The market in the Eastern Conference futures is as straightforward as it gets. Cleveland is a heavy -400 favorite despite constant chatter that the sky is falling in Ohio. There’s no other team that even comes close to having those types of odds on this side of the league.
Toronto falls in second with a +550 mark that a lot of people are starting to get frisky with, while Boston slips in as a surprising third favorite with +1000 odds. Are either of them worth grabbing considering that they did nothing to solidify their lineups? It’s a worthy discussion for those that love the value of the NBA futures market.
First off, however, we really have to sift through what the hell is going on with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
IS THERE ANYTHING ACTUALLY WRONG WITH CLEVELAND?
LeBron James may not be the best player in the NBA anymore since the ascension of Stephen Curry, but he’s undoubtedly the biggest x-factor in Eastern Conference futures. You have to account for him because come playoff time, he’s still an absolute force of nature. So why does dysfunction seem to follow him around?
Instead of diving through the sordid history of LeBron’s first tenure in Cleveland or his stint in Miami, you simply have to look at the general reaction to their losses. Twitter, the media and fans across the country acted as if tightly packed losses to Detroit, Toronto and Washington spelled the end of the world. It’s a crazy over-reaction to a team that’s still at the top of the table in the east.
Compare the way people treat Cleveland losses to the way they reacted to the Warriors losing against Portland. Nowhere were there people clamoring for Golden State to revamp their offense. And nobody pointed a finger at them either. It had less to do with “What’s wrong with Golden State” and more to do with “Holy shit did you see the game Damian Lillard just had?!”
Even with the Raptors picking up a 99-97 win, most people weren’t focused on Kyle Lowry going nuclear with 43 points. It’s always about LeBron and what he’s doing wrong. According to the NBA universe, the world collapsed when LeBron and Cleveland lost two nights later in Washington. Nobody even cared that they fought Indiana to a scrappy win the next evening.
Our over-reactions to LeBron James have now become commonplace. It’s part of the fun with him, since he’s so obviously affected by it. But the byproduct of how LeBron behaves is that it unsettles Cleveland in the Eastern Conference futures.
Now, recent news has surfaced that LeBron thinks that the Cavaliers lack an enforcer, which is weird because this isn’t hockey or football. I guess he’s referring to Udonis Haslem or Kendrick Perkins? For the record, those guys have been serviceably useless in the playoffs for a long time. Having a tough guy on the floor doesn’t really do anything unless he’s a productive player.
Yet I can see where LeBron is frustrated. Maybe even he knows that the Cavaliers are an imperfect assembly. But if that were the case, why would he go through hell and high water to keep this team together?
The Cavs spent the summer handing out extensions to Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova. They’ve also been incessantly reluctant to move Iman Shumpert. They essentially kept the same core together that got murdered by the Golden State Warriors last season.
I can see the mindset of Cleveland. They rode this core of players to the top seed in the Eastern Conference futures last year and made it to the Finals without Kevin Love. Having him around would surely make this team better. It also helps to know that you’re in the Eastern Conference.
The Cavaliers may have dysfunctional problems that begin and end with LeBron, but their gamble paid off for the most part. Indiana hasn’t gotten their act together, the Wizards and Hawks have completely fallen apart and the Bulls are perhaps the most disappointing team in the entire league. They rolled the dice that their core could get them back to the top seed in the conference while LeBron carried them to the Finals. From there, it’s just a matter of winning four games.
Is Cleveland beatable? You bet they are. Even in a seven-game series. That’s one of the reasons that their odds in Eastern Conference futures isn’t as airtight as the oddsmakers are making it out to be. In fact, that number is set at -400 to discourage people from considering the idea of betting on Cleveland long term.
The question remains: who can beat them in this conference?
DID TORONTO AND BOSTON MISS OPPORTUNITIES AT THE DEADLINE?
The Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors are the two teams that have serious shots at giving Cleveland a run for their money. But each of them had chances to shore up their rosters at the deadline and chose not to do so. Both teams have loads of draft picks (five first rounders between the two of them this year), and lots of trade friendly contracts that could have lured a big piece to either city.
So why did nothing happen?
It seems like the mystifying part of the trade deadline until you realize that a transaction is a two-sided affair. The Raptors and Celtics may have been buying, but the market needs sellers too. It just seemed like nobody was willing to move their big pieces for even unreasonable prices at the deadline.
Boston has been linked to Jimmy Butler and Boogie Cousins in recent news, even though those players are never leaving their current teams. Toronto was rumored to have discussion with Atlanta to get Al Horford, but the Hawks were never as willing to part with Horford as the rumor mill made them out to be.
The easy part of dissecting a trade deadline is assuming that there were deals that could be made. Certainly, a player on the level of Butler, Cousins or Horford would’ve made a big difference for Toronto and Boston. Sadly, rumors were just that at the deadline – rumors.
DOES THAT MEAN IT’S A CAKEWALK FOR CLEVELAND?
Getting back to the Eastern Conference futures, I wouldn’t necessarily call it an easy run for the Cavaliers. It’s a lot easier than it was last year.
Boston Celtics – The Celtics feel like a good regular season team. They lack any legitimate size, and you need that to serve as a convincing threat in the post season. Isaiah Thomas has served the renaissance of the Celtics well all year, and Brad Stevens has put this team on the fast path to rebuilding, but they’re nowhere near a playoff caliber team when it comes to a seven games series.
Miami Heat – It all depends on the health of Chris Bosh, but the sudden addition of Joe Johnson has turned Miami in to a seriously intriguing option. Their +5000 odds to become a sudden threat with just over 20 games seems unreasonable. However, they are now built like a team that could suddenly compete in the playoffs, especially in a diluted conference. You’ve spent $10 on dumber things than a 50/1 payout.
Toronto Raptors – For all of the moves that Toronto could’ve made at the deadline, the one that they made in the offseason was perhaps the most important. Signing DeMarre Carroll to a contract he couldn’t refuse shored up a huge weakness at power-forward that the Raps needed to fill.
Unfortunately, Carroll is likely out until the playoffs due to arthroscopic knee surgery and nobody knows what kind of shape he’ll be in when he comes back. If healthy, Carroll can be the difference for the Raptors in a series against LeBron James. Without him, it’s a little bit harder to justify a big bet on the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference futures. Of course, if you hate Cleveland and/or LeBron James that much, then Toronto is the most logical place for you to park your money.
Knowing the state of the Eastern Conference, it’s easy to see why the oddsmakers have put such a big number behind Cleveland. But it should also remind you that the chance of seeing LeBron in what’s expected to be his sixth NBA Finals is extraordinary high given the context of his competition. Maybe it’s time we take it a little bit easier on him and start appreciating him more before we give him the full Kobe treatment.
At one point we were all witness to his greatness. Even if we don’t want to admit it, we still are.