Grand Theft Roto: Targeting bad teams


With only a couple of weeks to go until the ESPN.com trade deadline, activity in your league should be heating up. Don't forget, after March 7, you will have only the waiver wire to look to for improvement, so get busy.

As for the actual NBA, for once, we have had an honest-to-goodness flurry of deals with perhaps more to come. There are several mediocre-to-bad teams looking to the future that could make trade pushes. As a fantasy owner, I always take extra time to bone up on my knowledge of these teams, because they are the ones that beget fantasy opportunities.

I follow the bad teams for two reasons.

One, they get less publicity (Knicks aside). Their players fly a little more under the radar, which depresses their value. This especially holds true from here on out, with the playoff race heating up. Attention will shift rapidly toward contending squads, leaving little "SportsCenter" oxygen for the also-rans.

Two, they are more likely to give minutes to unheralded players. Every year, there are a couple of players from bad teams who break out in the last couple of months of the season. As it progresses, there will be four to six teams that will become little more than developmental squads.

Our job is to try to identify the bad teams with the most fertile environments for fantasy production.

And no, I'm not just talking about the Eastern Conference. Heck, Miami, at 9-42, is 12 games out. It is the Western Conference where you will find more talented teams packing it in early. It's also where you will find more talented individual players.

How does all this translate into trade strategy?

I like to always have one player on my roster with second-half upside. Someone whose production might be only borderline at the moment, but who could end up paying off big as his real-life team gives up on the season.

You also will see a lot of very good fantasy players become temporarily great, as natural second and thirds options get bumped up the production chain due to lack of talent.

One of my favorite indicators of futility lives right here on ESPN.com. My personal Alan Greenspan, John Hollinger, tabulates a very fine page that forecasts playoff odds. Not only that, but it gives you the odds that a team will end up in the lottery. That's the number on which I'll focus today.

Western Conference

Seattle Supersonics (Hollinger Lottery Odds: 17.0%)

Trade Targets: Kevin Durant
Throw-ins/Waiver Wire: Earl Watson, Kurt Thomas, Chris Wilcox, Nick Collison, Jeff Green, Wally Szczerbiak

I haven't been particularly high on Durant this season, but he is a good second-half bet. I like him because he's got obvious upside (I don't believe in the rookie wall). He is a percentage-killer but can help a fantasy team make a move in categories that are easier to climb late in the season: 3-pointers, blocks and steals.

Watson is something of a one-trick pony (assists), but he produces just enough in 3-pointers and steals to make him a desirable trade target. If his minutes stay at more than 30 per night (or grow), he is a great breakout candidate.

Minnesota Timberwolves (HLO: 16.7%)

Trade Targets: Al Jefferson
Throw-ins/Waiver Wire: Randy Foye, Sebastian Telfair, Craig Smith, Rashad McCants, Corey Brewer, Gerald Green

Jefferson is the only one worthy of starting at the moment. However, there are many who could end up breaking out late. Foye is the player with the most upside. I've had a roto crush on him since he came into the league, and I think he will play his way into fantasy consideration in the near future.

Memphis Grizzlies (HLO: 12.6%)

Trade Targets: Rudy Gay, Mike Miller, Mike Conley (or whichever point guard doesn't get traded by Thursday)
Throw-ins/Waiver Wire: Hakim Warrick, Darko Milicic, Juan Carlos Navarro

In a normal scenario, Memphis would be the poster child for fantasy opportunity, but Marc Iavaroni is rising rapidly on my list of Fantasy Vortexes of Doom. Pick a rotation, sir. It's not like you are dealing with the '83 Sixers here.

Gay and Miller are going to be the Grizzlies' top two options from here on out, which means their already-sterling production should increase.

Next to Foye, I think Warrick is best minted for bad-team fantasy glory. In the post-Pau Gasol era, Memphis suffers from a dearth of post players possessing a consistent desire to play NBA basketball. Warrick should easily outperform Kwame Brown and Darko into 30-plus minutes per night.

If Kyle Lowry is dealt, Conley will get bumped up two notches.

Los Angeles Clippers (HLO: 4.3%)

Trade Targets: Corey Maggette, Chris Kaman
Throw-ins/Waiver Wire: Elton Brand, Al Thornton, Tim Thomas, Sam Cassell, Cuttino Mobley

The Clippers are tricky, since Brand's return likely would affect the production of their top two players. This is probably your last chance to scoop Brand off a waiver wire, if he hasn't already been snatched in your league.

I would tout Maggette as something of a sell-high candidate approaching the ESPN deadline, especially if you need low-post help. Kaman regressed before the All-Star break but hopefully will come back rested, freshly shorn and ready to produce. He is a great buy-low target.

If Thornton ever ascended to full-time starter ahead of Thomas, he would be a great fantasy asset.

Sacramento Kings (HLO: 0.8%)

Trade Targets: Kevin Martin, Ron Artest, Brad Miller, Beno Udrih
Throw-ins/Waiver Wire: John Salmons

The Mike Bibby trade was a windfall for those of you who chose to hang on to Udrih. Actually, it was a windfall for anyone who owns a King, since none of the acquired players will make a dent in the starting lineup. Bibby was starting to eat into everyone else's numbers. We won't have that problem with Tyronn Lue.

I love Martin, Miller and Artest (provided he still is a King) from here on out. If Artest is dealt, Salmons' value will go though the roof (albeit a low-lying roof) as well.

Eastern Conference

Miami Heat (HLO: 22.4%)

Trade Targets: Shawn Marion, maybe Dwyane Wade
Throw-ins/Waiver Wire: Mark Blount, Udonis Haslem, Dorell Wright, Ricky Davis, Marcus Banks

Wade scares me because there still is a good chance he will shut it down before the season ends. Which would be during the fantasy playoffs. Which means: Think about selling high.

There is no way I would deal Marion right now. He is the perfect fantasy storm. He is a great producer who plays on a bad team and can opt out. The rest of the Heat's season will be centered on seeing how Marion fits in with Wade. But maybe there's a Chris Wallace in your league.

We're in the middle of a Blount sighting at present. If you are willing to absorb the occasional clunker, he is a nice second center, as long as you are getting your blocks elsewhere.

When Haslem returns, Wright probably will lose his starting gig, but he is the Heat's one young player with any upside. Okay, maybe throw in Banks as well, who has to be in line for starter's minutes at some point.

New York Knicks (HLO: 8.0%)

Trade Targets: Jamal Crawford
Throw-ins/Waiver Wire: David Lee, Nate Robinson

I spend a lot of time looking at NBA depth charts, and I've had more success decoding 4-8-15-16-23-42 than the Knicks' lineup.

That being said, I think Robinson and Lee both could be second-half surprises if they ever get a fair shake in the rotation. Crawford has done yeoman's work to date and has had one of the more underrated seasons in fantasy.

Charlotte Bobcats (HLO: 5.6%)

Trade Targets: Gerald Wallace, Emeka Okafor, Jason Richardson, Raymond Felton
Throw-ins/Waiver Wire: Nazr Mohammed

I'm ending with Charlotte because I think it has tremendous second-half potential. It has a clearly defined starting five and is on the edges of the playoff hunt. It also doesn't have a lot of depth, which means more minutes for all involved.

Wallace already is a near-elite fantasy player, Richardson is finding his groove, Okafor is in a contract push and Felton is showing signs of top-40 potential. Simply put, there's a lot of fantasy upside in Charlotte.

John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.