When it comes to chasing NBA championships, free agents know California is the place they ought to be.
Aging stars in LeBron James and Stephen Curry and injury-prone stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are hoping to put together one last title run, so there are choices. And there are other off-court reasons to move West.
With NBA Free Agency under way, BetCalifornia.com compiled a system to determine the most desirable destinations within the league using a series of metrics.
We compiled data on state tax burdens (data from WalletHub), media market ranking (data from USTVDB.com, via Nielsen’s 2022-2023 DMA rankings), city popularity (World'sBestCities.com, via Resonance Consultancy), as well as attendance rankings since the 2018-19 season (ESPN.com), winning percentage since the 2019-20 season (Basketball-Reference.com) and 2024 NBA Championship Odds (SportsOddsHistory.com) to construct an aggregate ranking.
Toronto was not included on the list as we utilized U.S. data only. We did not include attendance data from the 2020-21 NBA season, as COVID protocols varied across the league. For Washington D.C.’s state tax income, we utilized data from nearby Virginia. The 2024 NBA Championship odds are up to date as of July 5, 2023.
sports betting in California, however, isn’t part of the package. A referendum to approve sports wagering failed in 2022 and can’t go before voters again until 2024.
Most Desirable NBA Cities
Although there are no California bettng apps, national operators list both the Lakers (+1100) and Warriors (+1200) among the top seven in NBA title odds.
Los Angeles, San Francisco are top choices
The home of James and Leonard comes in fourth and fifth as the best place to be in the NBA, ranking behind only the 76ers, Heat and Celtics in the total aggregate score. The Golden State Warriors crack the Top 10 at No. 8, just behind the new NBA champion Denver Nuggets.
The Lakers rank high with the fourth-best team metrics, the Clippers are just behind at No. 5 and the Warriors at No. 8. Los Angeles’ bright lights attract free agents with the No. 4 city ranking, while San Francisco is in the middle of the pack at No. 14 on the list.
Despite being Pacific Division champs for the first time since 2003 with the third-best record in the Western Conference, Sacramento ranks 25th out of the 29 teams. The Kings lost a tough seven-game series to the Warriors in the first round, but the team led by De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis is on the rise.
But that momentum is yet to be reflected in the betting odds. Although there is no BetMGM California bonus code available, nationally the operator lists the Kings with +5000 NBA championship odds.
In our formula, the Kings were dragged down by having the lowest team and city score among the four California teams at No. 25 for team and No. 27 for best city. Sacramento just made its first playoff appearance since 2006, so while it can’t do much to improve its city ranking, the team metrics should be on the rise in upcoming seasons with Fox, Sabonis and a good corps of young talent.
The Lakers didn’t have a lot of room for additions, but they needed to do something to provide a boost for a team that fell short of the NBA Finals after getting swept by the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals. Some are wondering if this could be James’ final season in Los Angeles since he’s mentioned a desire to play with his son, Bronny James, once he’s eligible to enter the NBA in 2024.
The Lakers’ biggest addition has been guard Gabe Vincent from Miami, plus smaller deals with veterans Taurean Prince, Cam Reddish and Jaxson Hayes.
The Clippers are still waiting to play a full season with a healthy Leonard and Paul George. That may never happen, but hope exists. So far, all the team has done is re-sign midseason acquisitions in guard Russell Westbrook and big man Mason Plumlee.
The Warriors lost to the Lakers in the conference semifinal round, but they’re hoping the championship window with Curry and Klay Thompson is still open now that Draymond Green has opted to stick around in free agency. Golden State’s big move has been adding veteran guard Chris Paul and more guard depth in Cory Joseph after losing Donte DiVincenzo to the Knicks.
Meanwhile, the Kings are living up to the rankings so far, as they’ve only re-signed a couple of their own free agents in forward Trey Lyles and center Alex Len. But they have a solid young team that might just be missing one veteran that puts them in the championship chase along with the Lakers, Warriors and Clippers.