Early NBA futures worth trying to beat the market pre-free agency

The NBA season is over. It’s time for the draft, summer league, free agency, and the laziness of August before ramping up for training camp in a few months. The next NBA title won’t be decided for at least a calendar year …

…But the markets are open on Caesars Sportsbook!

So if you want to try and beat the market before free agency and the usual offseason craziness hits, here are two early bets to win the 2023 NBA championship.

Kawhi Leonard of the Clippers drives to the basket in June 2021
Kawhi Leonard of the Clippers drives to the basket in June 2021
NBAE via Getty Images

Los Angeles Clippers +850

Here’s what the Clippers bring to the table:

  • Kawhi Leonard after a full season to get healthy, on a multiyear max contract with no intention to relocate
  • Paul George after a season when he played just 31 games
  • Tyronn Lue, widely considered a top-five, or better, coach in the NBA
  • A deep roster with Reggie Jackson, Norman Powell, Robert Covington, Terrance Mann (who took a step forward last season) and role players like Ivica Zubac, Nicolas Batum, Isaiah Hartenstein, Marcus Morris, and Luke Kennard
  • A switchable defense with size, athleticism, and more defenders
  • Shooting
  • Star players adept at making tough shots

Ultimately, this is the best value on the board.

The qualms will be about Leonard and George’s injuries, and it’s a fair point. Leonard is coming off surgery to repair a partial tear of his ACL last July. However, there was talk all through the season that it was possible for Leonard to return this season. His decision not to was likely linked to the team’s play-in positioning, at least to some degree.

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Leonard will have had 15 months off, and you can be assured his injury will be “managed” by the Clippers. George, on the other hand, had a freak injury and returned by the end of the season. There’s no real reason to think George will miss more time.

Here are a couple key questions: will the Clippers number be lower next April than +850? Most likely. Will they be live to win the title with Kawhi Leonard and a better team than a year ago when they were set to match up well with the Suns fully healthy? Most likely.

The Clippers look good at +850.

Philadelphia 76ers 16/1

I know, I know, I know. Look, I have advocated strongly for betting against Joel Embiid’s Sixers based on his track record. I was ready to bet heavily on the Heat vs. the Sixers before Embiid’s injury. But ultimately, let’s look at their playoff run:

They beat the Raptors in six with an impressive closeout game after almost collapsing. In truth, they had that series firmly under control through the first three games, got a little sloppy, and recovered.

Joel Embiid
Joel Embiid
Getty Images

They lost to the Heat in six, but Embiid was playing with pretty clear limitations both with his face/eye and his hand. There are always injury concerns with Embiid — that’s written in. There are injury concerns with every contender.

Here’s my most compelling argument for the Sixers: a full season for Daryl Morey.

Morey joined in November 2020. He dealt with the weird, interrupted 2020-21 season and then spent the following season dealing with the Ben Simmons situation. In the interim, he built a team that almost got Embiid the MVP and finished tied for the second seed, all without Simmons being anything until the James Harden trade.

Morey is tied to Harden. That’s his guy. Morey also has the summer to really reconfigure the team in the way he wants. He doesn’t have to manage the Simmons situation. He’ll focus on reconfiguring shooters and ballhandlers around Embiid, improving the depth.

Tyrese Maxey made a real leap last season and figures only to improve. They have trade assets of viable rotation players such as Tobias Harris, Danny Green, and Matisse Thybulle, along with a late draft pick after the Nets elected to defer their trade asset to next year’s draft.

I’m betting the Sixers team that enters next season will look better, and have shorter odds, than the team that exited so meekly. You don’t get to buy low on teams that finished the year great.

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