Opening 2019 NBA title odds feel LeBron effect

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The 2018 NBA Finals are underway, but odds for next year’s title are already out from the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.

There are plenty of interesting ramifications from LeBron James‘ pending free agency.

As has been the case the past several years, the Golden State Warriors are the favorites, at +125. After them, it isn’t surprising that the Houston Rockets are tied for the second-best odds, at +350.

What is surprising is the team the Rockets are tied with: the Philadelphia 76ers.

“When you have LeBron in free agency, you have to be careful,” Westgate SuperBook oddsmaker John Murray told ESPN. “You’ve got Philadelphia, Miami, the Lakers and even Houston as potential destinations [outside of Cleveland]. We cut all of those teams’ odds down, and we’ll raise back up the teams he doesn’t sign with.”

The Rockets, according to Murray, would pass the Warriors for the best title odds if they land James and keep Chris Paul and Clint Capela, who also are set to become free agents.

The Boston Celtics have the fourth-best odds at 8-1 but would become the Eastern Conference favorites if James signs anywhere other than Philadelphia.

Perhaps the team with the most interesting odds is the Lakers, who went 35-47 last season but opened tied with the Heat for the fifth-best title odds, at 20-1.

“We like some of the younger players on the Lakers and think there’s a pretty good chance they get Paul George,” Murray said. “They’d draw a lot of action and probably would have the third-best odds in the West behind Houston and Golden State if LeBron went there. Without him, they’d probably be in the 60-1 to 80-1 range.”

This isn’t the first time Las Vegas has seen some interesting futures odds movement from big free agents shifting teams.

In the summer of 2014, Vegas sportsbooks saw a flurry of bets on the Cavaliers to win the NBA title as buzz about James leaving Miami to return to Cleveland grew. The Cavs went 33-49 the previous season and were listed as 40-1 long shots before James made his decision official. Westgate moved the Cavs to outright 3-1 favorites after the decision.

A similar situation occurred in the summer of 2016, when sportsbooks saw big bets (including one $20,000 wager) show up on Golden State before news broke that Kevin Durant had decided to leave Oklahoma City and join the Warriors.

James’ current Cavaliers team has 30-1 odds to win the 2018-19 title, but those would drop dramatically to “around 500-1” if James left again, Murray said.

The Cavaliers trail 1-0 to the Warriors in the 2018 NBA Finals. Game 2 at 8 p.m. ET Sunday on ABC.

ESPN’s David Purdum contributed to this report.

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