmental upticks for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, plus a potential rise for Gordon Hayward the further he's removed from his nasty leg injury, and you can almost convince yourself the Shamrocks have a chance to be better next season than they were the last.
And then you remember it. They not only lost do-it-all star Al Horford, but they are replacing him with offensive specialist Enes Kanter.
"There's almost no way he replaces the defense, passing, long-range shooting and intangibles Horford brought to Boston," Bleacher Report's Andy Bailey wrote. "... Kanter can bring volume scoring and rebounding inside, but replicating that stabilizing factor is a different proposition."
Horford did a little of everything, most of it near an All-Star level. Kanter may be little more than a glorified rebounder, since an offense featuring Walker, Tatum, Brown and Hayward shouldn't need much of his inside-the-arc scoring.
The potential tied to Tatum and Brown makes the Celtics worth mentioning, but the decline from Horford to Kanter turned this heavyweight contender into a long shot.
Denver Nuggets: 33/1
History holds top-10 efficiency rankings on offense and defense as near-necessities for NBA champions. The Denver Nuggets—seventh on offense, 10th on defense—were one of four teams to pull that off last season.
The Nuggets smartly opted for continuity this summer, using their biggest expenditures on Paul Millsap's $30.4 million team option and Jamal Murray's five-year, $170 million max extension. Otherwise, they just deepened their frontcourt with a trade for Jerami Grant (and perhaps the acquisition of Bol Bol, though he's a possible redshirt candidate).
Denver is banking on internal growth being enough to build off last season's run to the conference semis. That makes sense when this team's three minutes leaders are all on the right side of 25: Murray, Nikola Jokic and Gary Harris, a trio that enjoyed a robust plus-5.1 net rating across 971 minutes. It could prove especially prudent if 2018's No. 14 pick, Michael Porter Jr., storms back after a rookie season wiped out by injury.
"This kid has a chance to be a franchise-type player," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said, per Mike Singer of the Denver Post.
The last time Porter was healthy—you basically have to go back to his high school days—he looked like a 6'10" three-level scorer. That's a mismatch waiting to happen, and the kind of player who could transform this attack from good to elite. Chances are he won't have the opportunity to make that great an impact, but if the Nuggets are celebrating a championship next June, Porter probably played a huge part in that success.
Golden State Warriors: 19/1
Everything about this feels strange.
The Golden State Warriors aren't the favorites or even especially close to the top. They've lost Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, and they may not have Klay Thompson until late next season as he recovers from an ACL tear. D'Angelo Russell has arrived as a possible long-lost Splash Brother, and the other unfamiliar faces include players like Willie Cauley-Stein, Alec Burks, Glenn Robinson III and Omari Spellman.
A rough outline exists, of course. When Thompson is around, Golden State will have three pillars of three championship teams. Curry and Draymond Green can continue vexing defenders off high screen-and-rolls with Thompson racing off screens around them.
The rest of the picture is fuzzy, though. Will Russell buy into the beautiful game, or will head coach Steve Kerr alter the playbook to get his new scoring guard more comfortable? Will this even be a league-average defense? What happens if it isn't? How and when will youngsters like Spellman, Jordan Poole and Jacob Evans find their footing?
While it'd be foolish to leave the Dubs out of this discussion, they have several internal obstacles to clear before they can even think about leapfrogging the teams ahead of them.
Houston Rockets: 19/1
While the rest of the hoops world scrambles to figure out how James Harden and Russell Westbrook can coexist, the bearded face of the Houston Rockets has a simple reminder for everyone.
"I know how to play with Russ and he knows how to play with me," Harden told Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, per ESPN.com's Zach Lowe.
That's technically true, although outside of All-Star Games, the pair hasn't officially played together since both were members of the 2011-12 Oklahoma City Thunder. Harden was a sixth man back then, and Westbrook had yet to transition to one-man wrecking ball.
The two have since produced the two highest usage percentages in NBA history: Westbrook in 2016-17, Harden this past season. Their new styles cannot mesh together, no matter how much Houston coach Mike D'Antoni staggers their minutes. Each must prove more willing to play off the ball and commit to adding value while doing so.
The questions around this team start and stop with the Westbrook-Harden duo. That shows how critical it will be to manage this relationship, but it also highlights how fruitful it might become. The rest of the supporting cast looks ready for a deep playoff run. If Westbrook and Harden can make it work—betting on elite talent is never a bad option—Space City could launch up the list of favorites.
Utah Jazz: 12/1
The Utah Jazz have a ferocious defense. They've been the most efficient unit at that end after the All-Star break each of the last two seasons, both of which saw Jazz center Rudy Gobert collect Defensive Player of the Year honors.
If the Jazz played their offseason hand correctly, they could be just as deadly on defense but much more potent on offense, too.
Mike Conley comes to Salt Lake City as the crown jewel of Utah's summer break. The 31-year-old can play Quin Snyder-approved defense while also relieving some of the offensive burden shouldered by Donovan Mitchell. Conley has averaged at least 20 points, six assists and two triples each of his last two healthy seasons; only six other players cleared those marks in 2018-19.
Conley could be a godsend, but he's only part of Utah's offseason overhaul. Bojan Bogdanovic, a career 38.9 percent sniper, should scratch a years-long itch for a stretch 4. Ed Davis ensures the Jazz will have a viable backup for Gobert after Derrick Favors departed. Jeff Green and Emmanuel Mudiay add to this team's depth and athleticism.
After three consecutive fifth-placed finishes in the Western Conference, this could be the year when Utah finally hosts at least one playoff series.
Philadelphia 76ers: 10/1
The Philadelphia 76ers are betting big—literally and figuratively.
Their revamped first five is massive. Swingman Josh Richardson is the smallest of the bunch at 6'6" with a 6'11" wingspan. Ben Simmons runs point as a 6'10", 230-pounder. Al Horford, a 6'10", 245-pounder who's established himself as an All-Star center, will shift over to the 4 spot.
Add Joel Embiid (7'0", 250 lbs) and Tobias Harris (6'9", 235 lbs) to the equation, and Philly might have the antidote to the Association's small-ball revolution.
"I think this group, if it jells—and it will jell—is capable of bringing a championship to Philly," Sixers managing partner Josh Harris said, per ESPN's Tim Bontemps. "That's what we've been trying to do."
Philly, which also brought back Mike Scott and added Kyle O'Quinn, should finally have the depth needed to keep Embiid fresh until the finish line. The Sixers were 11.1 points worse without him per 100 possessions, but if his minutes are staggered with Horford's, they might erase that issue.
Shooting remains a concern, and it could be tricky for head coach Brett Brown to find the preferred tempo of his team. But the Sixers might have as much on-paper talent as anyone, and that could take care of any clunky fits.
Los Angeles Lakers: 5/1
The Los Angeles Lakers have LeBron James and Anthony Davis. For as many different arguments as we could make about why the Lakers might win the whole thing, that sentence captures it the best.
Davis has the third-highest career PER in NBA history. James ranks one spot ahead. It almost boggles the mind to think how good these two can be.
"Put some shooters around those two and L.A. could have a closing five that's as good as any team in the league," SI.com's Rohan Nadkarni wrote. "In terms of raw talent, this is probably the best duo in the NBA."
So, why aren't the Lakers ranked even higher?
For starters, James turns 35 in December, and while he's seemed cyborg-ish in the past, he looked human as ever in 2018-19. He sat out 27 games, or 14 more than he had during any of his previous 15 seasons. Perhaps Father Time is finally catching up.
As for Davis, more often than not he loses double-digit games to various ailments. His track record is also noticeably light on team success. While the New Orleans Pelicans management probably shares in that blame, he's still been a star more by numbers than impact for his career.
If James and Davis aren't quite elite, then the Lakers probably aren't, either. They did a good job of scrambling to build a supporting cast once they learned Kawhi Leonard wasn't coming—maybe a great job if DeMarcus Cousins is fully healthy—but this group is built to go as far as James and Davis can lead it.
Los Angeles Clippers: 4/1
The battle for Los Angeles could easily decide the Western Conference, if not the entire NBA. Hollywood's tale of the tape shows two equally capable heavyweights. The Clippers might have been forced to accept little-brother status for the bulk of their existence, but winning the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes could change everything.
The Clippers not only landed Leonard, but they also walked away with Paul George, giving them the Association's top collection of two-way wings. George, an MVP finalist, ended last season ranked first overall in ESPN.com's real plus-minus. The last time Leonard was healthy and unbound by load management, he took fifth in the category (2016-17).
Together, they have nine All-Defensive team selections between them. This past season, they were two of the five players who averaged 26 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Multidimensional, two-way wings might be the most powerful forces in today's NBA, and the Clippers now have two of the best.
Moreover, their two-star pursuit didn't force them to deplete their roster. They may have paid a king's ransom in future assets, but future assets weren't helping the 2019-20 championship push anyway. Instead, they have Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Landry Shamet, Rodney McGruder, Maurice Harkless, JaMychal Green and Ivica Zubac to do that.
If you had to pick one team to lead the NBA in offensive and defensive efficiency, the Clippers might be your best bet. The only thing keeping them from being championship favorites, though, is the fact they face far more obstacles escaping their conference than the top team on our list.
Milwaukee Bucks: 3.5/1
With Leonard out of the East, the Milwaukee Bucks should have a fairly clean path to at least the conference finals. Barring some major developmental leaps in Boston or an early Durant return in Brooklyn, Philadelphia might be Milwaukee's only threat for the conference crown.
The Sixers have a lot, but they don't have Giannis Antetokounmpo, the 24-year-old who earned MVP honors with the absurd stat line of 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.3 steals. He's a jump shot away from potentially having no weaknesses, and his 74.2 career free-throw percentage suggests his form could support an expansion of his shooting range.
"A lot of people say, 'You are the MVP, you are one of the best players in the league, you are so dominant,'" he said, per ESPN's Ohm Youngmisuk. "But I think I can get better. I think I am at 60 percent of my potential, as good as I can be. I just want to be better."
That's a scary thought, although Milwaukee might need even more from its MVP. While the Bucks kept plenty busy in free agency—re-signing Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and George Hill and adding Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews—they'll miss Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic.
Luckily, this team gave itself a bit of breathing room. The Bucks were last season's best by wins (60) and net efficiency (plus-8.6). They could take a half-step backward and still grade out as elite.
Considering what their Western Conference counterparts face in simply making the Finals, it's hard not to feel the best about the Bucks' championship chances, even if only by a small margin.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.