Way-Too-Early 2019 NBA Championship Odds Following Draft and Peak Free Agency
Championship odds for the NBA’s 2018-19 season come via TopBet and are accurate as of Friday, July 13. As always, be sure to double-check these lines before placing any wagers. Though they typically remain stagnant during the offseason, they’re subject to sudden swings in every direction based on additional free-agency signings, trades and injuries.
Brooklyn Nets (+200,000)
Talk about a market inefficiency. The Brooklyn Nets are not going to win the NBA title next year. That’s a fact. But giving them the lowest odds is an insult. General manager Sean Marks has done some great work over the past couple of years, arming this team with plenty of talent that could pop.
From D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie, to Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen, to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Joe Harris, the Nets are set up to surprise us all. The Eastern Conference has never been more wide-open following LeBron James’ departure. Don’t be surprised if Brooklyn ambles its way to fringe playoff contention.
Sacramento Kings (+200,000)
Now we’re talking. The Sacramento Kings are right where they’re built to be—the bottom. Of course, they don’t actually want to be at the bottom. They don’t own the rights to next June’s first-round pick, so it doesn’t behoove them to be one of the two to five worst teams in the league.
And yet, that’s exactly what they are. Their frontcourt is crammed with overlapping talent; it’ll be a feeling-out year to figure out the balance between Harry Giles, Marvin Bagley, Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere. And mind you, we’re not even including veterans Kosta Koufos and Zach Randolph in this mix. Toss in the learning curve sophomore point guard De’Aaron Fox will still be subject to, and the Kings will be lucky to evade a bottom-three record.
Atlanta Hawks (+100,000)
Another team that feels like they are in the right spot. The Atlanta Hawks aren’t trying to win games this year. Their trade for Jeremy Lin might imply otherwise, but that’s a marketing play above all else. He draws fans into seats and will increase jersey sales without harming their tank.
Rookie point guard Trae Young is going to have the greenest of lights. John Collins will be given even more free rein as well. Taurean Prince will get more reps as a point forward. There’s a chance this team is slightly better than expected, but that only means they’ll finish with a bottom-five record as opposed to a bottom-two record.
Charlotte Hornets (+75,000)
Truth be told, given the state of the Eastern Conference, a full-strength Charlotte Hornets squad should be more attractive than this current line. They started to figure things out toward the end of last year, and Kemba Walker is a patented star. If Malik Monk takes some baby steps forward as a secondary playmaker and they get anything out of rookie Miles Bridges, they’ll be much deeper and switchier than advertised.
Except, Walker is part of the problem. He’ll be a free agent next summer, and the Hornets have to decide whether to trade him rather than risk losing him for nothing in July. Expect them to give into the latter. Things could change if they’re contending for a tidy playoff spot in the East, but there are no guarantees on that front. They’ve been trying to avoid a midseason rebuild for some time. This feels like the year it finally catches up with them.
Memphis Grizzlies (+75,000)
Although I can’t believe I’m saying this, here it goes: The Memphis Grizzlies might be underrated. Sportsbooks are treating them as afterthoughts because they ended last year with a bottom-three record. It also doesn’t help that they play in the NBA’s second-smallest market, which inherently limits interest in their odds no matter the circumstances.
On top of that, there’s always the possibility this team won’t be good again, in which case they could then blow it up, like many thought they’d do last year. But if Marc Gasol and Mike Conley stay healthy, and if rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. is the real deal he’s being made out to be, Memphis could be in immediate business.
Phoenix Suns (+75,000)
The Phoenix Suns are yet another team that may end up being wildly underrated. Devin Booker is coming into his own as a scorer, and Josh Jackson showed flashes of offensive improvement toward the end of last season. Stir in No. 1 pick DeAndre Ayton, an NBA-ready rookie in Mikal Bridges and the addition of Trevor Ariza in free agency, and this team has a case for fringe playoff duty.
Granted, that doesn’t translate to a realistic title chance. And we should should also point out they need a floor general. Rookie Elie Okobo is their best option at point guard right now. Well, him or Brandon Knight. Neither is ideal. Nonetheless, they are a candidate to outperform their championship odds.
Chicago Bulls (+50,000)
This is about right for the Chicago Bulls. Their offseason spending pattern has done little to provide any insight into their immediate or long-haul direction. They forked over $78 million to keep Zach LaVine and are reportedly ready to spend a boatload of money on restricted free agent Jabari Parker, currently of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Wendell Carter Jr. should get some Rookie of the Year love, while Lauri Markkanen seems poised for a sophomore detonation. If one of their other kiddies makes a leap—think Kris Dunn or Denzel Valentine—then the Bulls could be better than expected. That gives them a ton of outcome variance. We could easily see them being a bottom-three team, but we could also envision them scrapping their way to the latter part of the lottery.
Cleveland Cavaliers (+50,000)
No surprises here. The Cleveland Cavaliers have been thrust into a full-tilt rebuild on the heels of LeBron James’ latest departure. Or have they?
Conventional wisdom suggests they’ll tear everything down and start anew. But they’ve yet to do that. Loads of people believe owner Dan Gilbert is going to run it back with Kevin Love, George Hill, Kyle Korver and Tristan Thompson and then try to push for a playoff berth.
With Love slated for free agency in 2019 (player option) and guaranteed to leave, that would be a disaster. This team probably isn’t making the playoffs as currently constructed; they’re more like 10th place material in the Eastern Conference. The smart thing to do is hit reset, and chances are they’ll realize that—if not over the summer, then surely by February’s trade deadline.
Detroit Pistons (+50,000)
The Detroit Pistons continue to embody mediocrity. They might be a playoff team in the East. Blake Griffin, when healthy, and Andre Drummond have the makings of a dominant frontcourt dyad. But the Pistons could also miss the postseason entirely…again. The spacing with their two star bigs and point guard Reggie Jackson is iffy, and they don’t have a ton of wings who can shoot—especially if they’re still married to Stanley Johnson’s developmental arc.
Optimistic projections have them racking up 43 victories. That’s more than enough to make some noise in the talent-starved East, but their ceiling is nowhere near high enough to warrant dark-horse investments. On the bright side: Pistons fans should revel in their signing of Glenn Robinson III. He’s a nice gamble for a team that sorely needs to unearth a gem on the wings.
Miami Heat (+50,000)
Oof. It seems the Miami Heat’s usual mystique is wearing off. And honestly, it probably should be. They weren’t able to do much this offseason while facing the luxury tax. They’ll likely be fielding the same roster that closed last year. If anything, they’ll be slightly more shorthanded after greasing the wheels of an Hassan Whiteside or Dion Waiters or Tyler Johnson salary dump.
Either way, the Heat should be a playoff team. If all their matchups break right, they could even stumble their way into the Eastern Conference Finals. But that doesn’t say much about them; it says more about the state of East. As it currently stands, they need another high-end shot-creator and shot-maker to help them climb the conference ladder. And while Carmelo Anthony would be an interesting fit, assuming he’s not long for the Oklahoma City Thunder, he alone isn’t carrying them over the hump.
Orlando Magic (+50,000)
So, um, yeah. This is a ridiculously generous listing for the Orlando Magic. They still don’t have a starting-caliber point guard, and their frontcourt carousel is funkier than ever after they selected big man Mo Bamba with the sixth overall pick in June’s draft.
Don’t get me wrong: Bamba could end up being great. He apparently shoots threes now. But the chemistry between him, Jonathan Isaac and $84 million man Aaron Gordon will be touch-and-go at best. While hiring Steve Clifford to replace head coach Frank Vogel was a pretty dope move, he’ll have his work cut out for him. He might be able to turn the Magic into a defensive superpower, but their offense figures to struggle beyond comprehension.
Los Angeles Clippers (+40,000)
Pretty much nobody understands what the Clippers are doing. Are they rebuilding? Trying to win? Simply stockpiling assets in advance of the February trade deadline?
If you’re looking for concrete answers here, you’re going to be disappointed. Our best guess has them toeing the line between rebuilding and trying to win now. They have veterans like Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Lou Williams and Patrick Beverley who can help them collect victories and stay relevant in the Western Conference. But they also have two youngsters, in rookies Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson, who will command a bunch of playing time out of the gate. Odds are the Clippers will try to scrap and claw and see where they stand around Jan. 1, then decide whether to hold a fire sale in advance of the trade deadline.
Dallas Mavericks (+25,000)
The Dallas Mavericks are having one of the most interesting offseasons. They traded up to get Luka Doncic in June’s draft, who yours truly believes will be the best player of the 2018 class. That move suggested they were all-in on a rebuild around him and Dennis Smith Jr.
But then the Mavericks up and acquired DeAndre Jordan on a one-year deal. Such a move mostly screams “We’re trying to win now.” Which is fine in a nutshell. The Mavericks have not damaged their long-term flexibility with this balancing act. Nevertheless, competing for a postseason spot while depending on two youngsters like Doncic and Smith is extremely hard. The most likely outcome to their year has them failing to sniff the playoffs.
Denver Nuggets (+25,000)
Things are starting to get interesting. The Denver Nuggets are a great dark horse. They didn’t do much to the roster this summer, but they did make two calculated gambles. First, they drafted Michael Porter Jr., who was at one time the consensus No. 1 pick. His back injuries are a concern, but to snag him at No. 14 is a big deal. If he ends up playing this season, they could have another building block on their hands.
Denver also signed Isaiah Thomas for the veteran’s minimum to be their second-unit spark plug. This move is objectively ridiculous. Thomas has fallen off after suffering a major hip injury during the 2017 playoffs, but he’s one year removed from finishing fifth in MVP voting. That same season, he also averaged more than 28 points and five assists while posting a true shooting percentage north of 62. Only two other players have ever done that in NBA history: Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant.
Left alone, the Nuggets were going to make the playoffs. They would have made it last year if not for Paul Millsap’s injury. That they’ve added Thomas, and also Porter, gives them a chance to throw the entire Western Conference for a whirl.
Minnesota Timberwolves (+15,000)
The Minnesota Timberwolves are somehow both overrated and underrated. You’d expect them to have better odds after they won nearly 50 games last year, but they were always one of the NBA’s biggest overachievers.
Nothing that’s happened this offseason has changed that. They needed to deepen their wing rotation, but coach-president Tom Thibodeau signed Derrick Rose, a point guard, and Anthony Tolliver, a big man, instead. And now multiple reports have Jimmy Butler becoming disenchanted with teammates Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. The Timberwolves look like a playoff unit anyway, but they have the capacity to devolve into a lottery squad.
Indiana Pacers (+15,000)
Consider the Indiana Pacers the Nuggets of the Eastern Conference. If you’re looking for a long-shot dark horse, they should be it. They shocked the world last year by winning 48 games and only improved their makeup this offseason.
Entering the summer, their shot profile was the biggest concern. They led the Association in reliance on long twos, according to Cleaning The Glass. The signings of Doug McDermott and Tyreke Evans neutralize that. Adding Kyle O’Quinn up front also helps them should they get the urge to run dual-big lineups. He can play with either Domantas Sabonis or Myles Turner, who cannot play with each other.
Should Victor Oladipo provide an adequate encore to his Most Improved Player campaign, the Pacers could top 50 victories and contend for the No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the East. This, though, assumes head coach Nate McMillan doesn’t set them back by falling in love with unnecessarily clunky lineups.
New York Knicks (+15,000)
Do not bet on the New York Knicks. Repeat: Do not bet on the New York Knicks. They wouldn’t be this high if they played in a smaller market. That bias is real.
A +15,000 is egregious for them. Kristaps Porzingis might not play at all next season, and they’ll be giving heavy minutes to developmental projects like Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina. To top it off, they’ll probably trade some of their best veterans by the midseason pole—mainly Courtney Lee. Bank on the Knicks tanking, not contending for a title.
Washington Wizards (+15,000)
Justifying a +15,000 for the Washington Wizards isn’t particularly hard. They have three could-be All-Stars in John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter. Kelly Oubre Jr. could have a massive jump in him. Dwight Howard is still a quality 5.
On the other hand, the Wizards might be the NBA’s most dysfunctional team behind closed doors. Their offensive floor balance is also awkward. They leaned heavily on pick-and-pops with Marcin Gortat, since traded to the Clippers, to create room last year. Howard doesn’t offer that same kind of range. We could see the Wizards’ offense fall off a cliff as a result—right along with their already shaky standing in the Eastern Conference.
New Orleans Pelicans (+15,000)
Losing DeMarcus Cousins, a top-20 player, should be a bigger deal to the New Orleans Pelicans. But because he’s working his way back from a career-altering Achilles injury, it won’t be.
In fact, the Pelicans are probably better off with their three-man frontcourt rotation of Anthony Davis, Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle. They outscored opponents by nearly 10 points per 100 possessions last year when Davis and Mirotic shared the floor, according to NBA.com. Randle is an extension of that dynamic. Bake in Jrue Holiday’s defensive breakout last year, and the Pelicans, should all go according to plan, will once again be chasing a fifth- or sixth-place postseason big.
Milwaukee Bucks (+10,000)
Signing Ersan Ilyasova and Brook Lopez were good moves by the Milwaukee Bucks. Their best move, though? Hiring Mike Budenholzer to replace head coach Jason Kidd.
Budenholzer will revamp the defense and diversify the offense. Both are terrifying notions with Giannis Antetokounmpo still in tow. The big question with this team: What will happen with restricted free agent Jabari Parker? Either the Bulls or Kings could poach him, which would be fine, because he’s an awkward fit beside Antetokounmpo. At the same time, he’s a former No. 2 pick and fiery scorer. Coach Bud may be able to reach him on the defensive end while turning him into a weapon as both a power forward and small-ball 5.
At any rate, regardless of what happens with Parker, the Bucks should be in the conversation for a top-four playoff seed out East.
Portland Trail Blazers (+10,000)
Yes, the Portland Trail Blazers finished with the West’s No. 3 seed last year. But does that really matter? Not quite. Third through 10th place was so damn close, they could’ve just as easily missed the playoffs altogether.
Counting on a leap from this squad would be a mistake. They have some upside in a youngster like Zach Collins, but they’re largely locked into players who are what they are. Anticipate some regression from last season.
San Antonio Spurs (+10,000)
No team in the NBA is harder to peg than the San Antonio Spurs. Kawhi Leonard is reportedly unhappy, and no one quite knows whether they’re going to trade him.
If they do trade him, their championship appeal plunges. That’s reason enough to avoid them here, at +10,000. Then again, they won 47 games without him last year. And they’re bound to get something in return for him if they bite the bullet and ship him elsewhere. This is to say, the Spurs are right where they should be. If anything, in the event you believe they’ll keep Leonard, you’re probably getting nice value out of them here.
Utah Jazz (+10,000)
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. The Utah Jazz had the NBA’s best point differential per 100 possessions after the All-Star break last year. They’re primed to build upon that months-long.
No, they didn’t make a ton of changes. They didn’t need to. Their upticks will come more organically. Getting more appearances from Rudy Gobert, Dante Exum and Thabo Sefolosha, who missed a combined 138 games, will culminate in more victories. So, too, will a more seasoned Donovan Mitchell, the runner-up for Rookie of the Year. The same goes for Jae-Crowder-at-the-4 lineups.
Basically, this Jazz squad is scary good. I’m not saying they could contend for the West’s second-best record, but I’m not not saying it either.
Toronto Raptors (+7,500)
There is a tug-of-war going on with regards to perception of the Toronto Raptors. They now have a rookie head coach, Nick Nurse, at the helm and more than a few people believe they’ll inevitably steer into rebuild. That creates an air of hesitation.
Still, their title odds are more appealing than not. It’s unlikely they start over before next season is out. With LeBron out of the East, this is their best chance yet at reaching the NBA Finals. And they could get there. The East is a free-for-all, and they closed 2017-18 with the best record in the conference.
Sure, the Raptors could still make some moves. But they’ll likely be win-now transactions—you know, like going all-in on a Kawhi Leonard trade.
Oklahoma City Thunder (+6,500)
Sleep on the Oklahoma City Thunder are your own peril. Last season ended in disappointing fashion, with a disheartening first-round playoff exit at the mercy of the Jazz. But the Thunder will be better this time around.
For starters, their point differential always implied they were better than their record last year. Getting Andre Roberson back from his ruptured Achilles injury will only help their defense. He and Paul George were one of the best defensive duos in the league.
Eventually severing ties with Carmelo Anthony will be addition by subtraction. His departure allows for more natural synergy between George and Russell Westbrook. The Thunder will continue to struggle to space the floor, but they only need Jerami Grant or Patrick Patterson to emerge as a semi-reliable power forward and they’ll be fine. They, along with the Jazz, might even contend for the West’s No. 2 seed.
Philadelphia 76ers (+2,000)
It’s tough to hate on this spot for the Philadelphia 76ers. Top-five odds could prove to be ambitious, but they won 52 games last year, and their best players are only going to get better.
Think about it: Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric haven’t even hit their primes yet. And there’s no way Markelle Fultz, the No. 1 pick in 2017, can play any worse. Indeed, there is some variance in the Sixers’ potential win-loss outcome. It’s not difficult to envision them hovering around .500 as the result of injuries and tenuous spacing. On the flip side, it’s equally easy to see them finishing with the East’s best record and making a run to the NBA Finals.
Houston Rockets (+1,000)
Last year’s Houston Rockets squad was arguably one Chris Paul injury away from dethroning the reigning-champion Golden State Warriors. Their placement should not come across as this huge shock.
At the same time, they haven’t had the best offseason. They lost two of their most important defenders, in Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, and they’ve yet to re-sign starting center Clint Capela. Even if the Swiss skyscraper returns, as expected, the Rockets could see their switch-everything defense devolve. And that, in turn, would crimp their championship appeal by significant margins. You’re better off monitoring their progress through the first 10 games of the regular season before betting on them.
Boston Celtics (+500)
Anyone have qualms with this? Didn’t think so.
The Boston Celtics made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals without two top-20 players in the lineup last year. That says all you need to know. They’re deep, and terrifying, and runaway favorites in the East. And that’s before factoring in the returns of Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving.
Los Angeles Lakers (+500)
A few words of advice: Avoid the Los Angeles Lakers’ championship odds like the plague. They’re beyond inflated by the arrival of LeBron James. And they shouldn’t be.
The Lakers will make the playoffs after a years-long stay in lottery territory. There’s no doubt about that. But they haven’t done nearly enough to combat the Thunder, Jazz or Rockets, let alone the Warriors. They followed up James’ arrival by signing…Lance Stephenson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo and JaVale McGee. That’s something. What exactly? We don’t know. But they’re definitely not championship material.
This will hold true even if the Lakers trade for Kawhi Leonard. They don’t have the complementary depth to make the most of James’ arrival. Not yet. Circle back again in 2019, when they’ll have cap space, and when Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma are another year seasoned and/or have been flipped for an additional established superstar.
Golden State Warriors (-150)
You might as well jump on the Golden State Warriors’ odds now. They aren’t going to get more palatable than this.
Signing DeMarcus Cousins, a top-20 player before his Achilles injury, is patently unfair. As if that’s not enough, though, the Warriors are seeing many of their foremost threats crumble. The Rockets lost two pivotal defenders. The Spurs may lose Kawhi Leonard. The Jazz, Nuggets and Thunder are on the rise, but the gap between them and the Warriors is too big to be bridged in one year’s time.
Really, it’ll be flooring if the Warriors don’t win next year’s title—so much so that the focus has already shifted to Kevin Durant’s (player option) and Klay Thompson’s impending forays into 2019 free agency. Such is life when you are championship formalities. You worry about the big picture, because the immediate outlook is your own personal plaything.
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