Adding Ron Artest to the roster cements the Lakers as the favorites to defend their recent NBA Championship. But don't expect the Cavaliers, Celtics, Magic and Spurs to simply step aside and let LA coast to a 16th title.
They can’t all win the NBA title.
It’s getting awfully crowded at the top of the 2009-10 championship futures market:
- Los Angeles Lakers 5-2
- Cleveland Cavaliers 3-1
- Boston Celtics 9-2
- Orlando Magic 5-1
- San Antonio Spurs 6-1
That’s already over 100 percent when you add up the betting odds. But given the recent performance of these five teams, plus the moves they made during the offseason, it’s easy to see where all that chalk is coming from.
Lakers: Ron Artest in; Trevor Ariza out
Cavaliers: Shaquille O’Neal, Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon in; Ben Wallace, Joe Smith, Sasha Pavlovic out
Celtics: Rasheed Wallace in; Stephon Marbury out
Magic: Vince Carter, Brandon Bass, Matt Barnes, Ryan Anderson in; Hedo Turkoglu, Courtney Lee, Rafer Alston, Tony Battie out
Spurs: Richard Jefferson, Antonio McDyess, Theo Ratliff in; Bruce Bowen, Kurt Thomas, Fabricio Oberto out
This elite group represents nine of the past 11 NBA champions and all six finalists since 2007. Each team improved its talent level with these roster moves. So what’s a value-based handicapper to do?
Well, there’s the very interesting case of the Phoenix Suns, who dropped from 18-1 at the open to 50-1 after trading Shaquille O’Neal to the Cavaliers for Ben Wallace (now with Detroit), Sasha Pavlovic, a second-round pick and cash. But this hasn’t turned out to be the complete overhaul expected from GM Steve Kerr after the Suns missed the playoffs. It’s more like Kerr has hit the reset button after a year and a half of mixed returns with O’Neal in the middle.
It started last year with Alvin Gentry taking over as interim coach from the more defensive-minded Terry Porter. Phoenix went 18-13 SU and ATS after making the change, even with Amare Stoudemire (detached retina) missing the last 29 games of the season. Stoudemire has yet to be traded, despite draft day rumors that had him going to the Golden State Warriors for a multiplayer package. Steve Nash and Grant Hill both signed contracts. Jason Richardson and Leandro Barbosa are coming back. There’s still hope in the desert.
Moving a little closer to the tree line, the Toronto Raptors are also trying to get back to what worked for them originally. They already pulled the plug early on the Jermaine O’Neal experiment. By signing Jarrett Jack away from the Pacers, Toronto now has possession of the man who took T.J. Ford’s starting job – the same T.J. Ford who was traded for O’Neal one year ago.
There’s more. Rasho Nesterovic, who was also part of that O’Neal trade, is back as a free agent. Carlos Delfino might also be back after a year in Russia. But the big news in the offseason was the Hedo Turkoglu deal. Thanks to rigging a four-team sign-and-trade deal with Orlando instead of simply signing Turkoglu as a free agent, the Raptors saved the cap space they needed to sign Jack. Add Marco Belinelli and Reggie Evans, and you have a team that’s being taken seriously enough to move from 50-1 at the open to 35-1 at press time.
It’s not easy to be more anonymous than the Raptors, especially with a man like Gilbert Arenas on the roster. But that’s the story in the nation’s capital, where the Washington Wizards have made an even more aggressive leap up the odds list from 50-1 to 30-1. The Wizards hope to have Arenas around for a full year; in addition, they were able to swing a deal with Minnesota to pick up Randy Foye and Mike Miller for spare parts and the No. 5 pick in the first round. Aside from injuries, the problem in Washington was always one of depth behind the Big Three of Arenas, Caron Butler, and Antawn Jamison. Depth is no longer a concern for the Wiz.
Toronto and Washington get shorter odds than Phoenix because of the disparity in competition level between the Eastern and Western Conferences. But the Suns are the only one of the three that has been ranked among the league’s elite teams in recent years. They’ll get one more kick at the can.