's the eve of the 2020-21 season, so it's once again time for our NBA Futures Wager. Faithful followers love our selections, as we've cashed an unbelievable number of futures over the years. Here are some recent highlights: 2020 - Lightning (7-1), Dodgers (4-1); 2019 - Nationals (18-1), Virginia (22-1); 2018 - Warriors (-160); 2017 - Astros (10-1); 2016 - Warriors (5-1); 2014 - Spurs (14-1).
The NBA season tips off Tuesday, December 22 with two games: the Los Angeles Lakers against the Los Angeles Clippers, and the Golden State Warriors against the Brooklyn Nets. Certainly, when the league created its schedule, it must have believed that those four teams would comprise four of the top five title contenders. But then Warriors SG Klay Thompson sustained a season-ending injury, which has knocked out Golden State from any championship discussion. The one title contender which will not be featured on opening night is, of course, the Milwaukee Bucks. (No, I do not consider the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, Dallas Mavericks or Denver Nuggets true title contenders.)
Milwaukee has rolled to the best record in the league over the last two regular seasons, but has flamed out in the playoffs. Last season was especially humbling, as they only managed to win one game in their series vs. the Miami Heat. That prompted GM Jon Horst to "go back to the drawing board" to try to re-shape his team. He make one great trade by acquiring Jrue Holiday, but fell short on what would have been a second great trade when then-Sacramento Kings G Bogdan Bogdanovic refused to agree to a sign-and-trade offer. Bogdanovic later signed with Atlanta in free agency, while the Bucks were slapped by the league for tampering, and forfeited a 2022 2nd round draft choice. The upshot is that there's still one major hole for Horst to fill, as the Bucks could really use one more deep threat with whom to surround Giannis Antetokounmpo. But the pieces are still present to win the Eastern Conference. And Milwaukee is one of the very, very few teams that can match up with the very good (and very big) Los Angeles Lakers.
There's no doubt in my mind that the Lakers are the league's best team, as currently constructed. But with current championship odds at +250, I'm going to look in another direction. And when I say "look in another direction," I mean, look only at another team which can match up with the Lakers on the interior. It's an exceptionally short list, topped by the Bucks. So, we will play on Milwaukee at +650 (the current odds). And, of course, it goes without saying that the Bucks team which exists on opening night may not be the team which takes the court at the start of the playoffs. The trade deadline is still 3 months away, and one can rest assured that Horst will have ample opportunity to add another shooter -- whether by trade, or by free agency (after players get bought out by their teams).
Still, the addition of Holiday to this Bucks lineup will be enough to get them over the hump in the Eastern Conference. Holiday is the best defensive guard in the league, and he has stepped up in the playoffs -- something erstwhile floor general Eric Bledsoe was unable to do. It's true the Nets will be a threat with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, etc. But Steve Nash will be a rookie head coach, so I'm lukewarm on how far it will go in the post-season with an inexperienced head coach and a roster which has yet to play meaningful playoff minutes together.
Take Milwaukee at +650 to win the NBA Championship in 2021. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.