The 2019-20 Philadelphia 76ers season will not be remembered fondly. Not by members of the team or front office. Not by fans. And not by anyone who bet on them.
But with the tipoff of the Sixers’ 2020-21 NBA season just two weeks away, there is new hope. And we’re not just talking about the annual delusion that Ben Simmons will magically start taking three-pointers. We’re talking real hope, based on major changes that have been made since their Orlando bubble season burst — and also on one major change possibly to come.
Since last we saw the 76ers take the court:
- Daryl Morey became president of basketball operations.
- Doc Rivers replaced Brett Brown as head coach.
- The team traded away Al Horford and Josh Richardson, both of whom proved poor fits with cornerstones Simmons and Joel Embiid.
- The team acquired veteran shooters Danny Green and Seth Curry, both of whom are theoretically just what Simmons and Embiid need on offense.
- In the draft, the Sixers took two-way combo guard Tyrese Maxey, whom few expected to be available when the team picked at No. 21.
Morey also made minor additions, like Dwight Howard as backup center and potential bench contributors Terrance Ferguson and Justin Anderson.
With their current roster, the 76ers are a classic case of a team that we know has talent but have no idea if it will click. And the legal Pennsylvania sports betting operators seem to have them priced appropriately for that — which is to say, just south of good value.
But what if, at some point in the next couple of months, Morey turns Simmons into James Harden?
Then the current prices are going to look like a bargain.
10/1 odds to win the East
As of this writing, the best price in PA on the Sixers to win the NBA title is +2400 at FanDuel Sportsbook. DraftKings Sportsbook and the other Kambi-operated sites have the best standard price on them to win the Eastern Conference at +900 — although FOX Bet has a temporary boost (with a $20 wagering maximum) from a subpar price of +700 to a state-best +1000.
Win total over-unders are also posted for the shortened 72-game season ahead. FanDuel has a line of 42.5 with -132 juice on the over and +108 on the under. FOX Bet’s line is 43, priced at -110 in both directions. And the Kambi books are using a 58.5% win percentage, which effectively means 42.5, with the over at -114 and the under at -109.
The defending champion Lakers are the clear favorite to win the title, but it’s wide open beyond that. The East seems up for grabs, with Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Boston, Miami, Toronto, and Philly all contenders, and none of them priced above 10/1 to win the conference.
Opinions vary wildly on the viability of the Embiid-Simmons combination. It failed miserably last season, but it’s hard to deny that the supporting pieces were problematic and the coach was out of ideas — plus Simmons was out with a knee injury during the Sixers’ ugly first-round playoff exit against the Celtics.
During the previous two seasons, Embiid and Simmons, despite frequently looking like clunky fits on offense, achieved notable success. Who knows how the 2019 playoffs play out if Kawhi Leonard’s quadruple-doink shot doesn’t go in? (Then again, the Sixers pushing the eventual champion Raptors to seven games had a little something to do with Jimmy Butler being on the Philly roster.)
Easier with Harden?
All Sixers bettors’ calculations are complicated, however, by the possibility of Embiid and Simmons being separated this season. As ESPN’s Tim MacMahon and Adrian Wojnarowski reported this week, eight-time NBA all-star, three-time NBA scoring champion, and 2018 league MVP James Harden told the Houston Rockets he’s open to being traded to the 76ers.
“The Beard” has expressed displeasure over his situation in Houston for several weeks, and while the Rockets have explored possible trade options, most teams in the mix don’t have an all-NBA-level star to exchange for him. The Sixers do.
Though Kyle Neubeck of Philly Voice reports that “the Sixers have said publicly and privately they are not willing to part with either of Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid, the two biggest chips they have to offer in a deal for a disgruntled star,” one suspects that hardline stance could change. It seems particularly subject to reconsideration if, a month or so into the new season, with a new coach, new system, and new shooters around them, the Embiid-plus-Simmons equation isn’t equaling success.
Embiid, arguably the best center in the league, is unlikely to be on the trading block no matter what. But Simmons? If he’s still not shooting from the outside and isn’t jelling with his teammates, Simmons plus a draft pick or a role player for Harden is something Morey would have to consider.
“Philadelphia basketball fans have never seen an offensive perimeter engine like Harden suit up for their basketball team,” Neubeck writes. “And his age/status, while a concern for the long-term, is actually helpful for a tricky dynamic in Philadelphia — he would be the undisputed top dog, clearing up any confusion over whose team it is and who would have the ball when it matters.”
New odds with a new superstar
Let’s say fair odds on the Sixers, as currently constructed, are 10/1 to win the East and 25/1 to win the NBA championship.
What would their odds look like with a roster headlined by Harden and Embiid, plus Tobias Harris, Green, Curry, Matisse Thybulle, Shake Milton, Furkan Korkmaz, Maxey, and Howard in the rotation?
That might just be the most built-to-win-now team in the East. It’s at least in the mix with the Bucks, Nets, Celtics, and Heat. So maybe 4/1 is fair to win the conference if they exchange Simmons for Harden? And about 11/1 to win the championship?
Just to keep the math simple, let’s say there’s a 50% chance they make the Harden trade. That would mean the Sixers’ true odds are about 7/1 to win the East and about 18/1 to raise the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Do you, as a bettor, believe in the Sixers enough to put money on them? Answers will vary, naturally.
But if you think there’s a reasonable chance James Harden is wearing a 76ers uniform at season’s end, then the time to bet them is now — not after they make the trade and the return on any wager gets cut in half.