It is getting down to the wire, my fellow fanatics. I am not talking about the imminent demise of the best TV show ever; sorry "Sopranos" fans, but "The Wire" has been the better show ever since it first graced the small screen. I am talking about the ESPN fantasy basketball trading deadline, which is Friday at noon ET. Trades do not have to be finalized at this time, just proposed. Check the following from the ESPN Trade Rules: "All trades must be proposed by this time. Unlike previous seasons, trades will be allowed to be accepted after this date and time. The trade link will be taken away once the deadline has passed."
In other words, there is still time to cook up that deal to push you over the top. This week, we will look at seven players whose names have been appearing in a lot of recent trade proposals. We will tell you whether they are for real or not, paying special attention to their teams' remaining schedules and playoff outlook. The guys we cover are not the usual barrel scrapings one finds on the wire at this stage of the season. We are, for the most part, looking at big-name players and whether you should be targeting them or not. Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments at the bottom.
This week, in addition to the players' names, positions and teams, we are adding the number of games remaining (starting with Monday's scoring period) and the current ranking of the teams in their respective conferences. This information can help you think about how key players may be used (or shut down) during the stretch run.
Steve Nash, PG, Suns (19 games remaining, sixth in West)
Guy: For Real. In seasons past, Nash has taken it easy in April (2003-04: 32.0 minutes, 11.8 points, 10.8 assists; 2004-05: 33.3/11.8/11.2; 2005-06: 31.0/13.4/9.6; 2006-07: 35.7/16.9/12.6). This season will be an exception. Unlike any other season since Nash arrived, the Suns are fighting for their playoff lives. With so little separation between the No. 1 and No. 9 seeds out West (just 6½ games), the Suns cannot afford to give Nash time off. In fact, his minutes are more likely to rise. The lack of a pure point guard to back him up assures us of this. Nash has averaged 36.2 minutes in his past five games, 1.5 minutes more than his season average. Trading for Nash won't be easy, but if you point to his April splits from recent seasons, you may be able to steal him away. The other Sun to target is Amare Stoudemire, who has blown up since Shaquille O'Neal arrived. The argument could be made that Shaq has been the perfect answer for Nash and Stoudemire owners. He has made the team worse (3-4 since his first game) and has forced each to play more.
Mac: I couldn't have said it better myself, Guy, though I would add that Nash may actually be easier to acquire than many may think. People are down on the Suns, and one of the biggest things I'm hearing is that they're struggling because Nash isn't as free to get into the lane as he's been in the past with Shaq now clogging up the middle. So not only are folks down on the Suns, but they're also slightly down on Nash. The numbers somewhat support this because Nash has increased his scoring (18.2) but has seen his assists (9.3), rebounds (2.7) and 3-pointers (1.8) slip since the All-Star break. Those looking to trade for Nash can point to his recent slip and his poor historical second-half numbers to try to pull one over on an unsuspecting owner.
Dwyane Wade, PG/SG, Heat (21 games remaining, 15th in East)
Guy: Not Real. I am not sure who to believe in Miami these days, Pat Riley or Wade. Riles is saying that Wade could be shut down soon (he said this to protect his star from charges that he isn't the player he once was), while Wade is saying he will play on. I think the answer lies somewhere in between, and while Wade won't be shut down this week or next, come April it seems very likely. With Dorell Wright's season-ending surgery, Wade may decide to concede the season sometime in the coming weeks. Miami has a nice schedule the rest of the way, with 21 games left and 13 during the playoffs, but if Wade isn't around during the final few weeks, he can't help your team. I think Shawn Marion and Udonis Haslem are more likely to take advantage of the schedule and help teams in the stretch run.
Mac: For Real. Trading for Wade at the moment might seem like a bad idea. There's no doubt that he's a risk to be shut down, but this is exactly the kind of risk that can win a fantasy championship. Don't get me wrong, Wade is not the guy you want to go after if you're sitting in first, second or even third place. But he's the perfect risk/reward player to target if you're in the middle of the pack looking up. Think about it, everyone -- and I mean everyone -- is telling you to sell Wade. To me, that makes him one helluva a bargain if he can stay on the court. For all of his faults, Wade is still averaging 24.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.7 blocks and 0.4 3-pointers with terrific percentages on the season. Simply put, he's still a stud, and he is such a competitor that I wouldn't be surprised if he managed to convince Riley to keep him on the court for the remainder of the season.
Kevin Garnett, SF/PF, Celtics (21 games remaining, first in East)
Guy: Not Real. Crazy, huh? The Celtics have a boss schedule (13 playoff games, including six in the final championship "week") and Garnett is the best player on arguably the best team in the NBA. So where do I come off saying he's not real? He is real, of course, but what he will cost you, especially if he is owned by a shamrock-besotted Celtics fan, makes him a bad value. The Celtics are comfortably in front in the East (plus-four in the loss column). They have won five in a row and look great. In short, they will be able to rest their stars the final two weeks of the season, aka the championship round of your head-to-head playoffs. KG, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen will all play these final six games, but look for less than 30 minutes per from each of them. Plus, one more thing, as good as he has been, Garnett (18.5 points, 9.9 rebounds) is not nearly as dominating as he once was. For my money, if I were shopping for a big man, I would aim for Al Jefferson. He will cost less, plays the same number of games during championship week and will almost certainly have better numbers.
Mac: Not Real. As far as overall fantasy value goes, KG is as real as it gets, but this is Kevin Garnett we are talking about, and relative to his career, Garnett's 2007-08 season has been a major disappointment (at least in terms of fantasy). Garnett's numbers (18.5 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.3 blocks) haven't been this low since his third season in the league, and it's not hard to figure out why. It's not because he's playing with two All-Stars in Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, it's because the Celtics are so good that Doc Rivers can afford to limit his best player to 34.2 minutes per game. The problem with trading for Garnett is that, despite his numbers, many owners still believe in their hearts that he's a 22-point, 12-rebound, 5-assist, 1.5-steal, 2-block guy when he's really not. Obviously he's still going to be valuable -- I mean, he's Kevin Garnett. But he's already not producing the numbers we've become accustomed to, and his production could slip even further if Rivers decides to limit his minutes down the stretch.
Andre Miller, PG, 76ers (19 games remaining, seventh in East)
Mac: For Real. I'm man enough to admit when I'm wrong, and it's now looking like I'm going to be dead wrong on calling Miller a top sell-high candidate in my second-half preview. Since the All-Star break, Miller has averaged a dominant 18.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 7.8 assists and 1.9 steals while shooting 50 percent from the floor and 80.5 percent from the line. The only numbers here that are really out of line with his history are the points, and that's not surprising given that he's quarterbacking a team that doesn't have many offensive options to begin with. Here's another thought: Everyone keeps talking about the playoff battle in the West, but what about the battle for the last spot in the East? Many may think that earning a seventh or eighth seed in the East means nothing because they'll have to face the Celtics or Pistons, but I can guarantee you that it means a lot to Andre Miller and the Sixers, meaning that he'll be supermotivated down the stretch.
Guy: For Real. Mac, I was wrong on Miller as well. I thought he was going to be traded well before the deadline, opening up time for Louis Williams. Didn't happen. What also didn't happen was the Sixers playing for the lottery. Miller and Andre Iguodala have the Sixers in the playoff hunt and if anything, Miller's minutes will go up. I see no reduction in his playing time and his post-All-Star break production means he is a solid trade target. One thing to keep in mind is Philadelphia's light schedule. The Sixers have only 19 games left and only 12 during the head-to-head playoffs.
Chris Kaman, C, Clippers (21 games remaining, 12th in West)
Guy: Not Real. Sweet schedule versus reduced production. The Clippers have 21 games remaining at the start of next week, one of only three teams to have so many. It's four-game weeks all the way up to championship week, when they have five. Surely, you want Kaman, right? This is what prompted me to trade for him more than a month ago. Well, not so fast. Kaman has suffered from a number of ailments (flu, sore back, bruised ankle, etc.). He has played in just four games since the break (of a possible eight) and has averaged 31.0 minutes, 12.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.5 blocks, all well off his season averages. Back injuries scare me. They tend to linger and with the Clippers hopelessly out of the playoffs, I could see Kaman being shut down if he continues to have pain. This is why I don't recommend pursuing Elton Brand, either; at this point, the Clippers have little reason to risk their best players.
Mac: Not Real. Being "the man" on a bad team can wear a guy down, and that's exactly what's happening to the Kaveman right now. Everything about Kaman scares me right now, from the decreased production to the myriad injuries/illnesses he's struggled with recently. His schedule might be great, but Kaman has struggled to produce when dealing with minor injuries in the past (anyone still remember 2006-07?) and I wouldn't dare touch him unless I'm getting him at a seriously discounted price.
Dwight Howard, C, Magic (18 games remaining, third in East)
Mac: For Real. Howard has a horrific remaining schedule, including the worst (by far) schedule in the head-to-head fantasy playoffs. Here's the thing, though: Howard is so dominant in the big-man categories that his poor schedule doesn't really matter all that much. Let's see how he stacks up against another dominant big man in Al Jefferson. Based on their season averages, Jefferson will likely provide a total of 430 points, 234 rebounds, 19 steals and 27 blocks in his remaining 20 games. Howard, on the other hand, projects to 390 points, 262 rebounds, 18 steals and 41 blocks in his remaining 18 games. Like I said, the difference isn't big enough to sell Howard for anything less than market price.
Guy: Not Real. If the schedule doesn't scare you, the free throws should. Should you acquire Howard, you better be able to afford losing free throws because that is exactly what will happen if you own Howard. If I am in a head-to-head league and this is a category I lose regularly anyhow, then Howard is a fine addition. In rotisserie leagues, especially ones in which you could lose points in this category, I would stay away. Howard shoots the most free throws of any player in the NBA and taking him on is a sacrifice in this category. That said, he is a great help in rebounds, field-goal percentage and blocks. He is for real in these categories, just understand what you will lose if you add him.
Joe Johnson PG/SG, Hawks (20 games remaining, ninth in East)
Guy: For Real. I know he has disappointed many this season, especially with his career-low field-goal percentage (40.6), but things are looking up for Johnson, and his poor performance could work to your advantage when trading for him. Why am I high on him? Check the numbers since Mike Bibby brought his act to Atlanta: In nine games, Johnson is averaging 20.5 points, 2.7 3-pointers, 5.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.1 steals on 44.9 percent from the field and 87.5 percent from the line. Every single one of those statistics is an improvement on his season averages. Bibby is a legit threat at point guard, something Atlanta lacked prior to his arrival. As a result, defenses can't key on Johnson the same way they used to. Talk up Johnson's disappointing season and take advantage of the Hawks' head-to-head playoff schedule (13 games) and Johnson's improved all-around game.
Mac: For Real. I'm digging JJ just as much as Guy is right now. The addition of Bibby allows him to focus on more aspects of the game than just scoring, and that will make him a more valuable fantasy player even if he's not putting up 20-plus points per game. Since Guy has already stolen my thunder with his statistical breakdown (thanks Guy), I'd rather focus on the playoff race in the Eastern Conference. Don't think for a second that the East is going to roll over and die just because everyone else is talking about the West. Make no mistake about it, the Wizards, Sixers, Nets, Hawks, Pacers and even long shots like the Bulls and Bucks are in a dogfight for the final few playoff spots in the East. It may not mean much to the average fan because the East is an "inferior" conference, but it means a heck of a lot to the players, and that's all that matters, right? With that in mind, we can and should expect players like Johnson to be ultramotivated down the stretch, and that's exactly what we're looking for in the fantasy game.
Guy Lake and Brian McKitish are fantasy analysts for ESPN.com. Both were finalists for the FSWA 2007 Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year.