NBA 10 way-too-early 2021 championship favorites, ranked

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The Los Angeles Lakers walked away from the 2019-20 campaign with their 17th NBA championship, tying the Boston Celtics for the most in league history. It was a great achievement for the Lake Show, but which team should be favored to win it all next season?

In this piece, we’ll lay out our favorites to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy for next season. Just keep in mind that a lot could change between now and then, as the draft and free agency are still looming on the proverbial horizon.

10. Toronto Raptors

The Raptors claimed their first NBA championship in 2019, defeating the Golden State Warriors in six games behind outstanding play from Kawhi Leonard.

Somewhat surprisingly, Leonard decided to leave the Raptors prior to the start of the 2019-20 season in favor of a position with the Los Angeles Clippers. Even without The Klaw on the roster, Toronto racked up an impressive 53-19 overall record, earning a No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Unfortunately, though, the Raptors were defeated by the Boston Celtics in the second round, 4-3.

William Hill Sportsbook currently has the Raptors’ odds listed at +2000 for the 2021 NBA championship, which ranks eighth among all teams. The Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets — a pair of teams we’ll discuss more later — were given the same odds.

9. Houston Rockets

The Rockets were a dangerous team to face in the 2019-20 season, as they were a serious threat from the perimeter with James Harden and Russell Westbrook. With a 44-28 overall record, the team earned a No. 4 seed in the Western Conference Playoffs, where they were ultimately defeated by the Los Angeles Lakers in five games in the second round.

Mike D’Antoni then announced that he would not be returning as head coach of the Rockets. The 69-year-old West Virginia native took over as Houston’s head coach in 2016, but he was calling plays this season without a contract extension.

The Rockets haven’t yet hired a new coach, but Tyronn Lue and Jeff Van Gundy are top candidates.

8. Denver Nuggets

Though they finished with a 46-27 overall record and a No. 3 seed in the West, the Nuggets flew under the radar for much of the 2019-20 regular season. In the playoffs, however, the outstanding play of Nikola Jokic and the emergence of Jamal Murray gave Denver fans a bright outlook for their future.

The Nuggets made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals this season, defeating some of the hottest teams in the league along the way (Utah Jazz and LA Clippers). Ultimately, though, Denver’s season came to an end after a 4-1 series loss to the Lakers. Despite this solid postseason effort, the Nuggets are listed as +2000 to win the 2021 championship.

7. Milwaukee Bucks

So long as Giannis Antetkounmpo is on Milwaukee’s roster, the team will be viewed as a title contender. For the 2019-20 regular season, The Greek Freak led the Bucks to an impressive 56-17 overall record, which was the best mark in the Eastern Conference. To the surprise of many, though, the fifth-seeded Miami Heat put an end to the Bucks’ postseason aspirations in the second round.

LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Lakers, Bucks

After posting averages of 29.5 points, 13.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists, Antetokounmpo won MVP for the 2019-20 campaign. It was the second consecutive season in which he won the prestigious award. And for his solid play on the defensive end of the floor, Giannis earned Defensive Player of the Year honors.

Right now, several sportsbooks have the Bucks listed with the third-best odds to win the 2021 NBA championship. William Hill Sportsbook has them at +600. As previously mentioned, though, a lot can change between now and then. Giannis’ future is still up in the air, and the Bucks may look to make significant changes.

6. Boston Celtics

Boston’s young core led by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown came together nicely in the 2019-20 regular season, finishing with the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics swept their first-round matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers, then went on to defeat the Toronto Raptors in a seven-game thriller in the second round. Like the Bucks, though, the C’s were eventually sent home by the Heat (4-2 in the ECF).

With the addition of Kemba Walker in the backcourt, the Celtics are a truly formidable side. Will the boys from Beantown be able to rekindle this flame in the coming season? At +1200, they’re currently sitting just outside the top-five favorites for 2021.

5. Miami Heat

Against the odds, Miami made it all the way to the NBA Finals, where they took the Los Angeles Lakers to six games but ultimately lost.

Jimmy Butler became the driving force behind the Heat’s success in the 2019-20 campaign. And in the postseason, the former Marquette Golden Eagle elevated his level of play even further. Other players on the roster stepped up in big ways as well, including Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo. Unfortunately, though, the injury bug bit both of these key players in the Finals, forcing both to miss time on the court.

With a healthy roster, there is no reason to count the Heat out for next season, despite the fact that they’re being listed at +1500.

4. Golden State Warriors

With their All-Star core of Draymond Green, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson returning from injuries, the Warriors have the fourth-best odds (+800) to win the 2021 NBA championship. Barring any future ailments, it will be the first time the trio has been on the court together since the 2019 NBA Finals.

As a result of the aforementioned injuries to their roster, the Warriors finished the 2019-20 regular season with the worst record in the NBA (15-50 overall), leaving the team well out of the playoff hunt. Let’s see if Golden State’s big three can get back to their winning ways in the ensuing campaign.

3. Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers acquired Kawhi Leonard and Paul George prior to the start of the 2019-20 regular season. With these talented All-Stars on the roster, many experts were expecting the Clippers to make a deep run in the playoffs. However, LA was once again unable to advance beyond the second round, as they were defeated by the Denver Nuggets in an epic collapse after going up 3-1.

Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Clippers, Nuggets

It was the first season together for Leonard and George, and injuries on the roster played a role in the regular season. For these reasons, we’ll cut the Clippers a bit of slack, and they’re at +400 to win it all next season. However, they are still a team that needs to prove they can get past the second round.

Though the team is packed with talent, they will no longer be led by Doc Rivers. The 59-year-old play caller was relieved of his duties as head coach of the team after their disappointing playoff exit. Just days later, however, he was hired by the Philadelphia 76ers.

2. Brooklyn Nets

The Nets acquired two of the best players in the league prior to the start of this season: Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. Right off the bat, these names put the team in barber shop discussions as a favorite in the East, at least once these two guys were healthy together. However, Durant was unable to play this season, as he was still recovering from an Achilles injury. Irving played (20 regular-season games), but he too dealt with injuries in this campaign.

On the bright side, both Irving and Durant are expected to be ready to play for the start of next season, which hasn’t been officially announced yet. For this reason, we’re placing the Nets high on our list of championship favorites. If these two stars can stay healthy, opposing teams in the Eastern Conference could be in trouble, making their +1000 odds an intriguing play.

1. Los Angeles Lakers

The pairing of LeBron James and Anthony Davis in Los Angeles proved to be fruitful, as the dynamic duo led the Lakers to an NBA championship. James, who won his fourth Finals MVP, shattered multiple Finals records along the way, and Davis earned his first ring.

It’s true that James and Davis led the charge for the Lakers most of the time, but several role players stepped up as well. Guys like Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and even Dwight Howard had their moments of shine. If this team can remain mostly intact, there is no reason to believe they can’t repeat as champions. Vegas seems to agree, as Los Angeles is listed at +375 — the highest odds to win in the ensuing campaign.

Lakers, Anthony Davis