Lakers Odds Improve With Lebron Signing

Lakers Odds Improve With Lebron Signing

Well, that was exciting for about a week.

Unlike LeBron’s Decision 1 and Decision 2 television specials and media parades, Decision 3 was the sequel nobody expected: Early in free agency and without much fanfare at all, LeBron James quietly (for him) signed with the Los Angeles Lakers for a bonkers $153.3 million 4-year deal (with a player option on the fourth year).

What that means for the Lakers’ young roster as the team kicks it into high gear to assemble a super team around James remains to be seen (LaVar Ball and his nonsense could be the odd man-child out), but the short term reality is simply this: The Lakers title odds improve with the LeBron signing.

Duh, right?

Well, yes. But more importantly, no.

While the Lakers futures to win the 2018-2019 NBA title were posted at +700 a few weeks ago in bookmakers’ anticipation of a LeBron signing (after all, his destination did seem pretty obvious to many industry analysts and NBA insiders), they have gotten substantially shorter since Sunday, when LeBron’s business team made its announcement.

At most Vegas sportsbooks, the Lakers are now +350 favorites, still trailing the Golden State Warriors, who sit atop the betting boards at -110 (which is staggering in its own right). Similar odds have been posted at sites like Bovada, SportsBetting, and BetOnline, and – for the time being – the Lakers are presumed to be the next best team in the entire league.

Here’s the thing, though: It’s a bad bet.

LeBron playing in the Western Conference is something many fans have waited nearly a generation to witness, but this move very well might mark the end of James’ nearly unprecedented 8 straight NBA Finals appearances. Playing in the considerably weaker East, LeBron’s teams have always been the odds-on favorites to win the conference and contend for the title, and there has long been the idea that LBJ could turn any Eastern Conference club into an immediate contender. And though that’s probably an accurate assessment and incredible on its own, the same formula doesn’t seem so easy out west.

Historically (at least since Michael Jordan’s salad days), the West has been markedly better than the East. Over the last 20 years, the Western Conference has won the NBA championship 14 times to the East’s 6, with LBJ teams accounting for half of the East’s success in that span. Does a Western Conference LeBron team merit the same rating?

Not really.

Yes, the landscape is shifting in the West, particularly with the seeming collapse of the San Antonio Spurs dynasty as Gregg Popovich, who can’t seem to get his head out of national politics, seems unable to keep his young team together. (A potential Kawhi Leonard trade to the Lakers would change the landscape in the Western Conference even more than LeBron just did, but that seems unlikely to happen. Leonard could end up in LA for the 2019-2020 season, of course.)

But that said, it is difficult to see much of a path to the NBA Finals for LeBron and company in LA, at least right away. Not only has LeBron traded his team’s top-dog status by leaving the East, but in the West, his seasons might literally be two weeks to a month shorter going forward. Last year, the Warriors swept a LeBron-led Cavaliers, even as the King was playing perhaps his best playoff basketball ever. And remember, LeBron effectively built that team around him, personally picking and advocating for the talent the club brought in (and got rid of, in the case of Kyrie Irving, whom the Cavs likely wish they had back). If LeBron takes off the GM hat and defers to his betters in that regard, the Lakers might have something to work with. But even then, the path to the title just got a lot harder for the King.

Instead of having to beat young clubs like the Sixers and the Celtics for a title shot (with the injury-depleted latter proving plenty difficult enough last season), LeBron’s Lakers will now have to take down the likes of the Houston Rockets (who took the Dubs to 7 in the Western Conference Finals last season) and the Warriors themselves, who – led by Kevin Durant and the Splash Brothers – don’t seem to have any real weaknesses.

The savvy sports bettor at USA online sportsbooks needs to take a breath and look at reality. Had LeBron stayed in the Eastern Conference, his team’s odds to win the 2018-2019 NBA championship would probably be about +600 or so, in line with what the Cavaliers have generally posted each offseason over the last four years. But you cannot win the title if you don’t even get to the title game, and that’s the risk that James runs with his move to the West.

There’s a very good chance that James’ Finals streak snaps with this move, and if the Lakers can’t get Kawhi Leonard – and the Warriors don’t lose Klay Thompson to free agency after the upcoming campaign – then there’s a solid chance LeBron’s Finals appearances might be over for good. Only time will tell, but the smart money this season is on the Warriors or Rockets.

Of course, now that the Lakers have LeBron, they’re only two or three expensive, all-star-level players away from making a run. As for the reeling Cavaliers? They’re +5000 to win it all. What a difference a King makes.

At least in the East.