- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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So it looks like I will be starting the new year by parting ways with Chris Kaman. I didn't want to do it, but how long can I wait? I mean, I thought I stole him on draft day, and I probably did, but basketball players just can't help us if they aren't actually playing basketball. Each day I see Kaman's ownership drop a little bit. I tell myself to be patient. Then I realize that even my patience has a limit.
It's a shame, too, because Kaman was off to a really good start this season ... until he suffered a left-foot injury. These weren't the same numbers as a season ago, when Marcus Camby was a Nugget, but they were still good enough for where I stole him. Plus, Camby is going to miss games; we all know it. Newcomer Zach Randolph is already out (that didn't take long). But Kaman -- and you, the fantasy owner -- just don't get to enjoy it. In a head-to-head league, I need my entire bench, and in a roto league, I have to find someone to block a shot.
I don't think the date Jan. 1 has much fantasy basketball significance, really, but I do have to admit when the calendar turns -- really, two months of the season are complete -- it closes the door on "early season" and I shift into "now mode." Now mode is here, and for some of the injured folks around the league, it's going to be too little, too late. For what it's worth, here's my take on some of the more interesting situations. Well, I think they're interesting, and based on percentages owned, many of you think so, too.
Chris Kaman, C, Clippers: When a projected return date gets pushed back once, maybe I'll frown and overlook it. When it happens again, and the player's team is so in the tank they can't even sniff a postseason run, I frown and dump the guy, unless it's a top-20 player. That's not Kaman. The nice November story is history, but the strained arch in Kaman's left foot doesn't appear to be getting better. Time to move on.
Monta Ellis, SG, Warriors: I didn't want to draft him, knowing that around Christmastime I'd be writing that I was tired of waiting for him, but I think he is worth it in the roto league I have him in. The torn ligament in Ellis' ankle might remain a problem even when he returns, which I'm hoping is in about a month, but opportunity is clearly there for him in Golden State. Everyone in Don Nelson's crew seems injured or underachieving, and if I owned Jamal Crawford I'd be preparing for how his game will change when Ellis returns. It's already changed for Stephen Jackson. Ultimately, this is all about hunches. Like the Clippers, the Warriors are going nowhere, but the difference is Nelson. He might try to score 120 per night the final six weeks just to prove he can, and Ellis could do major damage. More people are dropping him than adding, but that's a mistake.
Mike Dunleavy, SF, Pacers: There remains no timetable for his return, though he has been practicing. We've been hearing for more than a month how his right knee is progressing, but if that's the case, how can we still not know when he'll play again? Is it the All-Star break? Later than that? Dunleavy matters; a season ago he was easily a top-30 player with his points, rebounds, 3s and percentages. He remains owned in 75 percent of ESPN leagues, but that number keeps dropping. Keep Marquis Daniels around. Indy's No. 2 scorer doesn't do much else, but when he missed a week of games recently and I wanted to dump him, he came back with 28 points at Memphis. He can keep doing this into March. I don't expect we'll see Dunleavy in January.
Carlos Boozer, PF, Jazz: He's an annual favorite of mine, but Boozer's season is slipping away, and while I would never question anyone's motivation to play, I see all over the message boards that plenty of others are willing to do so. Boozer should want to play, one would think, to up his market value for a pending contract run in a new place. Does he really want to end his Utah days like this? It's a bit premature to assume Boozer is done, even as the MRIs on his balky knee outnumber games played since Thanksgiving 3-0. He's still owned in 100 percent of ESPN leagues, and I'd wait a bit longer to see if Boozer -- or the Jazz -- just gives up. But I'm thinking a mutual agreement on his status is coming, and it won't be good.
Kevin Martin, SG, Kings: I caught some of the Sacramento game against the Celtics the other night. Well, it wasn't much of a game at all, as the home team lost by 45 points, and their high scorer registered 11 points. It's clear the Kings are going nowhere, but like Golden State's Ellis, Martin seems worth waiting for, to me. I think it's the lure of big-time points that does it; Martin is averaging "only" 20.8 points in his nine games so far, but we know that's misleading. A healthy Martin can score 30 when he wants with this crew of teammates. I don't think Martin is durable, so maybe the next injury isn't far away, but I expect to see him back on the court soon, scoring a lot.
Gilbert Arenas, PG, Wizards: I'll set his over/under on games this season at five, and take the under. Honestly, I don't think the 6-23 Wizards, despite winning two straight games, are going to bring him back. I'm surprised Arenas is owned in 90 percent of ESPN leagues.
Elton Brand, PF, 76ers: I was talking with some 76ers fans at an event recently, and they seemed happy that Brand was out of the lineup because they thought the team was playing better. Really? That's not the case at all. The 76ers can run more without Brand, and Lou Williams can endear himself to fantasy owners, but this team won't go anywhere without him, as seen on what has been a poor West Coast road trip. Let's not overstate how bad Brand has been; 16 and 10 with 1.4 blocks isn't terrible, just a bit disappointing for him. His current injury is a dislocated shoulder, which has nothing to do with the Achilles injury. You shouldn't dump Brand. Since he didn't opt for season-ending surgery, there is always the chance he could reinjure the shoulder when he returns in January, but I think he's worth the risk. I wouldn't trade equal value to acquire him, though.
Before we get to the e-mails, I saw this nugget about erratic Nugget J.R. Smith in the Philadelphia Inquirer the other day: "I would think he drives fantasy owners crazy," Nuggets coach George Karl said. Really? Then Smith scored 27 points against the 76ers. In the next two games, he scored 27 points total. Yep, he drives us crazy.
Conor (Kansas City): "Hey Eric, I just wanted to pick your brain about Deron Williams. I know he is coming off of a serious ankle injury, but do you think he will start putting up D-Will-like numbers any time soon? I was wondering this because I received a trade offer from a guy in my league. He offered me Devin Harris for Williams, with some throw-in players involved, too. I began to wonder if Harris could be more valuable this season than Williams. What do you think?"
Karabell: What's wrong with Williams? He looked terrific schooling the 76ers on Monday night, even draining four 3-pointers (he entered the game with 13 all season). Williams is starting to score like his owners would prefer, and I would note his December scoring average is better than 16 points per game. He's a smart buy-low option, and despite New Jersey's Harris inexplicably producing a top-10 scoring average, I would take Williams. Look, Harris could do this all season, but I would always take 18 and 10 over 23 and 6. Assists are just harder to get. Also, who is more valuable this season is not something you should care about. You care who will be more valuable from this point on.
Marcus D. (Bakersfield, Calif.): "I've got Baron Davis as one of my starting guards, along with Chris Paul, Jose Calderon and Nate Robinson. I am in the top three in my roto league in every category except field-goal percentage. Should I unload Davis for someone solid, or just punt on the category and ride him out with his benefits everywhere else. His .373 field-goal percentage is 100 points worse than my next-worst player! He's making me pull my hair out!"
Karabell: Players like Davis can definitely make you pull your hair out, because he really is capable of very good numbers. His problem is much like that of man-child Dwight Howard; they hurt you in one category. I often try to avoid players like these, but since we're already two months into the season, it might be too late to fix the damage Davis has done in field goal percentage, so you should focus on the positive. My thoughts on Davis are pretty simple, actually. I don't expect him to suddenly shoot better. He has shot below 40 percent from the field before, and it seems clear he's going to do it again. Do the math and see if you can really move up in field goal percentage by replacing Davis with a decent shooter, while still noting how good he is in assists, steals and 3s. If you replace Davis with someone who shoots 50 percent the rest of the season -- a similarly fantasy flawed Shaquille O'Neal, maybe -- I think you'll find it's not worth the overall drop elsewhere. Even dealing him for the guy ranked next to him on the Rater (in this case, Delonte West) is likely to hurt your team overall.
Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com who covers fantasy baseball, football and basketball. He has twice been honored 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.
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