Cleveland Cavaliers Installed as 9:4 Favorites to Win 2016 NBA Finals, Despite 2015 Loss
Despite the Golden State Warriors’ NBA Finals victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers last night, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has already installed the Cavs as the early 9:4 favorites to win the 2016 NBA Championship. The line was set only hours after the Warriors beat the Cavaliers in Game Six of the 2015 NBA Finals, 105-97, to win the series by a 4-2 margin.
Since Golden State has a young and deep roster led by a 25-year old superstar, Stephen Curry, one might think it’s a no-brainer to install the Warriors as a favorite to repeat. A few things about the 2015 NBA Finals stand out, though, which is bound to leave a mark on those who would bet on next year’s NBA season. Those impressions had a big hand in Westgate Superbook’s decision.
Cavaliers Should Get Healthy
The reason the Superbook set the odds for the Cavaliers was the overwhelming impression that the Cavs only lost because they were depleted. The team were playing the series without two All-Stars. No one in their wildest dreams imagine any other team losing two All-Star talents and still getting only two games away from a world title. Only a team with Lebron James could hope to do such a thing.
When the series began, most experts said Kyrie Irving had to play well in this series for the Cavs to win, because he would take pressure off of Lebron. Then Kyrie Irving fractured his knee cap in the Game 1 overtime. Earlier in the playoffs, the team lost Kevin Love, who along with Irving and James had formed the new Big Three.
Better Chemistry in 2016
The Cavaliers roster seemed to suffer from bad chemistry most of the season. Yet Lebron, Love, and Kyrie all say they want to return and take another run at the title. Lebron James said throughout the year he thought this team was young and it might be a year or two. Kevin Love was supposed to have trouble playing second fiddle to Lebron, while the same was said of Kyrie Irving.
What the 2015 Playoffs had to do was give each player an appreciation for the others’ talents. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving had to see how tantalisingly close the team was to a world title, then imagine themselves at the center of the action. Lebron James proved definitively he would be All-Universe and still lose the title. He’ll never be better, but he needed Love and Irving.
They should all appreciate one another with a summer to ponder this past year’s events. Speaking of pondering the recent past, let’s discuss Lebron James at this point in his career.
Lebron James Is Still King
Lebron James is still the most phenomenal basketball player on the planet and the competition is even really that close. With the Cleveland Cavs’ second and third-most valuable players out for the season, Lebron James played so well that he had the underdogs up 2-1 at one point in this series. He played so well that some media members though Lebron James should have been named the NBA Finals Series MPV, despite his team’s loss. The only player to have achieved that distinction is Jerry West, and Jerry West is on the NBA logo.
While Steph Curry was the regular season MVP and he shattered the all-time playoff 3-pointer record, no one had any illusions in these games that Steph Curry was better than King James. And even the series MVP, Andre Iguadola, was given the award for his excellent job playing defense on Lebron–who averaged 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game in the series. Those are astounding numbers, yet the experts are right that Iguadola’s insertion in the starting lineup turned the series around. AI did do an excellent job defending, but it was only enough to slow down Lebron just enough to win.
Improved Head Coaching
Whether David Blatt returns as the Cavaliers’ head coach or not, the team’s coaching staff should be improved in 2016. David Blatt walked into the Cavs job assuming he would be taking over a rebuilding franchise. Suddenly, a few weeks after taking over the sadsack Cavs, he was coaching the most talented player on the planet. From Tel Aviv to Cleveland, Blatt’s head had to be spinning. He certainly made plenty of mistakes throughout the season: dealing with stars, overusing his rotation, and not getting out of Lebron’s way. Coming into the league, everyone agreed he was a brilliant coach. Blatt was bound to make mistakes, but he should improve given an offseason to adjust.
If Blatt does not return, then the Cavs can find the perfect coach for this roster. Anyone they choose is going to jump at the chance to coach this squad. Either way, the Cavs coaching staff should improve.
Improved Bench Play
Also, the team’s bench should improve. Owner Dan Gilbert has said he will go over the salary cap to help Lebron bring Cleveland its first title since 1964. His businesses (Quicken Loans, Horseshoe Casino) are doing well and he’s now worth $4 billion. Dan Gilbert has silly money, so he can spend whatever is needed to get the right bench. Of course, the NBA has restrictive rules when a team is at the cap, but veteran free agents will take less money to play on this squad, even if it’s based in Cleveland. Also, Anderson Varajao should be returned from injury, so the bench already gets better simply with a summer to heal. Assuming basic good health and Lebron James still in his prime, the Cavs should be the favorites in 2016.
The Golden State Warriors were tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder with 5:1 odds to win the NBA Championship in 2016. In my opinion, the Warriors are a much better bet than the Thunder. The Warriors have a young squad who know how to win it all. Steve Kerr has installed a Bulls/Spurs winning mentality, so they should be a strong defending champion.
The Thunder have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but the rest of the roster leaves something to be desired. While two of the 5-6 stars in the league is key, the OK Thunder traded away another Top 10-15 player in James Harden a couple of years ago and have never really been as much of a threat. I know many people say Harden was all-offense and therefore expendable, but the NBA is a talent league and even the Thunder cannot replace that kind of talent-outflow. The Clippers (10-1), Spurs (12-1), and Bulls (12-1) are the next-rated team by the Westgate Superbook.
Post-Free Agency Post-Script
After the San Antonio Spurs signed #1 free agent power forward Lemarcus Aldridge to a long-term contract, the team’s odds moved to 2-to-1, making them the new favorite to win the 2015 NBA Title. The Spurs expect to resign Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobli for one more run at a title, but the Aldridge signing gives the team hope beyond the Duncan/Parker/Ginobli era. Danny Green has already resigned, while Tiago Splitter was traded to make room for the Lemarcus Aldridge contract.
2015 free agency is a good example of why the pre-free agent period is a good time to make futures bets on the NBA. The coverage of the free agent period often gives a good indication where a player is expected to sign. Most people thought Aldridge was most likely to sign with the Spurs, given his connection to Austin, Texas (UT player) and the state of Texas in general. Now, the Spurs have moved from 12:1 to 2:1. Anyone making the 12:1 bet before free agency has to be ecstatic now.
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