Basketball is a star-driven sport. With only five players from each team on the court at a time, a single elite player changing teams has more impact in the NBA than it does in any of the other major team sports.
And when two elite players go to the same team at once, one of them totally unexpectedly, that tends to cause a massive shakeup. It’s roughly the equivalent of a baseball team acquiring a completely new pitching staff made up entirely of all-stars.
The Los Angeles Clippers already had a solid lineup that earned an eight-seed in the Western Conference last year and pushed a relatively healthy Golden State Warriors team to six games in the first round of the playoffs. So what happens when you take that solid lineup and add Kawhi Leonard and Paul George — the reigning NBA Finals MVP who just might be the best all-around basketball player alive right now and a six-time all-star who finished third in the MVP voting last season, respectively?
What happens is the sportsbooks need to take the betting odds off the board and think things over for a little while.
Player movement, odds movement
Leonard (somewhat expectedly, as long as you didn’t listen too closely to Chris Broussard) and George (totally out of the blue) joining the Clippers last Friday night was the biggest development in a free-agency period full of them: The Lakers acquired Anthony Davis; the Nets got Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant; Kemba Walker went to the Celtics; Jimmy Butler signed with the Heat; Al Horford jumped to the 76ers.
Once the sportsbooks reopened the betting on Saturday morning, the prices looked nothing like what they had a month before, a week before, or even a day before.
Kawhi was rumored last week to be heading to the Lakers (dropping their title odds as low as 7/5) or staying with the defending champion Raptors. When he did neither, the two LA teams passed each other on the odds board as they zoomed off in opposite directions, the top non-Toronto Eastern Conference contenders saw their odds shorten, George’s former team the Thunder plummeted, and, well, the whole futures betting picture looks entirely different. The Clippers front office grabbed the Etch A Sketch and gave it a good shake.
After surveying odds in three different states with legal brick-and-mortar and online sports betting, here’s a look at the prices, as of Monday, July 8, on all of the realistic 2019-’20 NBA title contenders and a few intriguing teams on the fringes:
|Superbook (NV)||PointsBet (NJ)||Parx (PA)|
- The Clippers are now the favorite everywhere (as they should be, with a much better supporting cast surrounding Leonard/George than the Lakers have alongside LeBron James and AD). Before Friday’s news, the Clips were anywhere from 10/1 to 25/1.
- Always, always, always take the time to odds shop. The Lakers are a decent bet at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook; not so much at Parx Casino in Pennsylvania. The exact opposite is true with the Milwaukee Bucks. The Raptors are probably dead in the water without Kawhi, but if you’re going to bet them, 80/1 makes a lot more sense than 20/1. And so on.
- There’s interesting value in the mid-range, with teams that didn’t make major offseason moves and aren’t in huge markets but are almost certain to win 50-plus games, like the Jazz (+2000 at Parx) and the Nuggets (+2500 at PointsBet in New Jersey). Neither one feels like a team that will go all the way, especially with the two super-teams in LA to get through out West, not to mention the Warriors (who become dangerous once Klay Thompson returns from injury) and the Rockets. But we would have said the same thing about Toronto at the start of the 2018-’19 season, right?
- Those Nets odds in NJ and PA are way too short. They almost seem designed to take advantage of casual bettors who don’t realize that Durant isn’t going to suit up this year.
- Oklahoma City isn’t a real contender now that George is gone; we’re just including the Thunder odds to compare with last week, when they were in the 30/1 range at most books.
- The Miami Heat are interesting just because they’re being talked about as a possible Russell Westbrook trade destination. You’d think they’re still a long shot even with the Westbrook/Butler combo, but at 100/1 at Parx, the parlay of them acquiring Westbrook and the pieces gelling perfectly might be worth a flyer.
- Some sportsbooks have posted a fun prop: “Will a California team win the title?” The odds after Friday night’s craziness were -110 on both the “yes” and the “no.” The Sacramento Kings don’t add much to the “yes” value, so you’re basically betting on the Clippers, Lakers, and Warriors to beat the field. The “no,” giving you the entire Eastern Conference plus Houston, Denver, Utah, and Portland, is probably the smarter money. But Kawhi and PG’s collective relocation has made it damned close.
Photo by Nick Turchiaro / USA Today Sports