- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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I love how NBA teams are making these trades that make little sense on the surface but can get away with their looking fair because it's all about the cap space in 2010. Try that in a fantasy league and, well, let's just say the other owners won't take too kindly to your dumping Zach Randolph for an expiring contract or two. Antonio McDyess gets dealt and wait, he's going back to his old team a month later for nothing! And people make fun of fantasy owners?
In the real NBA, LeBron James is probably worth dumping a few seasons for. In fantasy hoops, we're still waiting for the first month of the current season to end, so it's way too early to be dumping and thinking not only of next season but, in some cases, even the season after next. I guess in the Association they call that the light at the end of the tunnel, but in a fantasy league, there's no need for such shenanigans. I can't wait for next month, let alone next year. You know how many times I wanted to cut Gilbert Arenas in the past week because I needed the roster spot? I still might!
What would you pay to get LeBron or Kobe or Amare? Would you wait a year or two on the chance you might land one of them in a future draft? I've been in basketball leagues (as well as football and baseball leagues) in which players have contracts that expire, and I have news for you: It's not worth it. In the NBA it probably is worth it, say, if you're the Knicks and are going nowhere this season. But in fantasy, you play for now -- or at least for soon. Even in a keeper league, I still can't justify punting a season for a better future draft pick unless all is without hope. In November, I think it's tough to say that. Before Christmas, any team can be salvaged.
You can't acquire a stud player in a fantasy league by dumping Jamal Crawford. You can, however, acquire a stud player by including someone like Crawford.
Regarding last week's trade to Golden State, good for Crawford, I say. He ended up on a team that presumably wanted him and upped his fantasy value in the process. Good for the Knicks too, I suppose, though it will take a while before we know for sure whether it worked out. How about you? How far would you go to get a superstar? I have some thoughts.
The best player in the deal isn't always worth it: In fantasy baseball, I generally stick by the idea that if I'm getting the best player in a trade, I'll make that two-for-one deal and take my chances with finding a replacement from the free-agent pool. In fantasy leagues, it's about statistics. Hoops leagues aren't quite the same, though. Sometimes I will make that deal, but not always. LeBron might bring you the best stats, but if you must deal three very good players to get him, it might not be wise. Every trade offer is different, in a way. I would have chosen LeBron with the first pick in this season's drafts, but if I picked at the end of Round 1, would I trade my top two players to get him? I don't think so. Would I deal three productive players, with none of them being a top-20 player? Probably. Just don't tell a potential trade partner to "name his price" for LeBron. I've done that for Johan Santana. In hoops, you might be paying too much.
Some keeper leagues are different: In leagues in which you keep only one player, I'm far more likely to do whatever it takes to get that LeBron type, but not in November. You must let a few months of the season play out. Later, you might have to take a small step backward this season to guarantee success for the next five. I still think it comes down to how deep free agency is. In my 10-team head-to-head format, Wilson Chandler was still available this weekend. In my 30-team league, I chose Chandler in Round 6. Man, that's working out well! Regardless, I still don't deal Tim Duncan and Joe Johnson just to get LeBron or Kobe because it's way too counterproductive for this season, and it's not as if those guys I'm trading are bad keepers. I hate when you can keep three players and you have only two good ones and somehow Mehmet Okur -- a fine player, but not top 50 -- ends up a keeper.
Fool 'em with name value: If I can include a player in a trade with so-so numbers whose name might be of special interest, then replace that guy's stats on free agency, I'm in. Even if I can't, I might be in. I recently included very mediocre Mike Bibby in a deal with uninspiring Al Harrington and got Andre Iguodala in return, a two-for-one steal in which I signed also-mediocre Beno Udrih off free agency. I picked up so many assists that I turned my season around. Iggy isn't a superstar, but he's still pretty good. Always have in mind the players on your team who carry more weight with their name than their numbers. You'd be surprised what others will trade for.
Act fast when players are dealt in real life: I don't think too much of Harrington in fantasy, and although I think Randolph and Crawford can at least hold some of their value, there's something about a real trade that triggers fantasy owners to overrate players. The truth is, I'll act quickly in picking up a free agent who stands to benefit from a deal, such as Nate Robinson, but to actually deal something of value before I see how things work out would not be wise. Look at Allen Iverson, for example. Once I heard he was traded to Detroit, which scores fewer points than Denver, I had no interest in acquiring him, but I saw others who did. Iverson isn't getting even close to the number of assists, or the points, he used to. If you thought as I did, you tried to move Iverson quickly.
Try to find the next superstars: I was much more likely to draft Danny Granger than Vince Carter this season in one of my keeper formats, knowing that age is a factor and the former still has room to grow. The latter has given us his best. This also works for one-year formats, though, whether in drafting or trading. Players get better during the season, too. I still think Carmelo Anthony is a worthy buy-low talent who at some point will start scoring 30 points consistently, but his name value might overrate him. One would think his owners who are new to this game just see that 39 percent field goal percentage and would love to replace it. Anyway, get a superstar before he's super. Derrick Rose is a future star, by the way. Greg Oden, not so much.
Dan Rybak (Pittsburgh): "Would you trade Jamal Crawford for Rudy Gay? Both average a similar number of points, but I'm concerned that there won't be enough basketballs to go around in Golden State with Monta Ellis, Crawford, Stephen Jackson, Anthony Morrow, Corey Maggette, Kelenna Azubuike, etc. Gay is off to a slow start, but he has no one behind him. Should I pull the trigger on this deal?"
Karabell: This fits in nicely with this column's topic, doesn't it? Gay isn't playing like a superstar, but he has the ability to put up major numbers. Plus, it's not as though 20 and 5 stinks. Crawford is not as good, and he's going to a team with a lot more talent. The Warriors run, but I wouldn't assume Crawford will play the traditional point guard spot and get six assists per night. People were selling Jackson, but he's still going to get assists. If you can still deal Crawford for Gay, don't hesitate. When Crawford gets "only" 16 and 4 in his first Warriors game, it might be too late.
Chris (North Jersey): "Hey Eric, I have a basketball question that could impact the rest of the season in my league. I was offered T.J. Ford, LaMarcus Aldridge and Jason Richardson for Devin Harris and Kevin Garnett. Should I pull the trigger?"
Karabell: There seem to be a lot of triggers potentially being pulled today. Hey, I don't make up the questions, trust me. There are plenty in there. Apologies that I can answer only two of them. If you want to ask more, check out my Wednesday afternoon chat session -- it's advertised as a football chat, but I also accept hoops and baseball queries. Anyway, Garnett is not even close to putting up the stats he did a season ago, a prime example of a player you should move if you can get depth. Is he even a fantasy superstar anymore? Glad I didn't spend a first-rounder on him this season. He's still the highest-ranked player in this potential trade, according to our Player Rater, and Harris is emerging as a better fantasy player. I hate trading for players like Ford. I know any player can get hurt at any time, but with all Ford has been through, he scares me. I'd stick with Harris and Garnett and see whether you can move Garnett for an actual superstar.
Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com who covers fantasy baseball, football and basketball. He has been honored twice as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. His new book, "The Best Philadelphia Sports Arguments," was published by Source Books and is available in bookstores. Contact Eric by e-mailing him here.