West looks wide open after Warriors’ decline

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This story is part of our NBCSports.com’s 2019-20 NBA season preview coverage. Every day between now and when the season opens Oct. 22 we will have at least one story focused on the upcoming season and the biggest questions heading into it. In addition, there will be podcasts, video and more. Come back every day and get ready for a wide-open NBA season.

LeBron James ruled the Eastern Conference eight straight years – four with the Heat then four with the Cavaliers – until going to Los Angeles last year. That left a power vacuum in the East last season, and several teams raced to seize LeBron’s vacated crown. The Bucks dominated at times. The 76ers rose throughout the season. The Celtics drew attention as a potential sleeping giant. The Pacers fought until the end. Ultimately, the Raptors emerged on their way to the 2019 NBA title. It was wonderful, intriguing competition.

Now, the Western Conference will get its turn.

The Warriors have won the West an incredible five straight years, but their hegemony appears over. Kevin Durant left. Klay Thompson is injured. D'Angelo Russell creates fit issues.

With Golden State downgraded from overwhelming favorite into a member of the pack, the field looks wide open. Each team’s odds of winning the West:*

*All odds in this article are derived from Sports Odds History. I converted the listed odds so the odds add up to 100% to effectively remove the vig.

  • L.A. Clippers: 27%
  • Los Angeles Lakers: 20%
  • Houston Rockets: 10%
  • Jazz: 10%
  • Warriors: 9%
  • Nuggets: 7%
  • Trail Blazers: 6%
  • Dallas Mavericks: 3%
  • San Antonio Spurs: 2%
  • New Orleans Pelicans: 1%
  • Sacramento Kings: 1%
  • Minnesota Timberwolves: 1%
  • Oklahoma City Thunder: 1%
  • Memphis Grizzlies: 1%
  • Phoenix Suns: 1%

Here’s how that distribution looks:

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And here’s how this year’s preseason odds (orange) compare to last year’s preseason odds (blue):

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The line is far flatter since the decline of the Warriors, who were favored over the field to win the West each of the previous three seasons.

Even relative to a larger historical sample that mostly predates Golden State’s dominance, this year’s odds are quite flat. Here are this season’s preseason odds (orange) and the average preseason odds based on conference rank in the previous decade (blue):

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This is the first time since 2008-09 that… five teams had better than 9% odds… six teams had better than 7% odds… seven teams had better than 5% odds of winning the West.

Of course, preseason odds don’t dictate how the season will play out. The 2014-15 odds were fairly balanced, the Spurs leading (30%) and Golden State sixth (6%).

The Warriors earned the No. 1 seed by 11 games and mostly breezed through the playoffs.

In retrospect, that season usually gets lumped with presumptions of Golden State dominance. But the Warriors didn’t enter that year much hype. Heck, even after winning the 2015 NBA title, they fell behind San Antonio in the preseason 2016 Western Conference-title odds.

Few would be surprised if the Clippers or Lakers ran away with the conference this season. Maybe one of those Los Angeles teams will start a dynasty. Maybe the Warriors will extend theirs. Maybe some other team will emerge.

We often don’t have a clue, and predictions are even more difficult this year.

It should be fun.