If a trade goes down at the deadline, and no contenders are involved, did the trade even happen?
The answer is yes, of course — just like how a tree doesn’t need a witness in order to fall. But as far as the 2020 NBA championship odds are concerned, last week’s trade deadline deals are almost irrelevant.
That’s because most of the teams that acquired impact players are nowhere close to the title conversation this season. The 12-41 Golden State Warriors picked up Andrew Wiggins and sent D’Angelo Russell to the 16-35 Minnesota Timberwolves. The 19-36 Detroit Pistons shipped Andre Drummond to the 13-40 Cleveland Cavaliers. The 15-39 Atlanta Hawks got Clint Capela.
You get the point. The contenders didn’t unanimously stand pat, but the ones that made moves, with a couple of exceptions, only did so around the margins.
Nudging the numbers
We came into the trade deadline with the various regulated sportsbooks in the U.S. telling us there were three serious title contenders, and we came out of it with the same three serious title contenders. A look at DraftKings Sportsbook’s odds before and after the deadline shows that among the teams at the top, most of the line movement was modest:
The Clippers got Marcus Morris and the Lakers didn’t, and you can see just how little the former Knicks starter shakes things up by observing that the Clippers’ odds got longer while the Lakers’ got shorter.
The best team so far this regular season, the Bucks, sat out the trade deadline but saw their odds shorten slightly anyway, perhaps because the trades that were made created no new significant threats to them in the Eastern Conference. That includes the 76ers, who’ve generally disappointed their fans this season and didn’t exactly make Bucks backers nervous by adding bench players Glenn Robinson II and Alec Burks.
The Rockets did make significant moves, but it’s hard to know whether they’ll be better or worse as a result. Capela is gone, Robert Covington is in, and that’s all well and good except Houston’s starting center is now 6’5” P.J. Tucker.
The only team that indisputably made itself better in the short term is the Heat. Miami gave up Justise Winslow, James Johnson, and Dion Waiters and added Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder, and Solomon Hill. It’s unclear how much the 36-year-old Iguodala has left and Crowder is nobody’s idea of a superstar, but as complementary pieces alongside Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, they should elevate the team. DK turned up the Heat from +3000 to +2000 off the deal. They’re still an extreme long shot, and whereas DraftKings now has them tied for the sixth-shortest odds, PointsBet has them seventh and FanDuel says they’re eighth.
The NBA is a league in which most of the impactful player moves take place during the offseason. Sure, last year Toronto acquired Marc Gasol at the deadline and ended up winning the title (aided enormously by Golden State’s disastrous injury luck), but in nearly every other recent season, the eventual champions didn’t make a major deadline deal.
Layups and long shots
As all-star weekend approaches, every sportsbook sees this as a three-team race. At DraftKings, the odds have continued to shift slightly following weekend wins and losses, and the Bucks are now the favorites at +290, the Lakers are +300, and the Clippers sit at +320. Check FanDuel and you’ll see the same numbers except the Clippers are even with their same-arena rivals at +300. At PointsBet, the Clippers are also +300 but the Bucks and Lakers are a bit shorter at +275.
So the question now is whether there’s value anywhere in a long shot.
Here are the best odds we could find for the remaining teams that are above .500:
- Rockets: +1700
- 76ers: +1700
- Celtics: +2000
- Jazz: +2200
- Heat: +2300
- Nuggets: +2500
- Raptors: +3000
- Mavericks: +4200
- Pacers: +6600
- Thunder: +15000
- Grizzlies: +25000
It’s atypical to be able to cross off 27 of the NBA’s 30 teams in February. Even in recent years when the Warriors opened at minus money to win it all, experts identified at least three or four other teams they could realistically see winning the title.
So is there a version of the Raptors this year, a team that looks second tier for now but might find a path to glory in the postseason?
Well, may as well start with the Raptors, who’ve won 14 in a row and now boast the third-best record in the league. It might be hard to picture them beating Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Bucks or one of the two-superstar LA teams four times in seven games, but at 30/1, with a coach and system that have proven successful, they certainly look underpriced.
And if you’re looking to bet some small amount of money you won’t miss in order to maybe, just maybe, win enough for a mortgage payment or two, you can take a flyer on the Pacers going up a level once Victor Oladipo is fully reintegrated,. Or perhaps you can squint and see a series of if-then statements that gets the post-Russell Westbrook Thunder through.
At a return of $15,000 on a $100 bet, well, it’s not any crazier than betting on the St. Louis Blues to win last year’s Stanley Cup when they were the worst team in the NHL.
Photo by Troy Taormina / USA Today Sports