It could be argued the Minnesota Timberwolves are the biggest winners of the NBA’s offseason by virtue of their steal of a deal for Jimmy Butler.
It also could be argued the Oklahoma City Thunder improved the most by acquiring the best player available, Paul George, while surrendering so little in return.
But as the smoke clears, following the draft and free-agency madness, it has become obvious the Golden State Warriors are still winning the game of Monopoly. The NBA champions triumphed again because Butler, George and Chris Paul landed on teams other than Cleveland, Boston and San Antonio.
“It’s still a wide gap between Golden State and any other team,” Westgate sports book manager Jeff Sherman said.
The three true contenders, the only real threats to the reigning superteam, have done little or nothing to gain ground on Golden State. That’s why the Westgate held the line on the Warriors, who are minus-220 favorites (5-11 odds) to win the title in 2018.
It’s just as important that the Warriors are no weaker. Golden State will re-sign Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston.
The Cavaliers and Celtics desperately needed Butler or George. The Spurs needed Paul to run the point. Surprisingly, each of those three players went to unlikely destinations.
Oklahoma City, 47-35 and the No. 6 seed in the West last season, should top 50 wins and move into the top half of the conference with George alongside Russell Westbrook. But the Thunder are competing with the Spurs and Rockets, not the Warriors.
Houston, 55-27 and the West’s No. 3 seed, might be better with Paul and James Harden together in the backcourt. However, the Rockets needed to add another All-Star like George to really threaten the Warriors, and they came up short.
San Antonio, 61-21 and six games behind Golden State last season, could have dealt for Paul and made the Warriors sweat. Instead, the Spurs were unable to unload LaMarcus Aldridge or make any significant changes.
Here’s a shot at projecting the playoff seeds in the West next season: Golden State, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Houston, Minnesota, Portland, Utah and Memphis. In the race for the final spots should be Denver, the Los Angeles Clippers and New Orleans.
The Lakers are nowhere near that picture yet, but they are also winners because George, who will be a free agent next summer, is likely to ditch OKC for L.A. If he had been traded to Cleveland or Boston, George seemed more likely to stick with the Cavaliers or Celtics for the long run.
Celtics general manager Danny Ainge blew it by not dealing for Butler. With all of his draft-pick assets, Ainge has added one potential difference-maker — No. 3 pick Jayson Tatum. Even if Ainge signs free agent Gordon Hayward, it’s probably not enough to catch the Cavaliers.
Here’s a shot at projecting the playoff seeds in the East next season: Cleveland, Boston, Washington, Miami, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Toronto and the Kentucky Wildcats.
“The Timberwolves probably took the biggest leap,” Sherman said. “I really like what the Sixers did, and they really should be a playoff team now.”
The Westgate futures board reveals a six-team race — Golden State is the odds-on favorite, followed by Cleveland (3-1), San Antonio (12-1), Boston (15-1), Houston (20-1) and Oklahoma City (30-1) — with Minnesota (40-1) running a distant seventh.
In reality, though, it’s still the Warriors against the field. LeBron James did not get the help he needed, and neither did Kawhi Leonard. So, after all of the changes and mega-money deals, nothing has changed at the top.
NBA propositions 2017-18 season
(Updated odds posted at Westgate sports book)
Will the Los Angeles Lakers make the playoffs?
Open: No -700; Yes plus-500
Current: No -2,000; Yes plus-1,000
Will the Minnesota Timberwolves make the playoffs?
Open: Yes -260; No plus-220
Current: Yes -800; No plus-550
Will the Philadelphia 76ers make the playoffs?
Open: Yes -125; No plus-105
Current: Yes -360; No plus-300