The Golden State Warriors significantly improved their team by bringing back Gary Payton II in exchange for James Wiseman, their young center who never played. While this trade clearly makes the Warriors a more dangerous playoff team on paper, for some reason their odds to win the Western Conference or the NBA title plummeted.
Kevin Durant is on his way to the Valley of the Sun pic.twitter.com/IegCUWEQuF— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) February 9, 2023
Oh right. That’s the reason.
Phoenix is only in sixth place with a 30-27 record, but they’ve become the favorite to win the West, and trail only the Boston Celtics in the championship odds - Boston is +350, Phoenix is +425.
Honestly, they’re really one-upping the Warriors this week. Golden State acquires a former Warrior who won the Community Assist Award. Phoenix acquires a former Warriors who won two Finals MVP Awards.
Golden State gives up on their first-round pick from the 2020 Draft. Phoenix trades away their first-round picks in the 2023, 2025, 2027, and 2029 Drafts.
What’s next? Is the Footprint Center going to get butlers in their luxury suites, too? Is T.J. Warren going to punch Cameron Payne in a practice fight? Is James Jones going to start a podcast?
Getting Payton obviously improves the Warriors’ issues with bench depth and perimeter defense. But it doesn’t improve their title odds, thanks to the huge wagering momentum created by the Durant deal.
The Warriors are tied for seventh place in the list of title favorites, even with the dynastic Memphis Grizzlies at +1500. Before the deadline, they were +1200, a drop after Steph Curry injured his knee last week against the Nuggets. It’s not so much that the Warriors didn’t improve; it’s that the Phoenix Suns traded four first-round picks to get Kevin Durant.
You can see this by looking at the Grizzlies, whose title odds dropped after they replaced Danny Green, who had played three games, with deadeye three-point shooter Luke Kennard. Perhaps Ja Morant’s propensity for fights and mysterious threatening lasers worried the oddsmakers, but on paper, the Grizzlies actually improved this week. Most Western Conference teams that didn’t add one of the greatest forwards of all time saw their odds drop this week.
It’s indicative of the general skepticism towards Kyrie Irving that Dallas is still below Memphis and Golden State among title favorites even after their blockbuster deal to add Uncle Drew. They’re only at +1600 to win it all this year, though the Mavericks almost certainly want to keep Irving long-term, a choice they make at their own peril.
Denver is no longer the favorite to win the Western Conference, falling from +320 last week to +380 this week. They also added a quality backup center in Thomas Bryant without sacrificing rotation players, but the Phoenix Suns are now slightly ahead of them at +240 to make the Finals. The Warriors? +450 to win the West last week; down to +850 this week.
Is this an overreaction to the deal? Durant is indeed great, but he’s also still hurt, the fourth year in a row he’s missed significant time with a leg injury. Phoenix was No. 8 in defensive rating before the trade, but sent All-Defensive first teamer Mikal Bridges away, along with Cameron Johnson, another good defender. Should a team that has to use Torrey Craig or Darius Bazley as their defensive stopper be the favorite over more complete teams?
Our advice? If you believed in the Warriors last week when their odds were much less favorable, you should stick to your guns. As good as Durant is, the Nets won exactly one playoff series while he was there. Meanwhile, when the Warriors have had Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, and Steph Curry healthy, they haven’t lost a playoff series in nearly seven years. And when Gary Payton II plays seven minutes or more, the team is 9-1.
The Suns have three All-Stars now and they are a formidable obstacle in the West. But they’re one injury away from being an outright ordinary team. A 15-to-1 shot on the Warriors or Grizzlies seems like it has far more value than trusting a Suns team that hasn’t proven anything except their willingness to trade draft picks.