Do Trade Deadline Moves Shake Up the NBA Title Race?

by Taylor Smith
on February 8, 2019

The NBA trade deadline isn’t always exciting, but the 2019 iteration certainly was. Some wondered whether the Golden State Warriors’ status as a juggernaut on the verge of 3 straight titles would quell activity from other teams around the deadline. Golden State has looked borderline unbeatable since DeMarcus Cousins joined the team in late January, so it was fair to wonder whether other “contenders” would try to go all-in knowing the Warriors are looming.

Fortunately, this deadline made it clear that several teams in the league think they’re capable of toppling the Dubs’ empire. The teams atop the Eastern Conference were particularly aggressive. Just a couple of months after making the splashy move to acquire Jimmy Butler from the Timberwolves, the 76ers splurged on another All-Star caliber player by landing Tobias Harris from the L.A. Clippers.

Not to be outdone, the Bucks fortified their big man rotation by picking up sharpshooting forward Nikola Mirotic from New Orleans. Shortly after the Bucks nabbed Mirotic, the Raptors came out of nowhere to land All-NBA center Marc Gasol, formerly of the Grizzlies.

How did the activity at the deadline affect the NBA championship betting odds? Are these teams any closer to beating Golden State, or are they just shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic?

Golden State Still Top Dogs

To the surprise of nobody, the Warriors are still comfortably ahead of the field when it comes to NBA futures betting. BetOnline still has the 2-time defending champs at -200 to take home the trophy once again this summer. The odds for the rest of the contenders are as follows (per BetOnline):

Teams Odds to Win 2019 NBA Championship
Golden State Warriors -200
Milwaukee Bucks 900
Toronto Raptors 900
Houston Rockets 1200
Boston Celtics 1400
Philadelphia 76ers 1400
Los Angeles Lakers 1600
Denver Nuggets 3300
Oklahoma City Thunder 3300

There are some question marks when it comes to the Warriors. Earlier this season, we saw some chemistry issues flare up when Kevin Durant and Draymond Green got into it with one another on the sideline during a game. Green reportedly teased Durant about his upcoming free agency, which is something that has clearly loomed over this team all year long. This could be Durant’s final season with the team, and many believe he will leave for greener pastures once his contract with Golden State expires this summer.

Regardless, there’s no questioning this team’s ceiling when everyone is buying in. Golden State is 32-6 in the playoffs in the 2 years since Durant signed on. 3 of those losses came in one series last year against the Rockets, which goes to show just how dominant they have been. Adding Cousins over the summer just made them even more unfair. The fact that Boogie has seamlessly fit in so far is scary for the rest of the league.

The smart money is on the Warriors to win it all again, but you aren’t making a whole lot back if you’re wagering on a team to win at -200. Considering how much can change between now and the Finals in June, why risk it? The potential payout on a -200 bet isn’t worth the trouble, so I would just steer clear of betting on the Warriors altogether, especially this early.

Western Conference Was Quiet

The vast majority of the major trades that came down at the deadline involved those near the top of the Eastern Conference. Considering teams featuring LeBron James have made it to 8 consecutive NBA Finals out of the East, it’s easy to see why those in charge of the other franchises in the conference are now so eager to take advantage of James’ decision to move West. With James on the L.A. Lakers, we will finally have a new team reaching the Finals this season.

With the Warriors still the heavy favorites to represent the Western Conference in the Finals, though, we didn’t see as much activity among their conference counterparts. Most of Golden State’s competition stayed relatively quiet around the deadline.

The Dallas Mavericks made the biggest move of all by landing Kristaps Porzingis from the Knicks, but that’s a move with an eye on the future. Porzingis won’t be playing this season after tearing his ACL last year, and Dallas is only on the fringes of the playoff picture. It was a big trade, but it has almost no impact on the current campaign.

As much as I love Luka Doncic, I’m not crazy enough to tell you to bet on his Mavs to win it all this season at +250000. Maybe next year.

As it stands, the biggest threats to Golden State’s perch atop the conference are Houston, Denver and Oklahoma City. The Thunder’s big move came over the summer when they successfully convinced Paul George to shun his hometown Lakers in order to re-sign and stay with Russell Westbrook.

George has been otherworldly this season, and his presence will make the Thunder relevant come playoff time. The argument can be made that he’s been the best player in the league this season, which is no small compliment. I’m a fan of what the small-market Thunder have been able to build, but I am skeptical of their chances of seriously contending in the West.

OKC’s top-2 of George and Westbrook speaks for itself, but do they have enough depth on the wing after that? Andre Roberson is seemingly in the midst of a lost season, while Terrance Ferguson lacks experience. Dennis Schroder is a nice third guard off the bench, but this reeks of a team that could have a 7-man rotation in the postseason. Can they survive a 7-man rotation through 4 rounds of the playoffs?

The Nuggets have battled injuries this season, which may actually help them in the long run.

Being down a few key rotation guys has given opportunities to guys that used to be on the fringes of the rotation. Malik Beasley and Monte Morris were far from household names as recently as 2 months ago, but they now look like 2 more potential long-term pieces for one of the best young teams in basketball.

Rather than dealing some of their kids in exchange for veteran help, the Nuggets look poised to attack the playoffs with the roster they already have. That’s a risky bet considering most of these guys have never been in the postseason before, but there’s no questioning the foundation Denver has in place. Nikola Jokic is an out-of-nowhere superstar, but leaning on Jamal Murray to play second fiddle at this stage of his career is a lot to ask for a 21-year-old guard.

Denver is listed way down at +3300 despite the fact that they have spent most of the season atop the Western Conference. Oddsmakers are skeptical that this team is ready for prime time, and I’m not convinced, either. It may be another year or 2 before this team really makes a run.

Can the Rockets Rise Up?

The Rockets came close last year. They took the Warriors all the way to 7 games in the Western Conference Finals. Had they won that series, most think Houston would’ve won the title last season. The lost Game 7 at home, but they started this season with big aspirations. Chris Paul and Clint Capela were both inked to hefty extensions during the offseason. Houston was expected to be right back again this season.

Things got off to a sluggish start, though. They have since rebounded, but there are still serious question marks with this team. Is CP3 washed up? I feel like he’ll come around, but his lackluster shooting is cause for concern. Capela is now hurt, which has tested the Rockets’ already-thin frontline.

Houston was active around the deadline, but they didn’t make a big move. The Rockets picked up Austin Rivers and Kenneth Faried off the buyout market earlier in the season, and the night before the deadline GM Daryl Morey swung a trade to acquire defensive-minded swingman Iman Shumpert from the Kings. Shumpert should slide into a useful role right away, but adding Iman Shumpert likely doesn’t transform the Rockets.

Still, if a team in the West is capable of beating the Warriors, it’s probably Houston.

Golden State has shown zero ability to defend James Harden, who is currently in the midst of one of the most prolific offensive seasons the game has seen in decades. The supporting cast is a little different, but if the Rockets are healthy in the playoffs they have as good a shot as anybody else.

The Lakers are listed at +1600, but if the season ended today LeBron’s team wouldn’t even make the playoffs. James’ presence means his team will always have a chance, but I’m not taking the bait there. The Lakers may have been interesting had they been able to swing a trade for Anthony Davis, but the Pelicans left them holding the bag. As much as I like Reggie Bullock and Mike Muscala, I don’t think either player moves the needle much for the Lakers’ title hopes.

There’s no profitability in the Warriors at -200, while Denver and OKC look like long shots at +3300 apiece. The Rockets make for the best bet of any Western Conference contender at +1200 here.

Slugfest in the East

There were a lot more moving parts in the East than there were in the West. As mentioned, 3 big-time players moved from Western Conference also-rans (Clippers, Pelicans, Grizzlies) to Eastern Conference powerhouses. Harris, Mirotic and Gasol will all prove to be useful additions to the 76ers, Bucks and Raptors, respectively.

That wasn’t all, though. The Pistons traded Reggie Bullock to the Lakers and essentially replaced him with Wayne Ellington. The Heat parted ways with Tyler Johnson, which means Miami now has no true point guards left on the roster. The Nets added big man depth in Greg Monroe. The Pacers are set to sign Wesley Matthews, who was just bought out by the Knicks. The Wizards picked up Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker after trading Otto Porter Jr. to the Bulls.

Those minor moves are unlikely to impact the title race. I would be somewhat interested in the value that comes with Indiana here to win the title at +15000, but their championship hopes basically died when Victor Oladipo went down with a quad injury a couple of weeks ago. Matthews is a nice addition, but that won’t be enough to lift them over the top.

The East has 4 teams capable of winning the title, which is more than we’ve seen in that conference in decades. Philadelphia (+1400), Toronto (+900), Milwaukee (+900) and the Boston Celtics (+1400) are all good enough to win it.

The Bucks have seen the biggest shift in odds over the last few weeks. Milwaukee has the best record in the NBA (40-13) and the addition of Mirotic will only fortify their frontcourt. The Bucks could be had at +1400 as recently as trade deadline day, but they’re now up to +900. There is still plenty of profit to be had at +900.

Which team winds up coming out of the East may depend on which team finishes with the best regular season record. Take a look at how tightly-packed the top-5 are entering play on February 8:

NBA Eastern Conference Standings

As mentioned, I think we can safely write off the Pacers despite Indiana still having the third-best record in the conference. They just can’t overcome the Oladipo loss. Boston (6 games back) and Philly (6.5) are still within striking distance of the No. 1 seed, but time is running out. That is a lot of ground to make up with just 2 months left in the regular season.

With the way the Bucks have been playing, they won’t struggle for long enough a stretch for either the Celtics or 76ers to catch them.

So, it’s basically coming down to Milwaukee or Toronto for the top seed. The Bucks took 3 of the 4 head-to-head meetings with the Raptors this season, and it remains to be seen how Toronto will change things up to help incorporate Gasol. The Mirotic situation should be smoother in Milwaukee considering he can essentially just soak up the rotation minutes of a guy like Ersan Ilyasova.

At this point, I think we would be foolish to dismiss the Bucks as favorites. I slightly prefer Milwaukee to Toronto at +900 here. I’d rank Philadelphia at +1400 ahead of Boston at the same, odds as well.

Can Any of Them Beat Golden State?

It’s tough to assess how these teams will look considering we have yet to see how the new additions will coalesce with their new teammates. The Celtics are really the only non-Warriors team that emerged from the deadline unchanged, so they’re the easiest to peg. Boston hasn’t quite hit its stride all season, but there is still enough depth here to where the Celtics need to be taken seriously.

I think the team that matches up best with the Warriors is, interestingly enough, Philadelphia. By adding Harris, the Sixers added some much-needed shooting to go with the star trio of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Butler. The 2 teams recently tangled in Oakland in a game the 76ers won 113-104. Embiid was a monster. If anybody is going to be able to counter Golden State’s Cousins addition, it’s the Sixers with Embiid in the middle.

Philly has enough length to contend with the Warriors defensively, and Golden State doesn’t have an answer for the big man. If Harris and J.J. Redick can space the floor effectively, the Sixers are going to be an incredibly tough team to beat here.

Houston has the blueprint, it’s just a matter of staying healthy. Harden potentially running out of gas is also a concern given the load he’s had to carry. The Bucks have the star, and now they have the supporting cast to make a real run. Milwaukee needs to be taken seriously as the biggest threat to Golden State’s reign.

The Warriors are probably going to win it all again, which makes betting on any other team inherently risky. Still, I have gotten the feeling all season long that Golden State isn’t unbeatable. The Rockets showed us just last year that it’s possible. With the Dubs being such heavy favorites, the other contenders make quite the profitable bets.

My favorite value bets to with the 2019 NBA title (other than Golden State) are as follows:

  • Milwaukee Bucks +900
  • Philadelphia 76ers +1400
  • Houston Rockets +1200
  • Toronto Raptors +900
  • Denver Nuggets +3300
Taylor Smith

Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, but he’s willing to take one for the team on that front every now and then.

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