Falling Back: How Losing Kawhi Leonard Moved Raptors Odds In Historic Fashion

Jul 15, 2019 09:30 PM EDT
Credit:

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard (2).

  • The Toronto Raptors are listed at 80-1 odds to repeat as NBA champions in 2019-20 after Kawhi Leonard signed with the Los Angeles Clippers.
  • The last team to open the following season at 10-1 odds or higher to repeat as NBA champions were the Chicago Bulls in 1993-94 (15-1) and 1998-99 (100-1).

In 2018-19, the Toronto Raptors won their first-ever NBA Championship, defeating the Golden State Warriors in six games.

Entering the regular season, the Warriors were listed as the odds-on favorites to take home their third consecutive title at -168, with the Boston Celtics (+620) and Houston Rockets (+1000) right behind them.

Ranked fifth on the odds board entering the season were the Toronto Raptors, who were listed at +1850, after opening up at a whopping +6600 after the 2018 NBA Finals in June.

Unlikely Champs

Listed at almost 19-1 entering the season, the Raptors were the third-most unlikely NBA champion based on odds since 1985, behind just the 2011 Mavericks who entered the year at 20-1 and the 2015 Warriors who entered the season at 28-1.

Entering the NBA Finals, the Raptors were listed as +230 series underdogs against the Warriors and became the second-biggest underdog win the title entering the Finals since 1985, behind just the Detroit Pistons at +500 in 2004.

Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Toronto Raptors centers Marc Gasol (33) and Serge Ibaka (9) celebrate winning the 2019 NBA Finals.

Time For 2020

The real story here though is where the Raptors are now listed to repeat as NBA champs after losing Kawhi Leonard to the Clippers.

After winning the NBA Championship in six games over the Warriors, the Raptors were 10-1 to repeat in 2020, which was fifth among all teams.

But that was when many thought Kawhi was returning to Toronto to defend its newly-acquired crown.

After his move to LA, the Raptors’ odds shifted back to 80-1, which ranked tied for 15th in the league.

Since 1985, only two other teams entered the following regular season after winning an NBA title at odds of 10-1 or higher and it was for the exact same reason.

Chicago Bulls: 1992-93 to 1993-94

Entering the 1992-93 season, the Bulls had won the title in consecutive years and were going for a three-peat behind Michael Jordan. Chicago entered the year +120 with the best odds to win the title and the Bulls won the 1993 championship in six games over the Suns.

Almost a month before the regular season was scheduled to begin in 1993-94, Jordan announced his retirement from the NBA.

The Bulls returned basically their entire roster, minus Jordan, but entered the regular season at 15-1 odds to four-peat, which ranked 10th in the NBA. Chicago made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 1994, losing to the New York Knicks in seven games.

Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Bulls: 1997-98 to 1998-99

Entering the 1997-98 season, the Bulls had won the title in consecutive years and were going for a three-peat behind Jordan, who was looking for his sixth title.

Chicago entered the year +140 with the best odds to win the title and the Bulls won the 1998 championship in six games over the Jazz.

Due to the NBA lockout, the 1998-99 regular season didn’t start until Feb. 5 the next year. About three weeks before the regular season was scheduled to start, Jordan retired from the NBA (for a second time).

Without Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Phil Jackson the next season, the Bulls entered the regular season at 100-1 to win the title, which ranked 21st in the league, and they missed the playoffs for the first time since 1983.

Close But No Cigar …

We just went over the only two teams to enter the following regular season at 10-1 odds or higher after winning it all — but who were the teams who just missed the cut?

Since 1985, four teams won the NBA Championship and then opened in that mid-tier range of above 5-1 to win the title, but under the 10-1 threshold used above:

1995 Houston Rockets: Houston had won back-to-back titles entering 1995-96, had the majority of its core roster back going for a three-peat and was still listed at 7-1 odds behind the Magic (who it swept in the Finals the year before), the Pacers (who the Magic beat in Eastern Conference Finals) and the Bulls (who were getting Jordan back).

2004 Detroit Pistons: Detroit won the NBA title at 15-1 odds entering the 2003-04 season, but the real story was its 5-1 price entering the Finals vs. the Lakers. The Pistons became the biggest dogs to win the title entering the Finals since 1985. In 2004, the Pistons were 9-1 and actually made it back to the NBA Finals, losing to the Spurs in seven games.

2006 Miami Heat: Miami was coming off its first title in franchise history and opened at +600 to win the NBA Championship the year after. The Heat ended up losing in the first round of the playoffs.

2011 Dallas Mavericks: Mavs won the title as 20-1 longshots in 2010-11 and then returned the following season at +850, which ranked fifth in the NBA. Dallas ended up losing in the first round of the playoffs.

Note: All series price data via Sports Odds History

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