Cavaliers Draw Heavy Vegas Wagering as James Ponders NBA Future

The Cleveland Cavaliers are drawing more interest from Las Vegas bettors than any other National Basketball Association team as speculation swirls LeBron James could return to the city in which he started his career.

The sports book at the MGM Mirage has dropped the Cavaliers’ odds of winning next season’s NBA Finals to 10-1 from 40-1. Should James -- who opted to become a free agent after leading the Miami Heat to two championships and four straight trips to the NBA Finals -- rejoin Cleveland, those odds would be about 5-1, said MGM sports book director Jay Rood.

“You have to believe he’d be the biggest cheerleader and biggest recruiter out there to try to get more players to join him in Cleveland,” Rood said in a telephone interview. “If he brings a couple more pieces, obviously they’re going to be an overnight contender, the same with wherever he ends up.”

A four-time NBA Most Valuable Player, James is increasingly considering the Cavaliers as an option as he decides on his future, ESPN said yesterday, citing unidentified people close to the process. James, who grew up in Akron, Ohio -- about 40 miles south of Cleveland -- spent his first seven seasons with the Cavaliers and led the team to the NBA Finals in 2007 before signing with the Heat as a free agent in 2010.

There have been more tickets written and more money bet on the Cavaliers to win next year’s championship than any other NBA team, the MGM’s Rood said. The Los Angeles Lakers are a close second and have had their odds lowered to 12-1 from 35-1 after pursuing James and fellow free agent Carmelo Anthony.

“He is the biggest impact player concerning odds since Michael Jordan,” Jimmy Vaccaro, sportsbook manager at the South Point Casino in Las Vegas, said about James.

Cavs’ Futures

The Las Vegas Hotel’s SuperBook has also lowered its futures on the Cavaliers after opening them at 60-1 last month, as bettors envision James playing with All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving and this year’s No. 1 draft pick, Andrew Wiggins. Irving last week agreed to a new contract that would keep him in Cleveland for the next six years, while Wiggins was the Cavaliers’ third No. 1 overall pick in the past four seasons.

“We’re down to 12-1 since everyone is listening to the media,” SuperBook assistant manager Jeff Sherman said. “If he were to go to the Cavaliers, they would be about 8-1.”

James would have to take a pay cut to join the Cavaliers, who have had a 97-215 record since he left the franchise. The Heat, who went 224-88 over the past four years, could give him a contract that would pay him about $129 million over five seasons. The maximum James, 29, could get from another team is $95.8 million over the next four years.

Less Heat

Should James decide to leave Miami, the Heat’s championship odds would take a significant hit at Las Vegas sportsbooks. The Heat are currently the title favorites at 5-2 even though their two-year reign atop the league ended with a loss to the San Antonio Spurs in last season’s NBA Finals.

South Point’s Vaccaro and the MGM Grand’s Rood said Miami’s odds would easily jump to 15-1 or 20-1 without knowing whether fellow free agents Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh may also leave. The SuperBook’s Sherman said the Heat could be shifted to 60-1 if James left.

“They really would not be a factor in the championship race,” Vaccaro said.

No player has as significant an impact on NBA futures in Las Vegas as James, a 10-time All-Star who has career averages of 27.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists.

“Four to five years ago, Kobe Bryant might have,” Rood said of the Lakers’ All-Star guard. “Before that, it might have been Shaquille O’Neal. There’s always someone in that seat and LeBron presently occupies it.”

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