Welcome to the peculiar world of the NBA, where one player who refuses to shoot raised the stakes by refusing to even play, then was traded for a player who twice in 13 months has forced a trade to another team by playing by expending hardly any effort.
Player empowerment, indeed.
So here we are in the post-trade deadline Association, pointing toward the home stretch of the regular season and digesting the betting impact of James Harden now joining forces with Joel Embiid and forming a Super Duo in Philadelphia -- plus figuring out if Ben Simmons can get his head on straight enough to actually play for Brooklyn along with two other stars who for various reasons rack up lots of their own DNPs.
The Harden-Simmons swap has certainly been a huge boost for NBA media types, but has it affected the betting world all that much? Let’s take a look:
Prior to the start of the season, oddsmakers operated under the assumption that Harden, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving just had more talent than anyone else, and their Nets were installed as heavy +230 favorites to be left standing when the Larry O’Brien Trophy was handed out in June. Then things started to go sideways, Irving was a 50 percent Covid casualty (playing only road games), Durant was hurt and for the second time in 13 months, Harden pouted his way into the trade. Two weeks before the Simmons trade, Brooklyn’s odds moved to +350.
With everything that could go wrong actually going wrong, the Nets embarked on a losing streak that by the end of this past week had reached 11. Oddsmakers took notice of it all and made new-look Brooklyn a more attractive +450 to win it all.
Anyone laying cash on the Nets at this point must believe that at least two of three things must happen:
1. Durant’s ailing left knee is healed and he is a reasonable facsimile of vintage Durant come playoff time.
2. The city of New York eases Covid's rules and allows Irving to be a full-time player.
3. Simmons gets over whatever is bothering him (or was faking it to force a trade) and blends in.
All this assumes that Brooklyn will even qualify for the playoffs. Heading into this week’s action the Nets (21-33-2 ATS this season, BTW) were in 8th place and staring down the barrel of a play-in berth.
Things are somewhat rosier in Philadelphia, where fans figure they got the better of the deal by bringing on an offensive force in Harden to pair with Embiid at the cost of a PITA who wasn’t playing for them anyway.
The Sixers opened play this season at +1800, a number that made sense considering that one of their two All-Stars was refusing to even show up after botching the playoffs last spring. But Embiid avoided major injuries, not having Simmons has freed others to step up, and by late January the odds had been adjusted to +1000. With Harden on board and everyone feeling the pressure to at least win the East, Philly stands at +700.
And there will be pressure. Tons of it, mostly on the shoulders of coach Doc Rivers. Philly has gone all-in, knowing that it couldn't waste another year of Embiid’s prime and had to make life easier on the oft-injured center in what could be an MVP season. If Harden + Embiid doesn’t equal at least an Eastern Conference title, their franchise that was built on tanking will have to reassess its approach. Again.
In the West, the trade-deadline silence from the Lakers camp was deafening. Devoid of available No. 1 draft picks to deal and with a roster filled with unproductive veterans hoping that LeBron James’s coattails with getting them a ring, LA was hamstrung despite being desperate for a roster upgrade.
The Lakers had opened the season at +425 and the favorite to win the West, then melted to +1800 by late January amid injuries, poor play and the realization that the Russell Westbook acquisition had turned to dust. The neutered (a whopping +3000) Lakers are now 5 games under .500, in play-in territory themselves, and reduced to hoping that when (if) the post-season arrives, LeBron can somehow intimidate opponents as he once did.
Strange times indeed in an NBA which seems to somehow have been turned on its head.