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How likely are the Sixers to sign LeBron James?

Taking a look at what the newest data says about the Sixers’ chance of landing the King.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

What team will LeBron James play for in the 2018-2019 Season?

The odds as of May 29 at BetOnline:

I did the math and these odds imply probabilities that add up to 130%; i.e. each of these events is, in the oddsmaker’s opinion, less likely than the odds imply, so that the bookies can expect to make a profit. They take in 130 for every 100 they pay out if the bets are perfectly spread among the possibilities in such a way as to eliminate the bookmaker’s risk.

Taking the odds above, computing implied probabilities from them, and reducing them by the vigorish suggests the Sixers are about 30% likely to land the King. But there’s reason to think the odds are considerably higher than that.

  1. Usually the vig is mostly hidden in the longshots, so that a team at even money is in reality not 50% but maybe 45% likely whereas a team at 20-1 is not really 5% but rather perhaps 2% or something. So hitting the 40% Sixers implied probability with a factor of 100/130 is probably too extreme.
  2. These odds are from 5/29, before Cleveland went down 2-0 in the Finals.
  3. Chris Sheridan has a tweet up saying LeBron is 100% likely to leave Cleveland as his relationship with the owners is “beyond repair.” Moreover, he says the Lakers, Houston and Philly are the only teams in the running.
  4. The Vegas odds on the 2018-19 NBA champions are out, and Cleveland is at 30-1, suggesting Las Vegas thinks the Cavs have very little chance to keep LeBron. And they have the Sixers at 7-2, which is 22.2% before vig, perhaps 18-20% after adjusting for the vig. Arguably that deserves a headline of its own; so let’s make one:


Golden State is at 5-4, Boston at 8-1, so (remembering that these odds are skewed to create bookmaker profit) the odds suggest:

Warriors: 4/9 probability of winning the title next year.

Sixers: 2/9

Rockets: 2/9

Celtics: 1/9

I’ll just interject here that Houston looks like a terrific bet! They were arguably better than GS this year, seemingly losing to them primarily because their (in my humble opinion) best player, Chris Paul, got hurt. So I’d think they’d have similar odds to the Warriors for next year, maybe a bit lower chance because the Dubs have done it and the Rockets haven’t. But then, as we’ saw above, the Rockets have a real chance to add LeBron James! So I’d think they’d be ahead of Golden State, not half as likely. I’ll just add that, painful as it is to say, Boston looks too low here. If we knew that all they were doing was bringing back Hayward and Irving, that alone probably gets them to 1/9 or better. But that team has a lot of assets, who’s to say they can’t make a deal to add a superstar like Kawhi or AD or KAT?

Back to James. In terms of that question, you might ask why we’d look at the title odds as a hint at the chance LeBron will come when we have direct odds above. The answer is, the title probability is very heavily bet and so great consideration from true experts goes into setting it. Whereas the odds of LeBron coming to Philly are just a lark from a single website. Useful, but not definitive.

Upshot is, 30% is a conservative estimate of LeBrons’ chance of coming to Philly. An aggressive estimate would be over 50%. After all, it really does feel like there’s almost no chance he stays in Cleveland, and Vegas seems to think the Lakers are quite unlikely. So that leaves us and Houston, and most Houston scenarios require LeBron or Chris Paul or both to take a pay cut. But if those guys are willing to take pay cuts, why don’t they just both come to Philly?! Remember, Paul is a free agent too. If they are willing to work for a combined $50M, well, then, the Sixers can trade valuable players like Covington for future picks, clearing the space to bring CP3 and LBJ to Philly.

Obviously that’s beyond a long shot, but all I’m saying is, the fact that that seems insane is indicative of the fact that there really isn’t any reason to expect either LeBron or Paul to agree to make any less than they are worth. In which case the Houston scenarios are quite limited, arguably making the Sixers over 50-50 to sign LeBron.

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