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Who are the early favorites in the East?

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Kevin GarnettMy first reaction to the Kevin Garnett trade was that it would make the Celtics relevant but not a legitimate contender. Why not? They lost virtually all of their depth.

The more I thought about it, though, the more I decided that they really are just as dangerous as anyone else, at least in the East. For one, who says they're done making moves?

As far as I know, they still have their salary cap exceptions to use, and with a host of talented free agents still on the market, they could easily round out roster with legitimate rotation guys. As I mentioned on FanHouse, I could easily see guys like Brevin Knight, Ruben Patterson and P.J. Brown suddenly wanting to come to Boston. Before, those journeymen had no place on a rebuilding roster. But for a team with a three-year window to win a title? They could each play valuable roles off the bench.

So, assuming the Celtics make at least some moves to shore up their depth, are they the new favorites in the East? I can think of at least three teams in the Central Division that disagree, but gambling experts seem to think they are. Let me explain. While scanning several Bulls blogs for my work on FanHouse, I came across this post on Thank You Isiah, which directed me to Ira Winderman's blog for the Sun-Sentinel:

Spending time in Vegas while consistently handing over my money a few bucks at a time, I couldn't help but check on how the wise guys viewed the new Celtics.

Monday morning, before Boston's acquisition of Kevin Garnett came into focus, the Celtics were listed at my nearest sports book at 60-to-1 to win the 2008 NBA title. By Monday evening, the price at most books was hovering in the range of 12-to-1 to 14-to-1.

Yet at many of those same books, the Heat was in the range of 8-to-1 to 10-to-1. In other words, those who put their money behind their actions still view Shaq-Wade as superior to Garnett-Pierce-Allen, albeit in an ever-closing race.

I don't know the current odds in Vegas, but I have a hunch that the "12-to-1" odds fell even more once the trade became official. I wasn't able to find any Vegas odds for NBA futures online, but the offshore casino Sportsbook.com (unfortunately, there's no direct link -- for posterity's sake, the complete list is at the bottom of this post) gives them 5-1 odds to win the NBA title and 5-2 odds to win the East.

How does Detroit compare? 12-1 and 4-1, respectively. Not surprisingly, though, the site still favors a Western Conference team to win the title -- the Mavs (7-2), Suns (7-2) and Spurs (4-1) have the top three odds.

As a fan, I can appreciate the fact that the Pistons are still considered (by a hair) the class of the Central, but I wouldn't have figured the bookmakers would automatically pencil in the C's for a Finals appearances. (How much has the trade influenced the bookmaker's opinion of the Celtics? As of right now, even though Boston's odds have been updated, they still appear sandwiched among teams ranked 100-1 to win the title and 75-1 to win the East, which both represent the worst odds in the league.)

I'm a little surprised. But I might have an explanation, or at least a hair-brained conspiracy theory ...

American casinos don't post their odds (at least, not that I'm aware of), and most of the online casinos I checked don't have the odds for their NBA Futures posted yet, so the ones that do might be relying on in-house guesstimates instead of industry-wide standards.

And keep in mind, none of these odds represent what the sportsbook actually thinks will happen, but rather what they want fans to wager on. Sometimes, those two things are one and the same, but not always. Ideally, every bookmaker strives to get action on both sides of the deal so they can make their money right down the middle on the vigorish (you usually have to wager $11 to win $10 -- see? I did learn something in college!).

But with Boston's roster going through such upheaval, it's possible the bookmaker simply wanted to play it safe by bumping Boston's odds up unrealistically high to decrease their liability should the new-look Celtics actually do break through the East and win the whole shebang. Once the rest of the industry posts its odds, we might see Boston's number on this site decline. Or, of course, maybe they remain this high. Time will tell.

But whatever happens, the Eastern Conference as a whole will be awfully tough next year -- not yet as talented as the West, but certainly just as competitive from top to bottom. And the division that improved itself the most has to be the Atlantic.

A year ago, people weren't sure if the "Titanic" Division would feature a single team with a winning record. This year, the Atlantic has picked up three All-Stars from the West in Allen, KG and Zach Randolph. I'm guessing at least three teams from that division (Boston, NJ and Toronto) will make the playoffs, and I wouldn't put it past the Knicks to exceed everyone's relatively low (at least outside of NY) expectations by staying in the race for the No. 8 seed longer than most people think.

As promised, there's the complete list of odds swiped from Sportsbook.com:

    Sportsbook.com's 2007/08 Eastern Conference Champion Odds

Boston Celtics 5-2
Detroit Pistons 4-1
Cleveland Cavaliers 17-4
Chicago Bulls 17-4
Miami Heat 17-4
Orlando Magic 10-1
Toronto Raptors 15-1
Washington Wizards 18-1
New Jersey Nets 22-1
New York Knicks 25-1
Milwaukee Bucks 40-1
Charlotte Bobcats 40-1
Atlanta Hawks 40-1
Indiana Pacers 75-1
Philadelphia 76ers 75-1

    Sportsbook.com's 2007/08 NBA Champion Odds

Dallas Mavericks 7-2
Phoenix Suns 7-2
San Antonio Spurs 4-1
Boston Celtics 5-1
Detroit Pistons 12-1
Cleveland Cavaliers 14-1
Houston Rockets 15-1
Chicago Bulls 14-1
Miami Heat 14-1
Los Angeles Lakers 25-1
Denver Nuggets 25-1
Utah Jazz 25-1
Golden State Warriors 35-1
Toronto Raptors 45-1
Orlando Magic 45-1
Washington Wizards 60-1
Los Angeles Clippers 50-1
New Jersey Nets 60-1
Seattle Sonics 60-1
Portland Blazers 60-1
New Orleans Hornets 60-1
Milwaukee Bucks 100-1
Charlotte BobCats 100-1
Atlanta Hawks 100-1
Minnesota T-Wolves 100-1
New York Knicks 100-1
Sacramento Kings 100-1
Indiana Pacers 100-1
Philadelphia 76ers 100-1
Memphis Grizzlies 100-1