King James Has Finally Been Crowned, But Can He Be Dethroned?

The NBA season wrapped up less than a week ago, but that doesn’t stop fans from speculating on the future. LeBron James has already promised to bring multiple titles to South Beach (not one, not two, not three…) so with one finally in the bag, what are the odds of repeating in 2013?

Bovada recently posted their future odds and surprise, surprise, they anticipate a re-match of this year’s finals with both Miami and Oklahoma listed as 5/2 favorites to take home the Larry O’Brien trophy. Neither team has any rotation players hitting free agency and will return the core of their lineup next season, but with the NBA draft scheduled for Thursday night, there could be a lot of wheeling and dealing that may impact these odds.

In the Eastern Conference, rumors have been swirling about the potential movement of franchise cornerstones like Dwight Howard and Deron Williams and borderline stars like Luol Deng and Josh Smith. In fact, we’ve already seen the first major move of the off-season with the Wizards shedding any thoughts of cap flexibility by acquiring the bloated contracts of Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor.

Also worth noting is the health of 2011 MVP Derrick Rose. The superstar point guard is apparently ahead of schedule as he continues to rehab his torn left ACL. His health will be paramount to the success of the Bulls — who have the third best title odds in the entire league.

The table below displays the title odds for every team at Bovada as well as their 2011-12 performance.

Team 2011-12 Record Odds
Miami Heat 46-20 5/2
Chicago Bulls 50-16 13/2
Indiana Pacers 42-24 20/1
Boston Celtics 39-27 25/1
Orlando Magic 37-29 30/1
New York Knicks 36-30 35/1
Philadelphia 76ers 35-31 40/1
Atlanta Hawks 40-26 50/1
Brooklyn Nets 22-44 75/1
Milwaukee Bucks 31-35 75/1
Cleveland Cavaliers 21-45 100/1
Toronto Raptors 23-43 150/1
Washington Wizards 20-46 150/1
Charlotte Bobcats 7-59 200/1
Detroit Pistons 25-41 200/1

It’s interesting to see that the Boston Celtics — who were only one game away from eliminating the eventual champion Heat — rank behind the Pacers as the East’s number four team. Gang Green has just three rotation players under contract for next season (Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley), while Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett are both free agents. Most analysts have assumed that Ray Allen will not be returning, and could be headed to a contender like Miami or San Antonio. However, many questions remain about what KG’s off-season plans are. Retaining Garnett will be Boston’s top priority, but whether the 17-year veteran will re-sign or retire remains unclear. If both Allen and Garnett depart, Boston will be this off-season’s biggest wildcard as they have loads of cap space and two first round draft picks.

Many fans will presumably be betting the Knicks, whose 35/1 odds bely the skill on their roster. The team struggled to balance Carmelo’s isolation-heavy offensive attack with Amare’s preference to run-and-gun, but with a front court including two All-Stars and a former defensive player of the year (Tyson Chandler) the talent is there to contend with any team in the league. It will be interesting to see whether Jeremy Lin (who was granted Early Bird rights) re-signs, or if the Knicks go another direction and make a play for one of the many veteran free agents available. That list includes Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Andre Miller, Aaron Brooks and even former castoffs Raymond Felton and Chauncey Billups.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the East also features the four worst teams in the league in the Raptors, Wizards, Bobcats and Pistons. Each of these teams has odds of 150/1 or worse — and even at those long odds it’s tough to find value. What’s worse is that the Wizards made moves to improve in the short term rather than holding onto Rashard Lewis’ expiring contract and entering a deep 2013 free agency class with the ability to add a max contract player. That class includes Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, Josh Smith and potentially Blake Griffin and James Harden (both of whom will be restricted free agents).

The one intriguing team that bears monitoring is the Brooklyn Nets. Deron Williams has intimated that he would only sign with Brooklyn or Dallas, and if Orlando decides to move Dwight Howard, the Nets will definitely be involved in the conversation. Reports have indicated that Superman’s preference is to play in Brooklyn, although after dealing their first-round pick in an ill-conceived deal to acquire Gerald Wallace, they may not have the assets to make such a trade.

Team 2011-12 Record Odds
Oklahoma City Thunder 47-19 5/2
Los Angeles Lakers 41-25 10/1
San Antonio Spurs 50-16 12/1
Dallas Mavericks 36-30 14/1
Los Angeles Clippers 40-26 18/1
Memphis Grizzlies 41-25 25/1
Denver Nuggets 38-28 30/1
Houston Rockets 34-32 50/1
Portland Trailblazers 28-38 50/1
Utah Jazz 36-30 50/1
Golden State Warriors 23-43 75/1
Minnesota Timberwolves 26-40 75/1
Phoenix Suns 33-33 75/1
New Orleans Hornets 21-45 100/1
Sacramento Kings 22-44 100/1

The Thunder are the clear favorite to come out of the West, and it’s tough to argue against the logic. This is a young team who has improved every season since drafting Kevin Durant with the #2 pick back in 2007. Their top four scorers are all 24-years old or younger, and they may have the best home court advantage in basketball. Perhaps they don’t have quite the top-end talent of the Miami Heat, but their depth is clearly superior. If GM Sam Presti can retain the core of this team, they could be a threat for the better part of the next decade.

The Lakers were able to win their first round playoff matchup with the Nuggets last season, but looked overmatched as they lost in five games to the aforementioned Thunder. After nearly dealing away Pau Gasol in a package for Chris Paul last season, don’t be surprised if L.A attempts to blow up this roster during the off-season. It seems a known fact that Gasol is available for the right price, but it would seem nobody outside of Kobe Bryant is untouchable. Will they make a move for Dwight Howard? Can they convince the Nets to sign-and-trade Deron Williams? More likely than not the answer is no on both counts, but the team will definitely be active this off-season.

While the Lakers are still L.A.’s number one team, their in-town rivals have been stealing headlines of late. At 18/1 the Clippers project as the number four seed, but this is a team with tremendous potential. Blake Griffin has established himself as a legitimate franchise cornerstone and, if he picks up the defensive intensity, could be one of the league’s most dominant players. With a premier point guard in Chris Paul, a great shot blocker in DeAndre Jordan, and the potential return of Mr. Big Shot himself — Chauncey Billups – this team has all the talent necessary to compete in the West.

As far as the presumed bottom dwellers, the Phoenix Suns immediately jump off the page. Despite a 33-33 record last season, the Suns find themselves with odds on par with the T’Wolves (26-40), Warriors (23-43) while trailing the Blazers (28-38). This indicates that odds makers believe that Steve Nash (who is a free agent) will likely not return to the team next season. The two-time MVP is 38-years old and this could be his last shot at winning a title.

Make sure to check back after the draft and throughout free agency as we examine how off-season player movement affects future odds.

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