Does the James Harden Trade Make the Nets a Good NBA Championship Bet?

By in NBA on
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Harden-Houston-to-Nets

Blockbuster trades are nothing new to the NBA. With superstar players holding so much power, every team in the league is essentially at the mercy of their players. If a star decides he no longer wants to play for that team, the responsibility is suddenly on the team to cater to those wishes.

Regardless of what you may think of that power dynamic, that’s just the way it is. We have seen no shortage of All-Stars and league MVPs change teams in recent years. Anthony Davis, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, and Jimmy Butler are just a few of the big names that have essentially forced their teams to trade them in recent years.

On Wednesday, we saw another star player get his way when James Harden was shipped from Houston to Brooklyn in a four-team megadeal. Harden had privately and publicly soured on the situation with the Rockets, which has quickly worsened since the likes of Daryl Morey, Mike D’Antoni, and Westbrook jumped ship late last year.

Harden reportedly wanted to reunite with former teammate Kevin Durant with the Nets, which is exactly what he got. The Rockets wound up receiving former All-Star Victor Oladipo and a bevy of future draft assets in the four-team deal that also involved the Pacers and Cavs, while the Nets added a third superstar.

As you may have expected, the trade has shaken up the betting outlook for several teams in a big way. The Nets are now firmly entrenched among the heavy favorites to win the title, while the Rockets’ championship odds have been dealt a fatal blow.

Can Brooklyn Win It All?

The Nets’ franchise has existed since the 1960s, but the team has yet to win an NBA title. The Nets won a pair of ABA championships in the ’70s when they called New Jersey home, but the team is still looking to hang its first NBA banner. Brooklyn has been a largely forgettable franchise since making back-to-back Finals appearances in the early-2000s, but the team is suddenly primed to compete for that elusive title once again.

The Nets Were Already a Trendy Betting Option Even Before Landing Harden

Most NBA betting sites had Brooklyn right there with the Milwaukee Bucks as Eastern Conference favorites coming into the campaign. The return of Durant, who missed all of last year with an Achilles injury, was the primary factor in Brooklyn emerging as a legit contender.

Pairing Durant with Kyrie Irving gave the Nets one of the best offensive duos in the league, and the roster still had enough depth to potentially weather any injury issues that arose with their superstar tandem.

It’s hard to imagine adding a player of Harden’s caliber doesn’t instantly improve their immediate prospects. In fact, the odds suggest it has done just that. The Nets improved from +550 to win the NBA championship to +300 at Caesars Sportsbook after the trade was reported. That means the Lakers (+250) are the only team with more favorable chances of winning a ring this season. The trade has nudged the Nets past the Bucks (+500) among Eastern Conference teams, as well.

Harden and Durant obviously have experience playing together, but both of them were different players the last time they were teammates. Durant was beginning to establish himself with a superstar in the 2012 Thunder team that reached the Finals. Harden was a young player that served as Oklahoma City’s offensive catalyst off the bench. He was able to grow into the game’s best isolation scorer once he left OKC for Houston, so we’ll see how the two fare next to one another nearly 10 years removed from their most recent games as teammates.

Irving’s situation is hard to figure out. Kyrie left the Nets last week for undisclosed reasons, and there is still no timetable for his return. He isn’t dealing with an injury, and the NBA is apparently investigating whether he broke the league’s health and safety protocols by attending a maskless birthday party during his absence.

Irving has been a fairly volatile off-the-court personality in recent years, so there’s no telling when (or if) he’ll return to the team. The league may suspend him if it does find that he violated the health guidelines.

It goes without saying that the ceiling for this Nets team is sky-high. If Harden can coexist offensively with Durant, and if Irving can stay focused on the team, there’s no reason to believe Brooklyn can’t compete for a championship. The roster still has enough capable ancillary pieces (Joe Harris, DeAndre Jordan, Bruce Brown), and Nash has the flexibility to put at least two of his star players on the court at all times. That alone gives the Nets an inherent advantage over just about any opponent they’ll face in a postseason series.

The Nets’ current +300 odds to win the title are still advantageous enough. With the Lakers still reigning out West, though, the better bet may be to take Brooklyn at +140 to win the East. The Bucks haven’t looked like a legitimate contender despite having the league’s best record over the past couple of years thanks to their playoff shortcomings. The 76ers, Celtics, and Heat face plenty of questions of their own. The Nets at +140 to win the conference still gives you enough upside to be worth the gamble.

What Happens to Houston?

The potential for a Harden trade cooled the optimism of oddsmakers when it came to the Rockets heading into the season. Obviously, the team’s short-term prospects just got a whole lot worse now that the deal has come to pass. Houston was already a long-shot title bet at +2500 before the Harden deal. One day later, Houston’s 2021 championship odds have tumbled all the way to +10000. That puts them on par with also-rans like the Hawks and Pelicans.

The addition of Oladipo likely doesn’t do much to help the Rockets in the immediate future. The 28-year-old has dealt with a couple of major leg injuries over the past couple of years, and he’s in the final season of his contract. Oladipo reportedly isn’t too keen on staying in Houston, with The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor suggesting he would prefer to play in Miami. Houston likely swapped LeVert for Oladipo because the latter doesn’t come with any long-term salary commitments, and the Rockets can just let him walk as a free agent this summer.

John Wall and Christian Wood are the only players on the roster with big-money deals over the next couple of years, which gives the Rockets some financial flexibility. Instead of paying the likes of Harden and Westbrook to lead the team into obscurity, the Rockets can now use their cap space and draft assets to try and expedite a rebuild.

Interestingly enough, the Rockets still have the second-best odds of any team to win the Southwest Division this season. Despite starting 3-6 before the trade, online sports betting sites are still giving Houston a puncher’s chance at a playoff berth. Luka Doncic and the Mavs have been installed as -200 favorites to win the division, but the Rockets aren’t being completely written off as a potential playoff team just yet.

Wall, Wood, Oladipo, and Eric Gordon is still likely a good enough quartet to lead Houston to a postseason appearance. A few of the team’s players were outspoken earlier this week about how the Harden situation has worn on them, so there’s a chance that having that drama resolved will help the team’s focus moving forward. Wall has looked spry in his first action in two years, while Wood has looked like a capable offensive building block for Houston.

The Rockets may be dead-last in the Southwest standings as of now, but there is still plenty of time to dig out of that hole. The Mavs are currently leading the division with a fairly underwhelming 6-4 record of their own, so it’s not like any team looks primed to run away and hide early on. A flier on the Rockets to win the Southwest at +500 is still viable, especially now that the Harden fiasco is over and done with.

What About the Cavs?

The Cavaliers have quietly been one of the most interesting teams in the league so far this season. Cleveland actually has the third-best defensive rating in basketball thus far, allowing just 102.9 points per 100 possessions. Only the Lakers and Mavericks have been more stingy to this point.

The Cavs had to give up very little to get Allen, who figures to be a long-term upgrade at center over Andre Drummond. Drummond, who is in the final year of his deal, is now a fairly likely trade candidate ahead of the deadline. It’s probably just a matter of time until Allen takes the Cavs’ starting center spot, even if Drummond remains the starter in the immediate future.

The Cavaliers have navigated some injury issues to this point, with Darius Garland and Kevin Love still among those sidelined. Regardless, Cleveland’s 5-7 start through 10 games is a bit better than many anticipated. Whether they can continue to win at a comparable clip remains to be seen, of course. As of this writing, the Cavs are 11th in the Eastern Conference, but they’re just one game out of a playoff spot.

The Cavs are still listed at +1000 to make the playoffs, with heavy -2500 odds in favor of Cleveland being a lottery team at season’s end. There is some intriguing young talent on this team, though, and we will see whether they can parlay Drummond into any more useful future assets. It may be too early to suggest they’re a serious playoff contender, but a low-dollar shot on the Cavs’ current +1000 playoffs odds isn’t the worst bet in the world.

How Should You Bet on the Pacers?

Getting rid of Oladipo was smart business for the Pacers. Oladipo had reportedly made it known that he had no desire to stay with the team, who plans to keep building around Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon instead. Oladipo became a bit redundant when Brogdon signed prior to last year, so swapping him for a solid prospect in LeVert made plenty of sense for Indiana.

The Pacers are off to a solid 7-4 start. LeVert has struggled in terms of shooting accuracy early in his career, but he has shown flashes of upside as a playmaker when he has gotten opportunities to do so with Brooklyn. With the Pacers, he should have the chance to thrive as a complementary starter, or as an offensive initiator for the second unit.

The Pacers are still +700 underdogs to win the Central Division, with Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks checking-in as massive -2000 favorites. Indy also faces long +1600 odds to win the Eastern Conference, and +4000 odds of winning it all this summer.

While Sabonis and Brogdon are quality players, this team is still lacking a true superstar type of talent. We have seen a few teams rise up and put together solid regular seasons without MVP-type players in recent years, but these teams often struggle to get over the hump come playoff time.

Could the Pacers be a tough out for a team like the Nets or Bucks in the playoffs? Absolutely. When it comes to actually making a deep playoff run, though, it’s hard to have too much faith in Indiana as presently constructed.

The best way to bet on the Pacers may be to take a shot on LeVert’s Most Improved Player odds. He was overshadowed on a star-studded Nets roster, but he’ll have more freedom now that he’s with the Pacers. It would be quite a surprise if his odds to win Most Improved Player don’t improve vastly from where they are now (+15000). There is no shortage of candidates for this award, but the new situation should benefit LeVert in a big way. Rolling the dice on his Most Improved Player odds gives you an awful lot of bang for your buck.

Taylor Smith

Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org 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, bu ...

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