With all of the blockbuster moves during the NBA offseason, both Los Angeles teams came out as clear winners. The LA Lakers added star bigman Anthony Davis to pair alongside LeBron James. On the other hand, the LA Clippers signed the recent Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard, while also facilitating a trade to acquire Paul George from the Thunder.
There is certainly no question that both teams dramatically improved their roster from last season with these moves. Many analysts and even betting odds have both LA teams sitting at the top as the most likeliest to win next year’s Finals. As of 10/16, William Hill still has the Clippers sitting pretty at +300 with the Lakers just below them at +400.
Despite both team’s additions, it might be foolish to believe that either team will actually make the Finals, let alone win them.
The Clippers (+300)
It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to see the Clippers topping the rankings here. Last season the team finished with a respectable 48-34 record and claimed the 8th seed in the conference. This matched them up against the Golden State Warriors, who they ultimately lost to in 6 games. For a 1-8 matchup, the weaker Clippers team performed fairly well thanks to huge performances from their bench.
During the offseason, they lost Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the trade for Paul George. Gallo definitely had his best season to date last year, averaging 19.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 2.6 assists on 46% shooting from the field and 43% from three. Rookie SGA had a solid first year in the league, averaging 10.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.2 steals on 47.6% shooting and 36.7% from downtown.
As impressive as Gallinari played last year, he did just turn 31 and isn’t likely to have a season like last year’s again. Gilgeous-Alexander is another story considering he will be entering his sophomore season and has enormous upside as defensive point guard. It’s typically hard to argue against trading for a star player like PG13, but this may be an exception.
George will turn 30 during the playoffs and he just had surgeries this offseason on both of his shoulders. He did have a phenomenal season last year, averaging 28 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 2.2 steals on 43.8% shooting and 38.6% from beyond the arc. But it is downright unfathomable to think that he will come close to that production again this season considering his age and recent surgeries.
That isn’t to say that PG13 won’t still be a force on the defensive end and a great offensive player, but you certainly won’t see Paul George from 2018-2019 ever again.
Kawhi Leonard was the Clippers’ bigger pickup and there’s really no downside to that at all. Leonard had a near-perfect season last year, averaging 26.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.8 steals on 49.6% shooting from the field and 37% from downtown while leading the Raptors to an NBA Championship.
As impressive as his run was, he began to run out of steam due to a knee injury resulting from an infamous quad injury on his other leg suffered during his time with the San Antonio Spurs. Because Kawhi just turned 28, it is pretty worrisome that he is having multiple issues with injuries and may be a sign of trouble down the road.
This may not be too much of a problem because the Clippers have excellent depth. Load management will certainly be important for both George and Leonard so that they are fresh for the playoffs. Nonetheless, the biggest reason for betting against the Clippers is that their two star players have a high risk for injury.
The Lakers (+400)
For the team donning wine and gold, injuries will definitely play a role as well. Their key acquisition of Anthony Davis is great on paper, but it may not translate as well as betting odds may indicate. For starters, AD played just 56 games last season and has only gone above 70 in 2 of his 7 seasons in the league.
Furthermore, it appears that Davis’ stellar individual play doesn’t necessarily translate to team success. During his 7-season tenure, the Pelicans won more than 40 games just twice, peaking with a 48-win season during 2017-2018. That was the season that Davis had star bigman DeMarcus Cousins shouldering the load alongside him.
Speaking of Cousins, the Lakers also added Boogie during the offseason, but he tore his ACL and is expected to miss the entire year. Cousins will likely never be the same dominant player he once was due to a multitude of severe injuries over the past few years.
Back to Davis, he did average a respectable 25.9 points, 12 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.6 steals, and 2.4 blocks per game on 51.7% shooting last year. Davis is still fairly young at 26, but he will be 27 in March and his injury history does not tell a good story for his future. To hammer this point home, AD sprained his right thumb during the preseason, although he did play against Golden State in a preseason game Wednesday night.
Aside from AD, there’s also the age of LeBron James. LBJ has been almost invincible when it comes to health, but he will be turning 35 come December. In basketball and life, there is only one undefeatable force and that is time. James had a fantastic season last year, averaging 27.4 points, 8.5 rebounds, 8.3 assists and 1.3 steals on 51% shooting. However he did play just 55 games last season and it may be The King’s time to start declining due to his age.
In past years, LeBron’s offense definitely has been consistent, but his defense has started to fade as a result and he is nowhere near the level of defender he was during his Miami years. He still has a freakton of athleticism, but even that will inevitably slow at 35 years old. What’s even more alarming is that the Lakers finished with just a 37-45 record last season.
LBJ and AD may prove to be an incredible duo, but you’re better off betting against them due to an older (and less defense oriented) LBJ, and injuries.
So what team is a better bet?
Outside of the LA teams, there are really only two teams that come to mind. Even with the loss of Kevin Durant, the Golden State Warriors at +1200 are extremely formidable. Yes, Klay Thompson will miss most of the season due to his ACL tear during last year’s playoffs, but he will return in time for the playoffs this year. They also acquired point guard D’Angelo Russell after a breakout season with Brooklyn, who will help bridge the gap until then.
Then there’s the Houston Rockets at +800. James Harden and the Rockets have come so close to the Finals in the last few years, but they keep falling short at the hands of Golden State. This year should prove to be different because they swapped out aging and injury-prone CP3 for an explosive Russell Westbrook. Harden has consistently been one of the league’s top players for the last four seasons and now he has a great partner in Westbrook.
Prediction: The Houston Rockets (+800) will represent the Western Conference in the 2020 NBA Finals
The Clippers definitely field the strongest roster on paper of any Western Conference team, but it’s hard to put your money behind two injury-prone superstars. The Rockets have been knocking on the door of the Finals for years now and this is the season that they finally breakthrough. Considering that Philly is a great pick to represent the Eastern Conference, odds are great on having a Rockets-76ers matchup in the 2020 NBA Finals.