The first strategy involved the acquisition of what I like to call a "dented star." A dented star is an upper-tier player who, for one reason or another (injury, personal issues, etc.), has gotten out of the gate slowly. He's a fine piece of merchandise, but he's dented right now. You try to get one of these players in a two-for-one and you're back in the race.
But what if you strike out? I know I have in a couple of leagues in which I'm still reeling from the loss of Agent Zero. Two-for-one trades are great because it allows you some flexibility in roaming the waiver wire.
The other problem with a two-for-one is that it can be hazardous for a team lacking depth.
On teams such as these, losing an Arenas can submarine an entire season if some of those third- through sixth-round picks also have been washouts, or maybe an injury has struck another key player. If you don't have those mid-round picks to play with, you're going to have a hard time pulling off a deal for one star, even a dented one.
Where do you go from there? You trade for upside.
Here's where you try to replace depth by pulling a one-for-two and plugging two spots in an otherwise leaky roster.
This isn't just for teams that have lost their best player. This also works for teams that have drafted poorly and are getting left behind in the standings.
I'm not talking about trading Dirk Nowitzki for Jamario Moon and Jordan Farmar. I'm talking about trading Dirk for two top-50 players who could be top-30 by midseason. It's not ideal, but if your season is sinking, a shakeup is in order. A well-executed roll of the dice might be your best bet, especially in competitive leagues where there aren't many pigeons to be found.
Using this strategy, I trade by using a principle I call "transparent value" to acquire players who I believe have bigger things in store.
"Transparent value" refers to qualities that inflate a player's trade value beyond his actual value.
These qualities include:
1. He's a former elite player: This means a player who once was an elite fantasy producer who is now on the downside of his career or doesn't appear to be as productive this season. Dirk qualifies here. He's a perennial top-10 pick who is languishing in the mid-20s. At least Dirk is still a solid contributor; Ben Wallace, Shaquille O'Neal and Peja Stojakovic would be more obvious examples.
2. He gets a lot of publicity: Tony Parker used to personify this, although in recent years he has translated his annual sterling playoff performance into regular-season fantasy production. Still, players who play for winning teams get more attention in the press. A San Antonio Spur gets 6-10 weeks of extra time in the spotlight. That means they're going to be fresher in owners' minds than someone who plays for a perennial doormat.
Players in large markets also tend to get overly inflated. Owners gravitate toward players they know on the teams they follow; it's simple human nature. A New Yorker is more liable to favor a Knick over a Raptor, and there are a heckuva lot more New Yorkers playing fantasy basketball than Torontonians.
3. He scores points: On the surface, this might sound odd. Points are good. Points win ballgames. But to me, the emphasis on points scored is the No. 1 culprit in the over-inflation of fantasy value. Not that I shy away from a player who can help win the points-scored category, but it's the best area to take advantage of in a trade, dealing a one-dimensional scorer for a well-rounded player who contributes in many ways. A one-dimensional scorer also tends to lag in field goal percentage, making him a drag in multiple categories. Examples of this would include Ben Gordon and Jamal Crawford.
4. He's a rookie: When trading for upside, this can be a double-edged sword. After all, we're looking to deal for potential, not give it away. On the other hand, a heavily hyped rookie in his debut season is probably not going to equal his transparent value with actual value.
There's a whole subcategory of fantasy owners who are positively suffused with rookie love. I can identify. They are blank slates. Take it from me; if you take a chance on a rookie and the kid is successful, it will be the beginning of a career-long relationship.
But when you get down to it, there just aren't many rookies who can lead fantasy teams night-in and night-out. People forget that even LeBron James had his off weeks during his first season. They tend to be high-risk, medium-reward gambles. If you're lacking depth, you should be looking to stabilize your production.
Kevin Durant would be Player 1A in this category. He's a heavily hyped rookie who gets a ton of publicity and also scores a ton of points. He's probably a top-30 player already. But he's a rookie, and is susceptible to all sorts of ills that plague first-year players (inconsistency, injuries, poor field goal percentage, etc.). The "rookie wall" could also be thrown in here, but actual statistics show that its existence tends to be a bit overblown. Let's just leave it at "inconsistency."
Or how about the one-week phenomenon of Yi Jianlian? From November 3-11, Yi had an enviable four-game stretch, which was followed by Yi getting traded for luminaries such as Leandro Barbosa. Soon enough, Yi came back to earth, and he's now owned in just 27 percent of ESPN leagues. Such are the perils of rookie love.
Now that we've gotten the negatives out of the way, let's run through some players I've been dealing for in one-for-two situations.
1. Rudy Gay, G/F, Grizzlies: The secret is out on Gay. He's upside-personified, and his value is tracking in a manner reminiscent of Josh Smith and Andre Iguodala. The person who owns him in your league might have his guard down, though. Gay has been forced to play some power forward of late, which has led to some off games. But make no mistake: Gay has top-20 potential, and he could hit it by the All-Star break. Heck, by the All-Star break ... he could be an All-Star. See what you can do to get him now.
2. Brandon Roy, G, Trail Blazers: Roy has had his share of ups and downs this season. As a result, he's currently languishing on the second page of the Player Rater. The good news is that he's the go-to scorer on a bad team, which means he'll get plenty of opportunities to shoot his way out of his early slump. There's huge potential here, and it will be easier to land Roy than Gay at this point.
3. LaMarcus Aldridge, F/C, Trail Blazers: My crush on Aldridge is well-documented. How much do I love him? I had an Aldridge-for-Pau Gasol offer in one league, and I turned it down cold. Anyway, Aldridge is almost like Chris Bosh, but with better health and slightly diminished numbers. He has elite upside and he qualifies at center, two qualities that make him very appealing. Get him now before it's too late.
4. Al Jefferson, F/C, Timberwolves: The only reason I have Jefferson down this far is because his preseason stock had been inflated by all of the Garnett-trade fallout. He's doing about what I thought he would do -- scraping the top 40 on the Player Rater -- at this point in the season. Jefferson eventually will justify the second-round picks a lot of owners spent on him, though. What's holding him back? Well, let's just say that if Antoine Walker is your best teammate, you're in dire need of help.
Hopefully that will change when Randy Foye gets back. Also, don't underestimate Corey Brewer's potential. By midseason, this team could have three nice building blocks producing for fantasy teams. All of that would boost Jefferson's value.
5. Andrew Bogut, F/C, Bucks: If Bogut didn't qualify at center, he wouldn't be on this list. His production still is too inconsistent to generate real fantasy excitement. But there are plenty of indicators that Bogut is starting to put it together. Most telling are his blocks per game, which are up to 2.1 for the season. He still is an anemic free-throw shooter, but he gets to the line so little that it won't make a dent in your percentage. At least he knows to shy away from contact until he gets his touch together.
John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.