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Bettors try to beat LeBron to decision


At some point, LeBron James is probably going back home to Cleveland, and not just for a summer vacation. The odds say he will follow his heart and return to play for the Cavaliers, sooner or later.

It could happen today, next week or in the next year or two.

A breaking news flash is due any time, as several NBA reporters monitor James’ every move around Las Vegas, where he is hosting a camp, hanging out on the Strip and pondering his next big decision, all while displaying a cavalier attitude.

“If I were a betting man, I would say Cleveland is the favorite,” said Nick Bogdanovich, who is well-versed in basketball, betting and oddsmaking as the William Hill sports book director.

It won’t come as a surprise today if James announces he’s taking his talents back to the shores of Lake Erie. He probably won’t say it exactly that way, because it doesn’t sound as cool as South Beach, but he has to say something soon.

In late June, when James decided to opt out of his contract with the Miami Heat and entertain free agency, it was widely assumed he was going nowhere. Now, the common assumption is Cleveland.

“I originally thought he would re-up in Miami and be done with it,” Bogdanovich said. “Everyone is thinking Cavaliers now, but who knows? It could be a smoke screen.”

In the past two weeks, as Bogdanovich said he watched around $100,000 in futures wagers accumulate on Cleveland, he has lowered the Cavaliers’ odds to win next year’s NBA title from 30-1 to 7-1.

At the LVH sports book, money has been flooding in on the Cavaliers, forcing oddsmaker Jeff Sherman to try to stop the betting frenzy by dropping Cleveland to 12-1.

“We took some big bets at 20-1. When we went down to 12-1, it slowed down a lot,” Sherman said. “There is so much differing information out there. I would still be surprised if LeBron left.”

Dwyane Wade is the key to Sherman’s skepticism. Wade made the questionable call to opt out of his contract, leaving about $42 million over the next two years on the table. Why would Wade, who is running with James in Las Vegas this week, bail on that deal without James’ assurance he was staying in Miami?

“I can’t understand why Wade would do that,” Sherman said. “I keep going back to that. There is no other team in the league that would pay him that money.”

Heat president Pat Riley flew to Las Vegas to meet with James on Wednesday, and the result was indecision. Riley’s postseason speech — “You’ve got to stay together if you’ve got the guts. You don’t find the first door and run out of it.” — was interpreted as a challenge that James did not appreciate.

So with a foot in the door, Cleveland is making trades to create salary cap space and is rumored to be pursuing Ray Allen, Mike Miller and maybe even Kevin Love.

Either way, bookmakers can manage their futures liability and survive the public’s sudden infatuation with Cleveland. If the Cavaliers’ plan comes together, are they still a good bet at single-digit odds to win the championship?

“Even if LeBron went to Cleveland, we don’t think that team will win the title,” Sherman said. “The team is so young. I don’t see the Cavs being favored over any team that would come out of the West.”

Chicago, with the return of Derrick Rose, and Indiana would be Cleveland’s only rivals in the East.

“I think 5-1 would be a pretty good place to settle,” Bogdanovich said. “If the Cavaliers get him, there’s a huge gap in the East. That’s a pretty good core to build around right there with LeBron and Kyrie Irving.”

NBA free agency has reached a new level of absurdity, mostly due to media coverage. The circus of speculation is fodder for Twitter, talk radio, newspaper and Internet columnists and ESPN’s talking heads.

The desperate courtships of James and Carmelo Anthony, who is almost certain to return to the New York Knicks, create the NBA’s version of “The Dating Game” hosted by Chuck Woolery.

“It’s amazing. These guys organize their own teams nowadays. It’s like pickup games on the playground,” Bogdanovich said. “I would like to see LeBron go home. I thought he should have stayed there the whole time.”

The public is betting on Cleveland, and it’s probably smart money. But if James stays in Miami, the books will take the donations to the bank.

■ BOTTOM LINES — A headline on Covers.com declared “World Cup final will be most-wagered event in history of sports betting.” Of course, there’s no way to know for certain. But the books will need Argentina to upset Germany, a minus-160 favorite, on Sunday. “The public will pound Germany,” Bogdanovich said. ...

Back by popular demand, handicapper Ian Cameron of Sportsmemo.com has two best bets for Week 3 in the Canadian Football League. Cameron (@bobano on Twitter) recommends Winnipeg-Montreal (Under 49½) today and British Columbia (+6½) over Saskatchewan on Saturday. For his analysis, see his blog at Reviewjournal.com.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.