Lakers look loaded for title defense

It’s not often that a champion will upgrade its roster in the offseason immediately after its title run, but that’s what the Los Angeles Lakers have done.

Danny Green and Dwight Howard are now members of the Philadelphia 76ers. JaVale McGee is fighting for minutes in Cleveland behind Andre Drummond. Taking their place in Los Angeles is the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, Montrezl Harrell, the runner-up, Dennis Schroder, Wesley Matthews and Marc Gasol, all considered upgrades by most NBA handicappers. 

That is reflected in the Lakers’ odds as well. When the 2019-20 season began, Los Angeles was the co-favorite to win the title with its intercity rival, the Clippers, at 5-2. This season, the Lakers are alone atop the futures board with odds as low 2-1 at BetMGM, or the more widely available 5-2 at books such as William Hill and PointsBet.

Not only did the Lakers improve their championship roster, but there is an argument to be made that some of their stiffest competition took a step backward, further justifying the Lakers’ spot at the top. 

The Clippers fired Doc Rivers and added both Serge Ibaka and Luke Kennard in the offseason in an attempt to keep pace with the Lakers. However, they still lack depth at point guard. The Bucks traded Eric Bledsoe and a package of picks to the Pelicans for Jrue Holiday but lost out on adding shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic in free agency. Both teams also lost a key cog to the Lakers, making the additions around LeBron James and Anthony Davis even more impactful.

Of course, it is far from a lock that the Lakers hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy when all is said and done. The Lakers are a deep and talented team, but they are not power rated as highly as the Warriors teams that were massive favorites to win the title in their time. The implied probability of a 5-2 price tag is just 28.6%, and there are many teams who can push the Lakers.

The Clippers still have one of the best players in the league not named LeBron James in Kawhi Leonard, and the Bucks have the other in Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Nets are banking on Kevin Durant returning to form in his first season back from an Achilles injury, and teams such as the Nuggets, Celtics, 76ers and Raptors will be vying for top seeds and all are perfectly capable of winning a best-of-seven series against the defending champions.

Oh, and what about the Heat, who pushed the Lakers to six games despite missing key players such as Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo in the NBA Finals? They have the third-highest posted win total among Eastern Conference teams at the Westgate SuperBook, and look primed to defend their conference title. Tyler Herro is one of the top options to win Sixth Man of the Year, and Adebayo is one of the best players in the league under 25. How can one not like that core of players for the Heat?

There is also the looming possibility that James Harden finds his way out of Houston. Should the 76ers, Nets or Heat acquire the 31-year-old shooting guard, they would immediately vault to the top of the odds board at almost every shop.

But Harden remains in Houston, and until he moves on, the Lakers will remain the favorites to win the championship. The league is littered with quality teams, and while the gap between the Lakers and the league is not impossible to cross, it is there. It is why every expert polled in this guide selected the Lakers to repeat as champions. 

The Lakers are better than they were last season, and they rightfully start this one as the clear-cut favorite to win the NBA title.

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