There are some tough decisions to make in the world of fantasy basketball this time of the year. There's enough data to say that, for the most part, players will be what they are today. If they're in the midst of a breakout season (Devin Harris), enjoy the production. If a player's potential is handcuffed by his foul tendencies (Greg Oden), wait 'til next year. If they're still disappointing nearly three months into the season, maybe it's time to move on.
It is that last one I would like to focus on. One of the toughest roster management decisions is knowing when to cut bait. Ask Carlos Boozer or Chris Kaman owners how long they should hold onto their stars. Or maybe you had high hopes for a player in a new environment, expecting a career season, yet in the middle of January things still have yet to click. For the most part, the time of waiting is over. Unless you feel a player is going to turn it around very soon, it's time to start stockpiling production. Numbers win, not names.
Sometimes these things backfire. I drafted Mike Dunleavy in the sixth round of a 10-team ESPN experts league. I dropped him about a month into the season, re-added him as soon as news hit that he was on his way back, and then dropped him again for Linas Kleiza. In hindsight, I was too focused on the short-term, in love with what I expected Kleiza to produce in the short-term; and jaded about Dunleavy getting back up to speed, having minutes handed to him and proving his career year was a new established level. Now Keith Lipscomb has him and I fear it might cost me the league.
Mistakes like this do happen, but you just have to roll with it and use your best judgment. I was extremely high on T.J. Ford coming into the season, impressed by his per-minute play on the Raptors and assumed he would be given the keys to an up-tempo offense bookended by two lights-out shooters in Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy. It's taken until January for me to see the reality that I probably should have dropped Ford a while ago; now I can't discard him without disrupting the balance of my team. He's owned in 91.2 percent of leagues; how many of those owners can now say the same thing? How astute are the 8.8 percent who already beat me to the punch?
Unfortunately, owners get starry-eyed when it comes to name value. It's better to stream that roster spot than to settle for mediocrity. This season's candidates:
Peja Stojakovic, SF, Hornets: Yes, I realize earlier in the season I advocated trading for the man, confident his dip in production was just a slow start. But like I said back then, "if he has similar numbers by midseason, he would be just another name you bypass while sifting through free agency." So what are you waiting for? His ownership is still at 92.9 percent, meaning he has dropped only 2.7 percent in the past six weeks despite 3-pointers being the only category he's even close to average in. Not even his free-throw percentage helps anymore, since he's now shooting worse than 90 percent from the line and rarely gets there. When athletes age, they age quickly; Peja's only 31, but it's time to stamp "done" on his forehead.
Mike Miller, SG/SF, Timberwolves: It pains me to include him, because Miller is really a quality player. He's a 3-point specialist with a well-rounded game, an offensive weapon that deserves much more than the paltry 7.8 field goal attempts he's receiving in Minnesota. But it's a rebuilding team, and the coaching staff is assuredly trying to do whatever it takes to keep their jobs; unfortunately, that means a reduced role for Miller. He does have some hope if he can get dealt, but even then there's no guarantee he sees his starter's minutes of old.
T.J. Ford, PG, Pacers: I suppose I should have seen this coming. Pacers coach Jim O'Brien has an established pattern of playing his stars a ton of minutes, but otherwise utilizing his bench with eight- and nine-man rotations. Ford's injury history causes reluctance for coaches to play him 35-plus minutes, and his lack of size (6-foot, 165 lbs.) and shooting (career 42.9 percent from the field, 32 percent from beyond the arc) routinely disappoint. Ford is a useful spare part, not an indispensable starter; shallow leagues should be looking for their first opportunity to upgrade, be it via trade or on the waiver wire.
Richard Hamilton, SG, Pistons: You can call this one easy pickings, considering news just came out that Hamilton will be relegated to the bench. But at the same time, you also had to see this coming. The Pistons aren't good enough anymore to pick veteran experience over production, and Rodney Stuckey has emerged as their best player. With iron man Allen Iverson soaking up minutes at the 2, it's more likely that Hamilton will be the odd man out, even though the sheen of Iverson's "superstar" label has long worn off. Even before that, Hamilton was just way too one-dimensional; any slight dropoff in performance puts him that much closer to roster burden rather than value buy. He's valuable to the right team, but if that team isn't yours, there's no shame in dropping him. You sure won't get anything for him in a trade.
Comings and goings
The recent return -- and surprising production -- of Danilo Gallinari foreshadows something unpleasant brewing in New York: a healthy roster. Adding in Tim Thomas, who has returned to the court after a brief battle with the flu, the Knicks are now that much closer to a legitimate bench, which will serve only to reduce the minutes of a fantasy favorite like Wilson Chandler. Chandler is still starting, but logged just 19 and 23 minutes in his past two games, contests in which both Thomas and Gallinari saw time off the bench. Considering Chandler is foul-prone, averaging 3.3 a game in 33 minutes, and is shooting only 41.9 percent, now would be a pretty good time to worry. Jarrett Jack is averaging a season-high 36 minutes per game in January, while Ford, presumably his main competition for minutes, has seen his playing time decrease in each month, to a low of 26 minutes in seven January games. It's been more than a month since Ford has logged 30-plus minutes, and Marquis Daniels' return, combined with the incorporation of Mike Dunleavy, will only make the situation messier. Only Dunleavy is valuable enough to come out of this scenario relatively unscathed. It didn't take long for Nick Young's flame to die, as the Wizards guard has 24 points in his past three games combined compared to 63 in his preceding two. His inconsistency speaks volumes considering the fact that the Knicks, Warriors and Kings were on the schedule in those three games. His big games were just fool's gold. The same goes for Mike James, too; the Wizards are just miserable for fantasy conditions, as even Javaris Crittenton is playing poorly enough in limited minutes, showing why he had trouble getting off the pine in Memphis.
DeAndre Jordan, C, Clippers (0.7 percent owned): Swatting 10 shots in two games tends to get you noticed. With the Clips losing Marcus Camby, any warm body is subject to a lot of playing time. For now that warm body is Jordan, who has started the past two games, logging 34 and 43 minutes. He's a ferocious rebounder, grabbing 22 in those two starts, including 11 on the offensive end. It's going to be easy to get caught up in his 23 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks, but keep in mind he's normally not going to log 43 minutes with only two fouls. Shooting 11-of-12 from the floor versus the Lakers while only getting to the line twice is probably a fluke, but a pleasant one at that; his real value will be in blocks and boards, while hopefully hovering around double-digit points. However short-term his production may be -- and since it's dependant on Marcus Camby's health, who knows? -- he's already proved to be a must add in deep leagues.
Sasha Pavlovic, SG, Cavaliers (0.6 percent owned): In three starts since Delonte West fractured his wrist, Pavlovic has earned 43, 34 and 31 minutes. He's been high on potential and short on production for his whole career, but as a long-range one-trick pony he has some potential. West was averaging 4.3 3-point attempts per game, shooting a career-high 40.9 percent; Pavlovic will be expected to pick up the slack, and so far he's nailed six 3-pointers in those three starts. He's never been the most efficient shooter, but count on the LeBron Effect to boost his percentages, enough to make him a fine choice to round out your roster.
Adam Madison is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.