The NBA Finals are over, and the most predictable season in league history really makes you wonder whether there is any sense in betting against the Warriors and Cavs next year. Odds are up for the 2018 campaign, both in Vegas and our own more realistic projections. We’ll get into the specifics of where you should put your money, below, but my main takeaway is that there’s only value on lesser teams if you feel confident predicting (a) where key free agents will sign and (b) which teams will make significant trades.
Golden State Warriors
Vegas Odds: 2/3
Kevin Durant has a player-option for 2017-18 and Steph Curry is an unrestricted free agent, but there seems to be no talk at all of either leaving town. In fact, there are reports that Durant will sign a deal that gives Golden State flexibility to retain their core four (Durant, Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green) for the foreseeable future.
It is hard to find major flaws in Golden State after a 16-1 postseason, but what if they suffer a major injury? The Warriors are a huge favorite, and they should be, but their price provides little incentive to tie up your money for a full year.
Vegas Odds: 3/1
The Cavs played well, for the most part, in the NBA Finals, yet won just one game. LeBron James continues to be the best player on the planet, but the series really wasn’t competitive. The Cavs need help in a few areas: they need to find a way to decrease Lebron’s minutes, and they need to find a defensive stopper so that James isn’t forced to expend so much effort guarding guys like Durant.
The good news is that they may be able to get the necessary reinforcements in the offseason. Acquiring Paul George would be a perfect fit. It won’t come easy, but Kevin Love is a piece that could go for a tougher defender. They also can use the mid-level exception for someone like Thabo Sefolosha, a defensive-minded wing who would help the Cavs get stops.
San Antonio Spurs
Vegas Odds: 12/1
I’m bullish on the Spurs, and for good reason. They were taking the Warriors to the woodshed in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals when Kawhi Leonard went down with a season-ending injury. Though San Antonio’s 61 regular season-wins were six fewer than Golden State, it was six more than any other team in the league.
The team is likely to make a run at Chris Paul, and even if they don’t, they’ll find other ways to improve their roster. Plus Gregg Popovich is the best basketball coach on the face of the Earth. He has an ability to find hidden gems and get the most out of everyone on his team.
Vegas Odds: 12/1
The Celtics 53 regular season-wins were two more than Cleveland, but their playoff series was lopsided. That said, Boston owns the first pick in the draft, and has the cap space to get a top-tier free agent without disrupting a nice core that includes Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart, and Al Horford. (How good would Gordon Hayward look in Boston, where he would join his former Butler coach Brad Stevens?) Last year’s first-round pick Jaylen Brown flashed at times and should make strides, giving Boston even more depth.
There’s a caveat, though: it’s not clear whether Boston will go all-in on trying to win now, or slowly build toward a LeBron-free future. Retaining the no. 1 pick (and the Nets pick in 2018) is the smart play in the long-run, but you have to like their 2018 chances a lot better if they parlay those picks into an established star, like Paul George or Jimmy Butler.
Vegas Odds: 75/1
Giannis Antetokounmpo was the breakout star of the 2016-17 season. He leads a core that includes Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker, along with Rookie of the Year candidate Malcolm Brogdon. Greg Monroe has a player-option of nearly $18 million for next year. The Bucks should be in a good spot whether he exercises it or not; they’ll either get another productive year out of Monroe, or a bunch of money to play with. Adding a specialist, like a strong defender at point such as George Hill, or a knock down shooter like JJ Reddick would help.
Getting an impact player with the 17th pick in the draft would go a long way towards making the leap too.
The Warriors are the best team, but you can’t bet at odds like that. The Cavs are likely to make a move to improve, but again, the price is short. While Milwaukee has a nice future, a title is likely a few years off. That leaves the Spurs and Celtics. Both are top-five teams and are positioned well to take steps forward. The fact that they are level in the 2018 title futures might make you lean San Antonio, since they were objectively better last year and have a better history of playoff success. But the Celts are the play, and here’s why.
Boston has the top pick in a great draft; they have ample cap space; and they play in the East, meaning they wouldn’t have to contend with the Warriors until the NBA Finals. Among the teams with a decent number, they have the best opportunity to go all the way. I favor a small wager on the Celtics at 12/1, banking on the fact that they don’t put all their chips in the “let’s be really good three years from now” basket. As always, I recommend using one of our top-rated sites to place your bet!