Could this be the year that the Cleveland Cavaliers’ dominance of the Eastern Conference is broken? LeBron James’ Cavs were involved in the trade of the offseason, as James’ righthand man, Kyrie Irving, was dealt to the Boston Celtics in a package that saw Isaiah Thomas move to Cleveland.
Thomas’ injury looms over the trade, but it certainly adds a little extra heat to the battle to win the Eastern Conference. The Cavaliers are the favourites to make it to the NBA Finals once again at 3/5, but the Celtics – aided by the arrival of one of the league’s best scorers – are their nearest competitors in this market at 9/4.
The Cavs have not just added Thomas this offseason, though. Jae Crowder also joined as part of the blockbuster trade, while LeBron has been joined by good friends, Derrick Rose and Dwayne Wade. The loss of Irving’s 25.2 points per game will sting for the Cavs, but, even without Thomas, their roster is still immensely strong.
At odds on it’s hard to see much value in the 2016/17 runners-up, but it’s equally challenging to see anyone toppling a team with James, who is showing no signs of decline.
The second favourite Celtics will be pleased with their side of the deal. Irving gets the chance to be the star, and the arrival of small forward Gordon Hayward from the Utah Jazz further bolsters their offence. Hayward had a career year in 2016/17, and will need to produce something similar if there is to be any worth in backing the 9/4 Celtics.
Outside of the two frontrunners, it’s a pretty open market. The Washington Wizards come up next at 12/1, after losing out in Game Seven of the Conference semi-finals to Boston last season.
Washington finished with the fourth best record in the East, but in Bradley Beal and John Wall they have one of the NBA’s best duos. The odds are still a bit on the long side given the number of games they would have to make up, mind.
At a surprisingly long price of 22/1, the Toronto Raptors are also worth considering. In DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry they have a backcourt as good as any, just like the Wizards. Depth makes injuries a real worry for Dwane Casey’s side, but their 51-31 record last season should not be overlooked. Compared to the 12/1 for Washington to make the Finals, it’s a pretty decent price.
For any team outside of Boston and Cleveland to be in significant contention, LeBron will need to either be absent through injury or experience a downturn in performance that frankly no one expects.
The Cavs have arguably strengthened their roster from last year, but the eventful summer in Boston makes them worth backing as an outsider.
How Irving copes without LeBron will be fun to watch whatever the outcome, and we are guaranteed some cracking matchups between the two favourites.
If the short prices of that pair are not appealing, the Milwaukee Bucks are the best longshot pick from the Eastern Conference with their young, talented roster. Jason Kidd has taken the Bucks a long way already, but this would be one of the sporting stories of the year. Their 20/1 price with the entertaining Giannis Antetokounmpo might just be the bet of the NBA season…