Saturday, June 15, 2019 | 2 a.m.
The NBA’s power structure hangs in the balance to a nearly unprecedented degree heading into the offseason.
The Toronto Raptors’ NBA Finals victory over the Golden State Warriors, which they closed out in six games on Thursday night, did little to clarify next year’s title picture. If anything, Toronto’s win obscured it further with the looming uncertainty of Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard’s free agency, Warriors star Klay Thompson’s ACL injury and the combination of an Achilles tear and persistent rumors regarding former MVP Kevin Durant.
The Raptors and Warriors can rest easy knowing they’re not the only franchises unsettled ahead of the start of free agency on June 30. In fact, there’s reason to believe each of the eight teams listed at the top of the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook’s odds to win the 2020 NBA Finals will endure significant roster upheaval this offseason.
Las Vegas is often regarded as a satellite Lakers’ town, and that might be coming through in the futures, as Los Angeles’ glitzier team is getting the benefit of the doubt to sit atop the board at 9-to-2 despite obvious misgivings. The Lakers, after all, are essentially LeBron James and a lot of unproven young parts at the moment, a formula that led them to missing this year’s postseason all together.
The expectation is that they’ll be overhauled in a few weeks, whether that’s through flipping assets to complete a long-discussed trade for the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis or pursuing the likes of Leonard, Jimmy Butler or Kyrie Irving in free agency. But their Staples Center co-tenant Clippers also carry ample cap space to be involved in the latter, which is why they’re low-priced, betting-sheet neighbors.
Sweeping changes may not engulf some of the next set of contenders — the Bucks, Rockets and 76ers, for instance — but their rosters are almost certainly going to look quite different than they did this season.
Given the multitude of variables, handicapping next year’s champion may appear to have a lottery-like quality. But it shouldn’t; there’s a clear frontrunner that’s not properly priced.
It’s the Bucks.
Milwaukee sitting at 6-to-1 seems to be an over-reaction to how its season ended, losing four straight to Toronto after being up 2-0 in the Eastern Conference finals. The aftermath was naturally an avalanche of negative takes — from “Mike Budenholzer can’t coach in the playoffs!” to “The Bucks have no one other than Giannis Antetokounmpo!” — that now appear to have become the common perception.
The fact that Milwaukee was the best team all season seems to be forgotten. The Bucks had the best record in the NBA at 60-22, which doesn’t even go far enough in describing their dominance with a plus-8.8 point per game scoring differential.
Antetokoumpo was the biggest part, but he wasn’t the only part. And even if he was — would it be that big of a drawback?
He’s a 24-year-old who’s expected to pull down his first MVP award in a matter of weeks despite having only played basketball for a little more than a decade. Antetokoumpo has reached neither his peak nor his prime, and he might already be the best player in the world.
He’ll likely lose at least one valuable complement out of the Khris Middleton/Malcolm Brodgon/Nikola Mirotic trio, but rest assured that Milwaukee general manager Jon Horst’s entire focus will be on putting the right pieces around Antetokoumpo going forward. Having such a singular emphasis is a luxury only afforded by having a generational talent like Antetokoumpo, who essentially amounts to a cheat code under the salary-cap system.
As far as Budenholzer, it's true that the now-veteran coach has made some playoff hiccups. But it’s important not to draw conclusions from a small sample, especially when Budenholzer has proven to be one of the NBA’s sharper minds overall by turning around the fates of both the Bucks and the Atlanta Hawks.
It’s a transitional period in the NBA, and typically a transitional period in the NBA is met with the ascendency of a new king. Antetokoumpo looks like the best choice to be that new king.
Bet on the Bucks.
Find the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook’s full odds to win the 2020 NBA Finals below.
Los Angeles Lakers — 9-to-2
Los Angeles Clippers — 6-to-1
Milwaukee Bucks — 6-to-1
Houston Rockets — 8-to-1
Toronto Raptors — 10-to-1
Boston Celtics — 12-to-1
Philadelphia 76ers — 12-to-1
Golden State Warriors — 14-to-1
Denver Nuggets — 16-to-1
Oklahoma City Thunder — 16-to-1
New York Knicks — 20-to-1
Brooklyn Nets — 25-to-1
Utah Jazz — 25-to-1
Portland Trail Blazers — 25-to-1
Dallas Mavericks — 40-to-1
San Antonio Spurs — 50-to-1
Indiana Pacers — 60-to-1
Orlando Magic — 60-to-1
New Orleans Pelicans — 60-to-1
Atlanta Hawks — 80-to-1
Memphis Grizzlies — 80-to-1
Chicago Bulls — 100-to-1
Sacramento Kings — 100-to-1
Phoenix Suns — 100-to-1
Detroit Pistons — 200-to-1
Charlotte Hornets — 200-to-1
Miami Heat — 200-to-1
Washington Wizards — 200-to-1
Cleveland Cavaliers — 200-to-1
Minnesota Timberwolves — 200-to-1