Has anyone closed the gap on the Celtics?

Celtics

The 76ers and Knicks have emerged as the Celtics’ top competitors in the East, but the odds suggest Boston’s still in a class of its own.

The Celtics sit in a good spot to repeat as champions in 2025. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)

Several players were on the move in the first week or so of free agency, with a pair of the Celtics’ top rivals making big-time additions.

The 76ers added the biggest name in free agency, signing Paul George to a four-year, maximum deal to form an All-Star trio with Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey. They also added Caleb Martin, Eric Gordon, and Andre Drummond.

In between Philadelphia and Boston on I-95, the New York Knicks made their big splash prior to free agency. They acquired Mikal Bridges from the Brooklyn Nets in a trade that cost the Knicks five first-round picks and a first-round pick swap.

Those moves have led many to believe that the 76ers and Knicks are the top challengers to dethrone the Celtics in the Eastern Conference after their title-winning season. The Bucks, Pacers, Cavaliers, and Magic also loom, with Orlando making the only notable acquisition of the group so far in signing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

The oddsmakers agree with the sentiment that Philadelphia and New York are Boston’s top challengers, but there’s still a notable gap between the Celtics and their rivals. The Knicks odds to win the title jumped from +1600 to +900 at BetMGM following their trade for Bridges. They currently sit at +950 on DraftKings Sportsbook. Meanwhile, the 76ers’ title odds moved from +1400 to +800 and their odds to win the East went from +650 to +400 at BetMGM after signing George.

As the 76ers (+400) and Knicks (+450) hold the second- and third-best odds to win the East, the Celtics are ahead of the pack with +150 odds to win the conference on DraftKings Sportsbook as of Sunday. The Celtics’ odds to win the conference have an implied probability of 40 percent and are similar to the odds they had to win the conference for much of last season.

Looking beyond the East, a pair of Western Conference contenders made splashes this offseason as well. The Thunder traded for defensive standout Alex Caruso and signed center Isaiah Hartenstein. The Mavericks acquired Klay Thompson in a sign-and-trade to help their bid repeat as conference champs.

But neither team, or any other team in the West for that matter, bridged the gap with the Celtics in terms of title odds. As the 76ers have the second-best odds to win the title at +800, the Thunder and Nuggets are tied for the third-best title odds at +850 on DraftKings Sportsbook. The Mavericks (+1000) and Timberwolves (+1000) trail the Knicks for the fifth-best odds.

Meanwhile, the Celtics have +290 odds to win the title at DraftKings. Those were the same odds they had to win the title entering the offseason, giving them an implied probability of roughly 25 percent. Boston’s current title odds are similar to the odds it had to win last year’s title during the All-Star break, when it was +260 to win it all. The Celtics finished the regular season with a 64-18 record, posting one of the best point differentials in league history before going 16-3 in the playoffs.

Many analysts seem to agree with the prevailing thought that the Celtics remain in a class of their own, especially as they retained nearly their entire title-winning roster.

In a column stating the winners and losers of the first week of free agency, ESPN’s Zach Lowe listed the Celtics among the winners.

“Continuity matters,” Lowe wrote as he discussed the 76ers’ title chances in his column. “The Boston Celtics, still the measuring stick, have it; Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are entering their eighth season together, and Boston is bringing back its entire championship rotation — headed by five of the top 40 or so players in the league.”

In a discussion on which team in the East poses the top three to Boston on ESPN’s “Get Up!”, NBA reporter Tim Bontemps joked that it might be the Celtics themselves due to the exorbitant salaries they’ll have to pay in the future after giving Jayson Tatum and Derrick White extension. He ultimately picked the 76ers, but recognized that it’s a tall task for them.

“They have the best big three in the NBA,” Bontemps said. “While the Knicks might be a deeper, more stable team that’s got a B-plus outcome … the Sixers have the highest ceiling out of all of the competition for Boston in the league. When you look at where the Celtics are at and how much talent they have, they’re going to have to hit a pretty high-end outcome. Philly, if they can stay healthy, massive if, that’s what they have the ability to do.”

In the same segment, Brian Windhorst agreed with Bontemps, but also noted that the 76ers and Bucks haven’t been reliably healthy in the postseason as of late.

“If we can turn injuries off on the video game, I’d love to see Philly play Boston, Windhorst said.

ESPN NBA front office insider Bobby Marks bluntly stated that he doesn’t think anyone in the East has a chance against the Celtics this season.

“No, they’re not,” Marks said when asked if the 76ers were good enough to overtake the Celtics on “Get Up!” “Neither are the Knicks. I think Boston is on an island by themselves right now. I think the window to overtake Boston is going to be in 2025-26, when possibly this Celtics team could break up because of finances.”


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