It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane…It’s the Lakers Soaring Title Chances

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, you have probably heard that the Dwight Howard saga has finally ended (and even if you were living under a rock, that rock would have to be far removed from a wireless hotspot). After months and months of this so-called “Dwight-mare”, the Magic dealt their star center to the Los Angeles Lakers in a four-team trade that sent Andrew Bynum to the 76ers, Andre Iguodala to the Nuggets, and assorted garbage to the Magic.

The move was met with disbelief and apprehension as fans, analysts and GM’s alike questioned how the Lakers were able to land yet another star without giving up forward Pau Gasol. Making the deal appear even more dubious was the alleged offer from Brooklyn several weeks ago, which included Brook Lopez, Kris Humphrey, Marshon Brooks and four 1st round draft picks — an offer that was seemingly far superior to the one they ultimately accepted. Not surprisingly, a trade of this magnitude has completely altered the landscape of the league.

During the last collective bargaining agreement, owners put in place heftier luxury tax punishments that they believed would put an end to the big three era. They were right. With Dwight Howard and Steve Nash joining Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant, the Lakers may have given birth to the dawn of the fantastic four.

Of course, Howard’s personal manifest destiny wasn’t the only major roster shake-up this off-season. Ray Allen took his talents to South Beach, Jason Terry traded in his Maverick blue for Celtic green and the Hawks finally found a taker for Joe Johnson’s massive contract in the Brooklyn Nets. But how do bookmakers feel this player movement has affected the 2012-13 title chase?

The table below — with odds taken from Bovada — displays the how futures market has changed over the past month and a half.

Although the Heat remain the unquestioned favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference, there has been some shake-up amongst the rest of the field. With Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf making it known that the team would be extremely careful with the recovery of star guard Derrick Rose and the team also losing Omar Asik to the Rockets, Chicago saw their odds drop from 13/2 to 9/1.

As for the Magic, their trade of Dwight Howard sent their futures plummeting from 30/1 to 50/1 — and even that seems too high. Orlando will likely trot out a starting lineup of Jameer Nelson, newly acquired Arron Afflalo, Hedo Turkoglu, Glen “Big Baby” Davis and either Al Harrington, rookie Andrew Nicholson or the little-known Gustavo Ayon. That roster isn’t likely to scare anybody outside of Charlotte. Moreover, with the team clearly in re-building mode, don’t be surprised to see management ship off the few valuable veterans remaining on the roster (re: Nelson and Harrington).

The two teams that have seen the most significant improvement in their future odds are the teams who have made major trades this off-season. As part of the Dwight Howard deal, the Philadelphia 76ers exchanged Andre Iguodala, rookie Moe Harkless and center Nikola Vucevic for Andrew Bynum. Arguably the second best center in the NBA, Bynum immediately upgrades the ‘Sixers frontcourt and gives
them the size they have desperately needed for years. And while Andre Iguodala was both an elite defender as well as a well-rounded offensive player, Philly’s backcourt depth allows them to make this deal without experiencing a traumatic drop-off at the position.

The other team who saw their odds jump were the new-look Brooklyn Nets. Although they were unable to acquire Howard, the newly re-located franchise was able to re-sign key free agents in Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace, while adding an all-star caliber guard in Joe Johnson. With these key acquisitions, the Nets moved from 75/1 all the way down to 40/1.

While there was no major movement in the Eastern Conference, the Western Conference is another beast entirely. The Lakers saw their 10/1 odds improve slightly after acquiring Steve Nash from the Suns, but their acquisition of Howard has sent their futures skyrocketing. With a potential starting lineup of Nash, Bryant, World Peace, Gasol and Howard with Antawn Jamison coming off the bench, the Lakers moved all the way to 3/1 — cementing them as the new favorite in the West.

That caused the former frontrunner — the Oklahoma City Thunder — to slip from 5/2 to 11/2 despite no major player movement. That means that OKC shifted from being the co-title favorite, to the number three spot (trailing Miami and Los Angeles). All that regression occured in spite of the Thunder’s success at the 2012 NBA draft in which they were able to land Baylor’s Perry Jones III (a potential top-five pick entering the season) at the tail end of the first round.

There was one shocking development related to the blockbuster Dwight Howard trade, and that was the movement for the Denver Nuggets future odds. The good folks in Colorado somehow turned Al Harrington and Arron Afflalo into Andre Iguodala — who was both an All-Star and Olympic Gold Medal winner in 2012. A.I. should fit in perfectly with Denver’s athletic, up-tempo, high-intensity philosophy, and yet the futures certainly do not reflect that. Despite this major addition, the Nuggets have actually dropped from 30/1 to 35/1 at Bovada.

That same decline occured for the Clippers (who have since added Lamar Odom, Grant Hill, Jamal Crawford while re-signing Chauncey Billups), the Spurs (who have kept their entire core intact), and the Mavericks (who despite losing Jason Terry and Jason Kidd have added talent with O.J. Mayo and Elton Brand). This indicates that the Lakers upgraded  their roster so immensely, that every other competitor has weakened comparatively.

Most of the other odds movement compares the league’s cellar dwellars. As these teams failed to make any impact moves, bookmakers felt comfortable dropping their future prices. Even at 200/1, betting teams like Detroit, Sacramento, Charlotte and Washington is a worse investment than simply flushing your money down the toilet. At least when you flush money down the toilet, there is still the chance the bowl clogs and overflows and you get your money back.

Do you agree with how bookmakers have adjusted their futures? Should the Lakers be favored over the Heat now? Outside Los Angeles, Miami and Oklahoma City does any team have a legitimate title chance? Give us your thoughts in the comments section below.

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