The NBA landscape has undergone a seismic shift, with the move of LeBron James from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Los Angeles Lakers. With that move has come a change in the chances of several teams to win a title. But with those shifts have come a change for bettors as well, who will have to adjust to betting on the league with LeBron playing for a new franchise. What can bettors expect heading into the 2018-2019 season, and for the LeBron James era in Los Angeles?
Implications Of Joining A New Team
Joining a new team can mean a number of things for players at a level as high as the NBA. But no matter what situation these players are walking into, there are some consistent adjustments that have to be made across the board. On the positive side, moving to a new team can generate a roster that is simply better than the team that a player left previously.
In the case of James, this seems like a given, as the Cavaliers had some serious flaws by the time he left the squad. Their defense was abysmal, and there weren’t many players capable of creating their own shots without James setting them up. Whether or not the Lakers can improve James’ team in these areas remains to be seen, but it’s hard to imagine the Lakers being any worse than the Cavs were on defense or in terms of shot creation.
The second big plus to joining a new team is the fact that there is no game film available on the team yet. The Cleveland Cavaliers were a predictable squad, whose game plan seemed to revolve around giving the ball to LeBron James and getting out of the way so he could do all of the work on the offensive end of the floor. With the Lakers, that might not be the case, as James has made it clear that he wants to operate off of the ball in the future. The lack of certainty around the Lakers offense will help them get to the basket more efficiently, at least in the early going.
Of course, high profile moves like this one do come with their fair share of negatives as well. One of the best examples is the fact that chemistry takes time to develop with any team. Generally, this means that there will be a waiting period for a team to hit its stride after making a key signing or acquisition. This has been the case for several LeBron James teams in the past, which you will see evidence of as his history of switching teams is recapped.
The other big challenge for bettors when it comes to big name player moves in the NBA is that those moves tend to attract a lot of public money. This makes it more difficult to determine what a suitable line is for a given game, and when lines are inflated from recreational dollars flowing in. This has been the case on a number of occasions for backers of LeBron James’ teams in his first year after joining a new franchise.
How Have LeBron’s Teams Done In His First Year?
2010-2011 Miami Heat
The Miami Heat were one of the host hyped teams in recent NBA history, thanks to the unification of superstars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to team with James. One of the first true big threes of basketball’s modern era, the players vowed to win multiple championships in Miami, which they eventually followed through on. But that first year in Miami was an interesting one from a betting perspective, as bettors had to deal with a level of hype that is rarely seen in the NBA.
Bettors also had to deal with some early-season chemistry issues with the Miami Heat. With so many star players on the team, figuring out simple things such as who would take control of the ball the most in late-game situations was a struggle. This was shown by a 9-8 straight up start to the season that made the Heat look like a team that was treading water more than they were a team poised to contend for NBA championships over the next several years.
When things were good for the Heat during LeBron’s first season there, they were great. The team routinely won games by double digits, as they were simply too talented for a number of the teams in the NBA during that era of competition. Even during the opening stretch of the season where the Heat were only 9-8 straight up in their first 17 games, the team saw six of its first nine wins come by double figures.
This team was probably the best constructed roster that James has played with during his many stops across the NBA. The team had point guards who could shoot from the perimeter and did not need to handle the ball. This allowed James to run the show with the ball in his hands, with Dwyane Wade still explosive enough to get to the basket on many occasions. Chris Bosh was a serviceable enough rebounder that the Heat didn’t need to play a traditional center all of the time, which served as a precursor of sorts for the small ball-centric lineups that have so much success in the present-day NBA.
All of those positives did not translate to profitable betting on the Miami Heat throughout the season, though. The 2010-2011 Heat managed to go 52-49-2 against the spread during their first season as a league superpower, good for a win percentage of 51.5% over the course of the campaign. This put them about .8% short of being a profitable team over the course of the entire season. So while the Heat were not responsible for any massive losses for those who backed them over the entirety of LeBron James’ first season in Miami, there was definitely a slight loss associated with doing so. The Heat were also big favorites heading into the NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks, a series that Heat bettors took a bath on.
2014-2015 Cleveland Cavaliers
When LeBron James made the decision to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, there was a ton of excitement both inside of Cleveland and elsewhere. When James left the Cavaliers the first time, he did so as a player that wasn’t considered to be a winner. But his performances in Miami showed the world that he was one of the most clutch players in the league, and someone that could help break the curse of Cleveland teams failing to win championships.
There was also a lot of buzz surrounding the team itself for the Cavaliers, who went from being one of the worst teams in the NBA without James to one of the best teams in the league with him instantly. The addition of Kevin Love to go along with James were thought to be a great way to mesh with all of the talent of point guard Kyrie Irving, who the Cavs drafted during James’ absence from Cleveland. In a way, many thought that that trio would be another edition of the Heat big three that brought James his first titles.
Eventually, the team did manage to win a title for Cleveland in one of the most memorable NBA Finals series of all-time. But before they reached that point in the 2015-2016 season, the Cavs were regarded as unproven despite all of their talent heading into the 2014-2015 season. Irving had never won anything as a pro, and Love hadn’t either. The question was whether or not James would be good enough to elevate these unproven teammates to the highest of heights in the NBA.
Also worth remembering was the fact that there was no clear cut competition at the time for the James-led Cavaliers. The Spurs, who beat James’ Heat in his last Finals with Miami, were aging rapidly with the exception of Kawhi Leonard. And the Warriors had not yet signed Kevin Durant to form the super team that they currently boast. While the Warriors did end up winning the 2015 NBA Finals, they did so in a league that was much more wide open than today’s version of the NBA.
For Cleveland, this meant that simply bringing these three star players together was a massive coup that could have long-term implications on the NBA. They only ended up winning one title, but their four straight NBA Finals appearances proved that their thought process was a massive success. But how did the first year of this iteration of the Cavaliers pan out for those who took them to the betting window?
Believe it or not, the new-look Cavaliers were worse against the spread than the first year of the Miami Heat. The Cavs went 49-52-1 against the spread in the 2014-2015 season, good for a win percentage of 48.5%. This marked the second time in as many moves by LeBron James that his team failed to be profitable over the course of an entire season for bettors. This isn’t entirely surprising, given the amount of public money that followed James as a result of joining teams that were thought to be instant championship contenders. But it is worth keeping in mind heading into a season where James is going to play with another team for the first time in the 2018-2019 campaign.
One added factor for the 2014-2015 Cavs team that was not a consideration for the 2010-2011 Heat was the addition of rest into the equation for James after joining Cleveland. With his age increasing and his continued presence in the NBA Finals, James and the Cavaliers intelligently agreed to reduce his playing time in the regular season to keep him as fresh as possible for the playoffs. And while this worked in that the team made the NBA Finals in all of his years with the Cavs, the team suffered in the regular season and failed to deliver as many wins against the spread as they would have if James had played every night with a full work load.
That extra rest is something that bettors will have to contend with again heading into the James era in Los Angeles. LeBron has made the NBA Finals in every year of his career since joining the Heat, but all of those Finals appearances came as a member of the Eastern Conference. Now that he has joined the Western Conference, it will be much more difficult for him to get to the Finals as he and the Lakers will have to contend with the legendary Warriors, the Houston Rockets, and other quality teams that simply haven’t existed in the Eastern Conference over the last few seasons. Therefore, the Lakers might put less effort into the regular season to come out at full strength for the playoffs.
2018-2019 Los Angeles Lakers Outlook
Looking ahead to the coming season for LeBron James and the new-look Los Angeles Lakers, there are a lot of things to pay attention to before deciding how you are going to wager on their games. Everything from the roster, to the team’s rest strategy, to team chemistry should be evaluated without overlooking too many of the details that separate winning bets from losing bets.
The team’s roster will be one of the most important things to look at, of course, as a team has to have the talent to win games before they can be considered one of the best squads in the league. Unfortunately, that might be one of their biggest shortcomings as the 2018-2019 season approaches. Their roster simply isn’t as good as some of the better teams in the Western Conference, which will make their ability to cover the spread consistently a question mark.
At point guard is probably where the team around LeBron James is at its best. The Lakers have Rajon Rondo as a veteran leader at the position, and carry the young Lonzo ball and all of his potential on the team as well. While Ball might be traded at some point due to the chemistry disaster that is his father, Lavar Ball, the team will be in good hands at the point so long as Rondo is there to run the show.
Shooting guard is an interesting position for the Lakers, who combine the young Josh Hart from college powerhouse Villanova with free agent acquisition Lance Stephenson. The move to bring in Stephenson is very strange. Stephenson is a player known more for his antics than for his play on the court, and that seemed to be the opposite of the kind of player that James wanted to team up with. That is especially true after the issues that took place with JR Smith during the 2018 Finals.
The Lakers have young talent at other positions on the floor also, with young stars Kyle Kuzma predominantly playing the four and Brandon Ingram playing small forward. Those things can change given that those are the two positions that James tends to play most, but putting those three on the floor with Rondo or Ball could be an extremely dangerous combination if the young players continue to develop the way they have to this point.
Center is another area of concern for the Lakers. They signed JaVale McGee to be their starting big man. McGee was brilliant when called upon for the Warriors, but it is easy to look good when you are put in a position to succeed. Without the offensive juggernaut that is the Warriors to play with McGee, he should look like a less productive player. But that isn’t the biggest concern when it comes to McGee’s inclusion on this Lakers team.
The real issue with JaVale McGee’s presence on the Lakers is the fact that he doesn’t fit with the present day strategies in the NBA. A league-wide evolution in outside shooting has rendered interior-focused players like McGee almost obsolete. While he was a great piece off the bench for the Warriors, he shouldn’t be relied on as someone to constantly chip in key minutes. Just like previous James-led teams have had problems finding definitive roles for guys like Tristan Thompson and Joel Anthony in the playoffs, the same thing could happen to McGee.
Making the McGee move even stranger was the fact that the Lakers could have kept Brook Lopez as an alternative at the center position. Lopez is a much more modern example of big men in today’s NBA. He is a solid three point shooter and can help the spread the floor for an offense that looks capable of moving the ball quickly and efficiently. Failing to make that decision could end up hurting the Lakers over the next few years.
Outside of their roster, there are some other causes for concern caused by the extremely strong Western Conference that James finds himself in. The Pacific Division, specifically, is one of the toughest in the NBA and could cause problems for the Lakers. The division is headlined by the Warriors, of course, who may be the best team in the history of the NBA. But the Phoenix Suns are continuing to get better and added the number one overall pick in the NBA Draft in DeAndre Ayton. The Clippers have been competitive for several years now. And the Sacramento Kings aren’t terrible despite their failure to compete in the league for a long time. At a stage in his career where he will need the most rest, LeBron James will be playing in a division where he can afford to rest the least.
Los Angeles Lakers Championship Odds
While the odds to win the NBA championship vary depending on which sportsbook you use, the Los Angeles Lakers are being treated like one of the few teams with a chance to lift the Larry O’Brien Trophy when the season is all over. They are getting odds as low as 5/1 to win the title, with the Rockets and Warriors with them in the class of elite teams that could take the title.
Thinking long-term, there is no reason to think that the Lakers can’t get things figured out and advance toward the NBA Finals and give themselves a chance to win the title. But it is also hard to envision a team of LeBron James, Lance Stephenson, and a bunch of young players and misfits banding together to get the job done. It is clear that this Lakers team was hoping to acquire a player like Kawhi Leonard or Paul George to maximize their chances to win the title. Without succeeding in doing so, the team is now positioning this summer as step one in a long-term project that will hopefully land the team more free agents to play alongside James in the future.
Are The LeBron Lakers A Good ATS Investment
With all things considered, it would be hard to justify backing the Lakers over the course of an entire season, given the track record of teams in LeBron James’ first year with a franchise. Of course, a bettor more than likely wouldn’t bet on a team in all 82 games of the regular season plus postseason. So if you are going to back the Lakers, it is important to come up with a few general rules to make your NBA season as profitable as possible.
Making sure that LeBron James is playing before betting on the Lakers is a smart decision, as the complexion of the team changes entirely without him. And making sure that the team has favorable matchups is also worth doing, as there will be games where the Lakers’ shortcomings are too much to ignore.
Finally, not backing the team against big spreads is important. James will be rested in a number of blowouts this season, and late in games will feature players on the end of the bench. Those final minutes can result in sure covers being blown, if the Lakers get out to a big enough lead in the first place.