By Jason McIntyre
FOX Sports Betting Analyst
The confetti hasn’t stopped falling in the Deer District, and a party will rage on for the rest of the month.
For the second time in three years, the NBA has crowned an improbable champion. In 2019, injuries to the greatest team of the modern era – the Golden State Warriors – let the Toronto Raptors steal the title. And this season, rampant injuries throughout the league helped the Milwaukee Bucks win their first ring since 1971.
But now that the Larry O’Brien Trophy officially resides in the Midwest, we’re looking ahead to next season.
We’ll have a slightly more normal offseason this summer. There aren’t – as of now! – any free agents who can completely shift the balance of power in the league. So how do you handicap 2022 NBA futures? Allow me to help. Here are my thoughts on each of the title contenders, with all odds via FOX Bet.
BROOKLYN NETS +300 (bet $10 to win $40 total)
The favorites all of this past season after acquiring James Harden, the Nets will be heavy favorites again next year. Given the bubble in 2020 and the condensed offseason, injuries caught up to Brooklyn (and everyone else in 2021). But with their trio of superstars, the Nets were 4-1 in the playoffs, and the lone loss was when Jayson Tatum scored 50 points.
But before you bet the favorite, consider Kyrie Irving’s playoff history: hurt this year and hurt in 2020 (missed playoffs). He was terrible in 2019 with Boston before leaving via free agency (shot 35% from the field and 22% on 3-pointers in a five-game loss to Milwaukee). Irving was hurt in 2018 and didn’t play for the Celtics in a seven-game loss to Cleveland.
On paper, the Nets are the best team in the NBA. But they’ve got two of the most unreliable superstars in the NBA, which is why I’m not betting them.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS +500 (bet $10 to win $60 total)
A year after getting the shortest offseason break in American sports history, the Lakers were bounced in the first round after Anthony Davis got injured. Angsty Lakers fans wanted to trade the entire roster to improve the team. Reminder: The Lakers led the Suns 2-1 and if AD isn’t injured, who in the West was stopping the Lakers?
Their only real trade chip is Dennis Schroeder, so there’s a good chance their top eight players all return. A word of caution: LeBron James turns 37 in December and has been injured in two of the last three seasons. And the one year he wasn’t hurt was the COVID-interrupted season, when the Lakers won the title.
With Space Jam behind him and entering the bottom of the eighth inning of his remarkable career, does he have one last push? Better to wait for the Lakers’ midseason injury, wait for the price to drop, and then grab ‘em.
MILWAUKEE BUCKS +800 (bet $10 to win $90 total)
The Bucks had the best home record in the NBA playoffs (10-1), and Giannis Antetokounmpo was unlocked this postseason when he played more off the ball, letting Jrue Holiday run the show at times. The Giannis-Holiday-Khris Middleton “Big 3” is impressive, but one wonders how they’ll bounce back after three, long, impressive regular seasons, and a charmed title run (plus, two of them are headed to the Olympics right after the NBA Finals).
The great news is that the only free agents in the rotation are PJ Tucker and Jeff Teague. They’ll get Donte DiVincenzo back from injury. They’ll be very good again, if you’re interested in taking a chance on Giannis & Co. to go back-to-back at an OK price, but I personally don’t see a ton of value on the Bucks to repeat.
PHOENIX SUNS +900 (bet $10 to win $100 total)
With apologies to Suns fans who just enjoyed a super fun ride to a 2-0 lead in the Finals before they became a tire fire – no. Just say no to betting them to win the 2022 title. Everything broke right for Phoenix this postseason, from Anthony Davis getting hurt to not facing Jamal Murray to Kawhi Leonard’s injury. The Finals exposed the Suns for not having a legit second offensive threat. They have great wings defensively – they don’t have great wings offensively.
It was a charmed season and a memorable run. It’ll be very interesting to see what becomes of Chris Paul. Reports say he’s going to opt out of his $41 million contract and shoot for a longer deal. Can he possibly stay healthy, given his size and history of injuries, for a couple more years?
LA CLIPPERS +1000 (bet $10 to win $110 total)
No way can you get my money to back the Clippers with Kawhi Leonard coming off surgery that will probably keep him off the court until the All-Star break. This is Kawhi’s first real injury since his San Antonio days, and he was very slow to return to action after that.
The Clippers have an interesting offseason ahead, because if Reggie Jackson leaves, where are they getting a third scorer from? And besides, was the postseason an outlier for Jackson, anyway? The Clippers are looking at being seeded fifth, sixth, seventh or eighth seed in the West and the conference is loaded. Hard pass for me.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS +1000 (bet $10 to win $110 total)
As long as you’re OK with tying up money for a year, here’s the most interesting futures bet. The Warriors have two lottery picks and are rumored to be in the mix to trade for Ben Simmons or Damian Lillard. No telling if Bradley Beal hits the market. Clearly, the market reflects that, as the Warriors lost in the play-in round, and there isn’t a non-playoff team with odds remotely close to these.
Let’s turn that negative nervous uncertainty into positive vibes! Klay Thompson will be back after two seasons worth of injuries and Steph Curry will have help from a star to be named later. Biggest drawback is that if everyone is healthy, the Western Conference playoffs might be the most stacked this century.
But if the Warriors get another star, they’re on the level of the Lakers, Clippers, Nuggets, Jazz and Suns – health pending, of course.
PHILADELPHIA 76ERS +1400 (bet $10 to win $150 total)
Just know that a futures bet on the 76ers puts faith in a) Doc Rivers to deliver in the playoffs (he hasn’t), b) Daryl Morey to deliver a monster trade (he has), and c) Joel Embiid’s health (yikes). The 76ers gag job against the Atlanta Hawks is almost too difficult to revisit, but suffice to say, Embiid should not totally escape scrutiny. Yes, Ben Simmons was petrified. But Embiid had 21 turnovers in four losses, including eight in game seven.
If the 76ers can get Dame Lillard, they’re the second-best team in the East, still behind the Nets. But will Lillard want to land in Philly? That’s where Morey comes in, and why I’d be willing to take a bite of this apple.
DENVER NUGGETS +1800 (bet $10 to win $190 total)
Could be a ton of value here – if you trust Jamal Murray not to rush back and the Nuggets to make the playoffs without him. Denver would have been my pick to come out of the West in 2021 if Murray had not gone down with the ACL injury. But even without him, they were able to squeak by Portland.
A full season with Aaron Gordon acclimated to the offense – after finding offseason backcourt help, of course – could make the Nuggets a very attractive team to sneak out of the West.
I’d toss some pizza money on Denver.
Jason McIntyre is a FOX Sports betting analyst, and he also writes about the NFL and NBA Draft. He joined FS1 in 2016 and has appeared on every show on the network. In 2017, McIntyre began producing gambling content on the NFL, college football and NBA for FOX Sports. He had a gambling podcast for FOX, “Coming Up Winners,” in 2018 and 2019. Before arriving at FOX, he created the website The Big Lead, which he sold in 2010.
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