The Summer of Discontent
Welcome to the summer of discontent.
The NBA offseason always features some level of intrigue but the summer of 2014 is proving to be a different beast altogether.
When was the last time so many people nervously waited on the decisions of just a handful of players? When was the last time it felt there was a real shift in league balance without anybody actually taking to the court? When was the last time so many players seemed so dissatisfied with their current setting that even the lowliest suitor seemed like it might have a shot at ensnaring a top 10 player?
Even 2010, the year of the infamous “decision” didn’t quite feel as fragmented as this summer. Once the Big Three made its intentions known, things quieted down. This year, with the now ex-Big Three in place, the NBA landscape still feels like it could succumb to the basketball equivalent of continental shift.
Don’t feel it? Imagine what would happen if the Minnesota Timberwolves were offered the right deal and decided to ship Kevin Love. Imagine what happens if Derrick Rose is injured with Team USA. Imagine what happens if Mitch Kupchak goes out and signs Carlos Boozer, Greg Oden, Lamar Odom, and Gilbert Arenas. Okay, the last one has no founding in reality (hopefully) but you get the picture; there are still potential storylines that could shake the league on its axis.
With so many storylines unfolding it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that the Vegas sportsbooks are chopping and changing odds left, right, and center. The past week alone has seen movement – some big, some little – at an almost endless pace.
To keep you abreast of what’s going down, here’s a look at some of those impacted the most by the actions of the last week or so.
It doesn’t take a genius to realize that the Cleveland Cavaliers are this summer’s big winners. LeBron James’ decision to “go home” brought with it instant credibility, not to mention a meltdown at the bookmakers.
The Cavs – playoff starved in the absence of James – became the bookies’ favorite to win the 2015 NBA championship following Friday’s announcement, with odds crashing from 33/1 to 7/2.
That number has stretched slightly to 15/4 in the ensuing days, and still has the potential to move in either direction. Once the novelty of the situation dies down, and the realization that there’s still plenty of work to be done in Northern Ohio kicks in, those odds may stretch. But then again, if James continues his recruiting spree – which has reportedly already snared Mike Miller and James Jones, and may be bringing Ray Allen into the fold – and if the Cavs can somehow manufacture a trade for Kevin Love (unlikely), those odds could be a lot shorter by October.
For every winner there has to be a loser and in this tale of homecomings it’s the Miami Heat that has to be considered the loser. How much of a loser though remains to be seen.
When Bovada released its NBA futures the day after the NBA Finals concluded, Miami was considered the favorite to win next season’s championship, with 3/1 odds. In the wake of James’ announcement, those odds plummeted to 33/1.
Things have gotten better over the last few days, both in terms of the team and its odds. Re-signing Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Chris Angerson, and Mario Chalmers, as well as the addition of Luol Deng and Josh McRoberts has seen odds move first to 28/1 and then to 25/1.
While Miami is hurt by James’ move, Pat Riley continues to craft a side that looks better than those odds.
Entering the offseason, bookmakers believed the Chicago Bulls had an upside heading into next season. Now they really like the team.
The Bulls began this summer with 12/1 odds of winning a championship next year. Despite the fact the side was unable to prize Carmelo Anthony from Manhattan, those odds currently sit at 13/2, almost half of what they were.
The Bulls have made shrewd moves in signing Pau Gasol, who still has plenty to offer outside of Mike D’Antoni’s ill-fitting offense, and using the amnesty clause to purge themselves of Carlos Boozer. They’ll also be welcoming Nikola Mirotic, the Serbian power forward who’s spent the last six years with Real Madrid in Spain where he earned two Euroleague Rising Star awards and a Spanish league MVP.
There’s still work to be done to bolster the roster and much still relies on the healthy return of Derrick Rose, but the Bulls are starting to round into shape.
New York Knicks
Re-signing Carmelo Anthony was a shot in the arm for Phil Jackson, Derek Fisher, and the new-look New York Knicks.
After a dismal season saw the team miss the playoffs, the ’bockers were assigned 40/1 odds to win the 2015 NBA title. Upon the announcement that Anthony would return, those odds shortened to 33/1, good enough for a jump of five spots in league position.
Now, let’s not kid ourselves. 33/1 is hardly the stuff of contenders, but that seven-point jump shows just how important Anthony – the subject of an interesting feature by Bill Simmons on Grantland this week – is to the side.
The Knicks shipped Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to the Dallas Mavericks ahead of the NBA Draft, receiving Jose Calderon, a pair of picks, and some filler. That’s not the worst move in the world, but it’s not one that makes the team any stronger. Then again, this now looks like a team waiting for next summer when Amar’e Stoudemire’s gargantuan contract comes off the books.
When Mikhail Prokhorov shipped the Nets out of Jersey and into the big city, the intention was to overshadow the Knickerbockers as soon as possible. The Brooklyn Nets did exactly that last season, making headline-bothering trades ahead of the season before making the playoffs.
But this summer isn’t looking all that bright for the Nets. Assigned 28/1 odds of winning the championship back in June, the Nets now sit at 66/1. Why the huge drop off?
Well, the Nets haven’t exactly been vocal this offseason, thanks mainly to a maxed-out salary cap and a crippling tax bill to boot. The side, which certainly didn’t look like a world-beater last year, will be without Paul Pierce (heading to the capital) and Shaun Livingstone (headed for Oakland) at the very least. Andrei Kirilenko and Alun Anderson have signed on for more duty, but there’re not many moves this team can make.
Add to that the changing landscape in the East – the Washington Wizards and Charlotte Hornets continue to make noise while the Cavs will be much better – and the fact that the Toronto Raptors are looking like the better team in the Atlantic Division, and you have a side that probably doesn’t warrant 66/1 odds, but it certainly doesn’t warrant much better.
Now, let’s take a break from this Eastern Conference-centric look at current NBA odds by looking at a pair of suitors that have been left with little to show for their flirtations. We start in Space City.
The Houston Rockets had an impressive shopping list this summer, a list that featured James, Anthony, Bosh, and more. The team had room to maneuver in terms of the salary cap yet somehow has come away with almost nothing (we should at least consider Trevor Ariza to be something).
Despite the Rockets striking out in free agency (so far), bookmakers still like the team as it stands. Dwight Howard and James Harden make the team a contender, as demonstrated by 10/1 odds, but you can’t help but think that not re-signing Chandler Parsons may come back to haunt the side, especially with the versatile big man signing with the Dallas Mavericks and sticking around the Southwest Division.
Los Angeles Lakers
Like the Rockets, the Los Angeles Lakers had their eye on plenty of assets this summer. It’s a shame the team had little (other than suitcases full of cash) to offer back.
For Kobe Bryant, 2014-15 is looking like it’ll be another barren year. No LeBron. No Melo. No Pau. No Pierce. And right now, no semblance of a team.
The Lakers entered the offseason with Bryant, Steve Nash, Robert Sacre, and Kendall Marshall on contract. Add to that re-signees Nick Johnson and Jordan Hill, Jeremy Lin (junked as Houston attempted to free-up cap space), draft pick Julius Randle, and Ed Davis, who agreed to terms on Wednesday, and that’s your lot. Right now, whoever comes in as head coach – be it Byron Scott, George Karl, Mike Dunleavy, or anyone else – doesn’t have a lot to work with right now.
So what do the Lakers’ odds look like? Having started out at 40/1, the purple and gold side of Los Angeles is now at 50/1. Were it not for the fact that the Lakers are a fashionable pick with casual bettors, they’d likely be wallowing down in the murky depths.
Finally, spare a thought for a couple of teams that just can’t catch a break.
The Detroit Pistons watched as their odds tumbled from a middle of the road 40/1 on June 16 to 100/1 on July 12 to 150/1 on July 14.
Sure the Pistons haven’t made huge amounts of noise – they have agreed deals with Caron Butler, D.J. Augustin, Jodie Meeks, and re-signed Jonas Jerebko – but is the team worthy of that price tag?
Believe it or not, the Orlando Magic front office has been one of the busiest in the league this offseason.
In addition to a slew of draft picks, the Magic has picked up the likes of Channing Frye, Ben Gordon, Willie Green, Luke Ridnour, and traded for Anthony Randolph and Evan Fournier, while giving up Aaron Afflalo, Jameer Nelson, and Jason Maxiell, amongst others.
All that hard work from the front office and, let’s be honest, nothing to show for it. Actually, that’s not strictly true. The Magic has negative equity to show for it having gone from 150/1 to 200/1 over the last month. Ouch.
If you’re interested in how other teams have fared in the first month of free agency, take a look at our table below.