In a vacuum, looking purely at talent, erasing all knowledge of circumstance, the Brooklyn Nets have one of the most loaded rosters in the NBA. They have three perennial all-stars in Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Ben Simmons, and the supporting cast is perfectly respectable, including Joe Harris, Seth Curry, Patty Mills, Blake Griffin, and Nic Claxton.
That looks on paper like a team that can and should seriously contend for the title, and New York’s regulated mobile sportsbooks have the Nets priced as such. The team has anywhere from the third-shortest to the fifth-shortest odds to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy next spring.
Those are entirely logical and fair betting prices — if one assumes best-case scenarios for each of the team’s stars and for their chemistry together.
That, however, would be an absolutely ridiculous assumption. And that’s why a futures wager on Brooklyn to win the NBA championship, or even to represent the Eastern Conference in the finals, is as poor a value as can be found anywhere in the sports betting world.
Big Three, enormous questions
Nets odds shortened substantially last week when the team gave up on trading Durant and they “agreed to move forward” together. It makes sense — the Nets with Durant are a much more serious contender than the Nets without Durant. However, are we to believe the same malcontent who was demanding a trade is now perfectly happy in Brooklyn? That management won’t be continuing to shop him all season long unless the Nets are piling up wins?
Also, Durant turns 34 before the season starts, has arguably reached a point in his career where you can label him injury-prone, and didn’t look like his usual dominant self in April’s first-round playoff sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics. Maybe he’s still one of the three or four best basketball players on the planet. Or maybe he’s entering a different phase of his career.
Then there’s Irving, whose unvaccinated status shouldn’t pose the same problems it did in the 2021-22 season (except maybe preventing him from playing road games in Toronto), but who has been a part-time player his entire three-year tenure in Brooklyn. He played in 29 of a possible 82 games last year. He played 54 of 72 the year before that. And he played 20 of 72 three seasons ago.
Irving also has been the subject of constant trade rumors, has frequently seen his teams enjoy more success without him (both in Brooklyn and in Boston for two seasons before that), and is now 30 years old, an age at which speedy guards often find their opponents starting to catch up with them.
So, there are major question marks attached to both Durant and Irving, neither of whom is a safe bet to finish the season wearing the black and white of Brooklyn.
But their respective uncertainties are nothing compared to those surrounding Simmons.
The former No. 1 overall draft pick hasn’t played in a game since the June 20, 2021, Philadelphia 76ers playoff loss to the Atlanta Hawks in which he infamously passed up an uncontested dunk. He has missed time with back problems and mental health struggles, and while only he knows whether he does or doesn’t want to be an NBA player, it’s hard to imagine him playing with full confidence the next time he takes the court.
Simmons is, at best, a reclamation project for the first few months of the 2022-23 season — one with elite defensive ability and useful positional versatility, but who has long been a liability from a scoring perspective.
Durant and Irving may well prove the perfect teammates to cover up Simmons’ flaws and let him focus on defense, rebounding, and fast breaks. But assuming so would be dangerous. The reality is that the three stars have never played a minute of a real game as teammates.
Nets over Bucks?!?
Here’s a look at the odds at several New York sportsbooks on Brooklyn to win the East or the NBA championship:
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At most of those books, the Nets are behind only the defending Eastern Conference champion Celtics, the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors, and the 2021 champion Milwaukee Bucks, while even with or slightly behind the L.A. Clippers. Amazingly, however, Caesars Sportsbook has the Nets at the same price as the Bucks, while DraftKings has the Nets at shorter money than Milwaukee.
After Durant requested a trade, the Nets’ title odds went as high as 25/1 at some books, and at one point in July they ballooned to 40/1 — perfectly reasonable for a team that was potentially looking at Simmons being its best player. But now the odds are suddenly right back down to 7/1 or 8/1, where they were when the offseason began.
Those are fair odds if KD is KD, stays healthy, and isn’t traded; if Kyrie is Kyrie and isn’t traded and plays at least 60 games; and if Simmons can return to pre-2021-mental-collapse form after sitting out for some 16 months.
Given that those three “ifs” add up to a longshot parlay — we make the “yes” at least +1000 — these are atrocious prices on the Nets, especially in an increasingly solid Eastern Conference.
We get what the bookmakers are thinking: Bettors tend to chase upside, and we don’t want to get burned if everything clicks into place for this Brooklyn team. But we can’t imagine what Nets bettors are thinking.
The L.A. Lakers, a very public team loaded with big-name players that has struggled the last couple of seasons to look like a contender, are now priced almost realistically, in the 25/1 range to win the title. But the Nets continue to be shown far more respect.
And that makes betting on them one of the worst expenditures in all of sports gambling.
Photo: Wendell Cruz/USA TODAY