With NBA training camps opening up, many sportsbooks are starting to roll out more futures NBA odds. Let's rank from easiest to hardest the division races.
I agree with the oddsmakers on that the Northwest should be a piece of cake for the Oklahoma City Thunder as they are incredibly heavy -4000 favorites on NBA picks. And barring a catastrophic injury to either Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook, the Thunder and new coach Billy Donovan should win this division by double digits easily. I am not a Thunder fan, but I appreciate good basketball and the NBA is a better league with Durant healthy. He was limited to only 27 games last year due to multiple surgeries on a Jones fracture in his foot (that's what Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant currently is dealing with).
On Wednesday for the first time, Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti said Durant has been cleared for all basketball activities with the Thunder camp opening next Tuesday. Durant, a free agent after the coming season, was partially cleared in August and participated in noncontact drills at a USA Basketball minicamp. Presti was vague on whether Durant would be on a minutes limit this season, but I'd bet he will be. And don't look for him in every preseason game.
The Thunder might be the only playoff team from the Northwest. Utah is the second-favorite at +1600 according to PaddyPower. Team on the rise but a lower-tier playoff club at best. The Blazers, Wolvers and Nuggets are all lottery-bound next summer.
This is another division that might only have one playoff team: defending division champion Toronto, which is the -600 favorite on NBA odds. The Raptors are pretty much back intact and added a very solid player in former Hawks forward DeMarre Carroll in free agency. Toronto has one of the East's best backcourts in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. I also believe big man Jonas Valanciunas is ready to jump to an All-Star level in 2015-16. He was rewarded with a four-year, $64 million extension this offseason. Valanciunas, from Lithuania, averaged 12.0 points and 8.7 rebounds last year.
Boston is at +500 and a playoff possibility after sneaking in last year but getting swept by Cleveland in the first round. The Celtics have a lot of interesting players but not that one star. GM Danny Ainge keeps trying to make a big move, the Kings' DeMarcus Cousins for example, but other teams aren't eager to give away their best players. The Celtics will at least have a full season of guard Isaiah Thomas, acquired at last year's trade deadline.
The Knicks, Nets and 76ers are all rebuilding and probably lottery-bound.
Golden State won a franchise-record 67 games last year and took the division by 11 games over the Los Angeles Clippers. The Warriors were able to re-sign forward Draymond Green, add a backup big man in Jason Thompson via trade and dump David Lee on Boston for financial reasons. Will there be a championship hangover? Maybe early in the season, but the Warriors are -450 favorites on NBA odds in the Pacific and should repeat.
Sure, the Clippers could potentially win this division. They are a much-improved team with the additions of Paul Pierce, Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson. Plus of course the Clips were able to keep DeAndre Jordan after he almost signed with Dallas. But I don't think Los Angeles can make up 11 games, although the Warriors won't win 67 again.
The Suns, Kings and Lakers all have no chance here.
I'm not going to delve deep into the Cleveland Cavaliers here because I will be writing more in depth on them late this week and whether they are rightly favored as NBA champions. The Cavs are -500 favorites for the Central but also might not care much about regular-season wins -- just being healthy for the playoffs. Only Chicago (+350) has a shot to beat out Cleveland. Milwaukee (+2000) is on the rise, however.
The Hawks won a team-record 60 games last year and took the Southeast by 14 games over Washington, the only other division team to make the playoffs. Atlanta will not sniff 60 wins again. I expect at least 10 fewer. Can Washington (+180) get to 50? If John Wall and Bradley Beal stay healthy, sure. The wild card is Miami (+180), which might have the second-best starting five in the East in Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside. But there are health concerns over Wade and Bosh.
I don't think there's any question that this is the toughest to predict. Sure, the San Antonio Spurs are the Western Conference favorites after adding LaMarcus Aldridge as well as -120 favorites in the division. But Houston (+200) is better with the addition of point guard Ty Lawson. Memphis (+500) is always a good team. New Orleans (+1100) has arguably the second-best player in the NBA in Anthony Davis. Only Dallas (+5000) has no chance. I expect four playoffs teams from the Southwest, the only division to do that this season. It had five in 2014-15, but the Mavericks are now rebuilding.