Fantasy Hardwoodyms: Snatching the Chain

Now you know I don’t like to pitch myself as an expert, analyst, or anything of the like. Nope, I’m just a dude playing fantasy sports for the love of the game. The only difference between us is that I set aside a little extra time each week to weave the stories of the magical leagues that only exist in our minds and browsers.

Today, though, well, let’s just say today is a little difference. Perhaps my swagger is set to ten hundred, thousand trillion. Maybe my hubris is out of control for a minute. Whatever the reason, today we’re going to discuss trades of the most incredible order.

Here’s where my ego comes into play, it’ll potentially be useful to open with a list I like to call “My Top 5 Little Louisiana Purchases:”

First, a disclaimer, just like you, I don’t play with fools. Trades like these happen in every league because everyone makes foolish moves from time to time, capitalizing on that tendency is the hard part.

5) Kobe Bryant and fodder for Chris Paul, Al Jefferson, and Kevin Martin (07-08)

I once strongly disliked Kobe, but that year I was the 3rd overall pick and he was totally chalked into that spot. Fortunately many, many people strongly like, one might even call it a man-crush, Kobe, and so I was able to nab these three breakout gems just a couple weeks after draft day. Side fact: that year I had Ron Artest, Brad Miller, and Martin. My team’s unofficial nickname was The Three Kings, which is also one of my favorite movies and Bible stories. Good things happen when you play to your strengths.

4) Joe Johnson and Michael Beasley for Josh Smith and Rudy Gay (09-10)

I get that double-upgrades happen all the time, but I keep it on the list for a few reasons. First, the opposing player had mistakenly, but correctly based on the player rater, drafted Josh Smith in the mid-second round. Second, said opposition had specifically reached 10 picks on both Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo to prevent me – a diehard Grizzlies fan – from scoring my favorite players. Third, Beasley fell off the cliff for the rest of the season, putting up waiver wire numbers once Spoelstra’s confidence shifted to Udonis Haslem and even Dorrell Wright, which is a sad thing indeed.

3) Derrick Rose, Emeka Okafor, and LaMarcus Aldridge for Dwight Howard and Gerald Wallace (08-09)

A particularly nefarious “trade rape,” for two weeks I periodically pimped Rose’s sickest plays on a friend’s Facebook. At the same time I also continually updated him on the jump-shot project, wherein I was teaching myself how to shoot with the high, elbowy release like LaMarcus Aldridge. Yes, tricks are fun to play, and if you play them often enough, people will fall for them.

2) Luke Ridinour for Corey Maggette (08-09)

Wait for it. Wait for it…

1) Corey Maggette for Rashard Lewis (08-09)

Oh, yeah, there’s the rub. If you remember, Rashard Lewis’s hand was so hot in 08-09 that he almost seemed to be worth his contract that year. Lewis shot the lights out, Maggette was mediocre, I had picked up Ridinour off free agency just two days before, and then grabbed Ramon Session once he eventually won the Bucks point guard spot and went nuts. Watch Tracy McGrady scoring 13 in 33 seconds, the rest of the league felt like the Spurs after this sequence.

Also, two nights after I had a mad vivid dream that Shard ran a crime ring and I did him dirty, so he threw me in the trunk of his ‘50s Cadillac. He was wearing a purple, crushed velvet, four-piece suit with a purple magic baseball cap. I’m convinced now that my peers were incepting me for revenge.

Now, to be completely fair, I’ve accepted some piss poor offers as well. I bought on Gilbert Arenas last year about three days before the whole “Finger Gunz!” charade. Right before the deadline and during his last year of fantasy dominance, and the only year since 1978 that he started in all 82 games, I traded Baron Davis away for scraps because I was so terrified of injury. And I even made a Godfather offer for Jamaal Crawford when he was traded to the Warriors – a match made in heaven, what could possibly go wrong? Everything, and Don Nelson, of course.

But these five trades represent more than just fleecings I’ve been lucky enough to pull, they have categorical significance as well. In fact, each is a specific type of trade that, typically, is going to benefit your team:

5) The hedger: Deal one or two players of a given value for multiple players with the potential for similar value.

Potential is a dangerous concept in fantasy. While potential is something ephemeral in the world of real sports, only manifesting itself in flashes, in fantasy it tends to be injected into each player during draft day.

A couple weeks into the season, when trading, most players kind of forget about that and look at either year to date or career performance. That’s why it’s often easy to deal your top 10 pick for a top 20, high upside guy, and two more shots in the dark.

Any deal that involves “shots in the dark” sounds risky, however, this type of move really isn’t; it’s a high-value move because, in general, you’ve only got to hit on 1 of 3 of your bets. If the top 20 guy plays like a top 10, the rest is gravy. If one of the shots in the dark is top 30, it doesn’t matter that you dropped off from the 6th pick to the 16th. If all three hit, then have fun bathing in ticker tape.

On offense: Target young studs from the year before. It works best if you’re offering a true stud – Kobe can make it happen, Vince Carter won’t.

On defense: Are you giving up all the sleepers on your team? Is your team’s average age about to bounce above 30? If you answered yes to these questions, decline.

4) The double-down: Swap two for two where you appear to be giving up the best player in the trade for an upgrade, even though you’re not giving up the best player.

“Value is value, is perceived value,” my moms always used to say. Lots of stars are piss poor fantasy options to keep on your team, but excellent as trade bait. I find jack-of-all trades without defensive numbers to be the most useful for this sort of pursuit, like JJ or Brandon “Purple Kush” Roy, as players known for 22-5-5 tend to actually put up 20-4-4, which is far less useful.

Offense: Steals are the most undervalued stat in fantasy basketball, so target the thieves with this type of offer. Threes also work well, as does free throw percentage as a function of free throws attempted. Most people are pretty attentive to points, field goal percentage, rebounds, and assists, though.

Defense: Looking at the player rater once a month, or, like, right before you’re about to make a blockbuster is a start.

3) The “Welcome to the league”: Any unbalanced, especially 3 for 2 or 3 for 1, deal that nets you a stud.

New fantasy basketball players tend to forget that the free agent pool has lots and lots of really great value at almost every point in the season. Unbalanced trades free up your roster to make more prospective adds, which means more breakout guys and less breakout guys you drop too early searching for talent.

Offense: One way to execute this deal is to add up the stats of the three guys you’re dealing and show them how you’re overpaying. Except you’re not, because Stephen Curry went undrafted in most league last year.

Defense: Unless you’re entire team is at a Yao Ming-level injury risk, there is really no reason to ever be on the butt end of an unbalanced trade. A wider talent pool is not a deeper talent pool.

2) The now and later: Swapping a sleeper or hot-pickup all over the front pages for an established, but forgettable, superior player.

Everybody’s excitable and everybody loves Matthew Berry, use that to your advantage.

Note, however, that this can backfire if you don’t ensure that said waiver wire fodder is actually a pretty middling basketball player. Check out some real basketball stat sites, read up on them a bit, maybe even watch a game. If they look really good, it might be smart to hold. If they look like Luke Ridinour, sell, sell, sell!

Offense: Works best to use against bottom-feeders who are grasping for straws in their dying breaths. I know it sounds cruel, but sometimes you’ve got to just finish the job. Imagine yourself as a Highlander – I tend to find that image useful.

Defense: Check the note. Remember the whole identities is identities thing last week? In time, crap tends to stay crap, so spot the crap early.

1) The Silky Johnston: Ridiculously unbalanced, unforgivable, likely to infuriate the entire league.

I don’t know what’s more difficult after the Silky Johnston: convincing the league manager that you’re not presenting your trade partner with sexual favors, somehow convincing your friend to trust you again. Put simply, if you were once on the fast track to best man, now your invitation got “lost in the mail.”

Assuming you can pull it off, get in bed with the commish, and don’t mind never trading or talking with someone again, you’ve just turned the league’s power balance upside down. Start writing your acceptance speech now.

Offense: Literally always have a Silky Johnston out to someone. You’re not offending anyone, at best you’re getting a free victory give-away, and at worst you’re subconsciously boosting your players’ value by comparing them to superior players. To that end, always send out trade requests with carefully worded descriptions. Offering an explanation is always a best practice, but mastering this skill is practically a necessity if you’re going to seal this deal.

Defense: No matter how hot a player is, how much you need a given stat, how out for the year your center just became, never, ever trade down several multiples of 10 on the player rater. A top 20 player is worth so much more than a top 70 one that the gap in value will almost never be filled.

A final piece of advice, to err is human, but to trade is divine. Look back at standings in your past leagues, chances are the most active players are at the top. The draft, by nature, is meant to be an equal process. Trading, by nature, is unequal, because if it was equal, why even bother? Both players trade because they think they’re winning the deal.

And when, more often then not, you know that you’re winning yours, it’s alright to get cocky. Just not too cocky, or you might end up with Luke Ridinour.

Seth Carstens