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Pretend you're a girl -- stick with me on this one, guys -- and you are sitting at the food court of your local mall enjoying a steaming bowl of Kung Pao Shrimp from Panda Express. Suddenly, this guy plops down in the chair beside you. He's pretty average looking, nothing any different from any other guy. He doesn't flash a smile or offer you a drink from the Orange Julius that's just two stalls away. Instead, he tells you he is going to take you out on a date and make you the happiest girl in the mall. That's it. End of conversation. You look at him. He looks at you. And you realize he is absolutely serious. So, are you going out with this barnacle or scraping him off as you turn the corner into Bebe?
Unless the guy is dressed head-to-toe in Banana Republic and Burberry and is paying for everything, yes, including tickets to "Rachel Getting Married," I think we are saying no. Am I right, girls?
This scene pretty much runs parallel to those out-of-the-blue trade offers you get in your leagues. You know the ones. Some guy in your league drops the Tracy McGrady for Devin Harris offer on your team page, even though you are loaded at shooting guard and small forward, and doesn't even leave a note. That's no way to treat a lady or a trade partner.
This week is all about communication. Far too often, owners pitch trades without talking to their potential partners first. Then what happens? The offer expires without a reply and the owner who sent the offer feels offended. "I mean, he could at least have said he wasn't interested." Right, but if you never sent him a note explaining what you were thinking, why should he be under any obligation to write anything to you?
We live in age of advanced communication. Use the tools you have available to you. Unless you are in a long-standing league with the same owners, you should always accompany a trade offer with a note. Even better, in my opinion, is sending the owner an e-mail first. Tell the owner who you like on his team and what you think would be a fair offer. Let him know you have looked at his team and evaluated strengths and weaknesses. This is like telling your potential date that you like the way she cut her hair. It makes you seem fair and, dare I say it, nice. Even when pulling the cruelest of rip jobs, the most craven of GTRs, you should aim to make the other owner like you. The easiest way to do this is to show you know his team and understand his needs. (You see this date analogy really isn't that far off.)
E-mail is the first step, but it need not be the last. Some owners want to move more quickly and aren't always by their computers. In these cases, ask for their IM handles and phone numbers for texting. In some of my leagues, we put this contact information in a spreadsheet and distribute it to the league so everyone can reach everyone in a variety of ways. One warning here: don't be a stalker. If your offer is rebuffed and follow-up offers and e-mails aren't getting replies, move on. You are wasting your time and your trade partner is going to think you are a psycho. Move on and find someone else to work with.
One last bit of advice: Use the news to help refine your offers. If you are offering a specific player, look for news clips that praise him. I use FeedDemon to collect my RSS feeds. I have feeds from at least one paper from every NBA city. When pitching one of your players, copy and paste URLs of positive news stories into your e-mails. It sounds a lot more convincing if a beat writer like Jason Quick or Sekou Smith is praising a player, instead of the owner who is trying to deal him. Obviously, if you are looking to "buy low," do the opposite and link to articles that reflect negatively on the players you target. Technology can be your friend. Use it not only to tell someone what you are thinking but, more importantly, to show how well you can listen. This is how deals get done.
Elton Brand, PF, 76ers: His owners will soon feel the draught and close the window, so if you want Brand, you had better act now. He is currently number 63 on ESPN's Player Rater. This isn't going to last. He is underperforming in only three categories: points, field goal percentage and free-throw percentage. His free-throw shooting is already back on track, as he has shot 75 percent for the month of November. Brand is a career 50.4 percent shooter from the field, and his current 44 percent clip is sure to climb within range of his career norms. There should be no concerns about his Achilles tendon. His rebounding (10.3 per game) is in line with his career average (10.2) and he has blocked 14 shots in his past 4 games. The legs and feet are healthy. Once he straightens his shot out, he will again be fantasy gold.
Andrew Bogut, C, Bucks: In a recent Box Score Blog, I complained about Bucks players getting Skilesed. This is when a player of great fantasy promise suddenly has minutes taken away, as has happened with Charlie Villanueva and soon, I fear, Ramon Sessions. Bogut has not suffered this fate. He is locked in for big minutes so long as he fixes his one big issue: fouls. Bogut is averaging 4.2 fouls per contest this season, up from the 3.3 he averaged each of the past two seasons. He has done so in fewer minutes per game (32.5) than he averaged in either of the two previous seasons. There is a lot more evidence to suggest Bogut will regress to his fouling mean than keep his Hong Kong Phooey impersonation going. Bogut is a good bet to average a double-double with between one and two blocks per game. He is not going to come much cheaper than he is now. Make your move.
Leandro Barbosa, PG/SG, Suns: This guy shouldn't cost you much more than the lint in your pocket if you pursue him in a trade. Look, the numbers have been bad: 21.2 minutes, 10.9 points, 1.1 3-pointers, 1.6 assists and 0.9 steals. The minutes in particular have to give owners pause. Throw in the three missed games following his mother's death and you have a bear market for Barbosa. There is, however, one very good reason you should look to add Barbosa: Raja Bell. In his past five games (including the three Barbosa missed) Bell has averaged 34.6 minutes, 7.6 points and 1.4 3-pointers. Before the season I wrote that I felt Bell's offensive numbers would plummet and I stick by that. Barbosa is the best candidate to pick up that slack. We know he can score. In his past two games he scored 27 and 18 points in 22 and 25 minutes, respectively. Given the cost, Barbosa is well worth your investment.
Tim Duncan, PF/C, Spurs: Yes, he has been excellent in the early part of the season, averaging 23.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.7 blocks per game. You know what? I think he should be doing even better. He is the only significant option of offense in San Antonio and is playing 38 minutes per game, the most since the 2002-03 season. In particular, I am bothered by the relative lack of blocks and rebounds. The numbers are decent, yes, but when Duncan's minutes decline to the norms of the past few seasons, they will fall as well. The fact is Duncan's minutes will go down as soon as Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are back. He will, like last season, average less than 20 points and is almost certain to fall to less than two blocks per game. Move Duncan soon before news about Parker and Ginobili's returns start popping up. You should be able to fetch a good haul of talent for the Big Fundamental.
John Salmons, SG/SF, Kings: Like Tim Duncan, Salmons has benefited from injuries to teammates; in Salmons' case it's Kevin Martin and Francisco Garcia. Unlike Duncan, Salmons does not possess universal brand recognition. After all, he started just 41 games last season. Salmons has been great so far but his numbers are bound to slip when Martin and Garcia come back. Aim to sell high on Salmons, but temper your expectations on what you will get in return. Yes, he is No. 19 on the Player Rater right now, but if you think you are getting Brandon Roy (No. 22) or Kobe Bryant (No. 24) for him, there is a room with very soft walls waiting for you. Salmons could possibly net you David West from his frustrated owner (a trade that went down in one of my leagues) but more likely you will need to pair him with another player. Salmons is good bait for a two-for-one deal. He is the high card in your pair and, if matched properly, he could get owners a struggling stud.
David Lee, PF, Knicks: This is not a case of selling high, though it isn't exactly sell low either. Lee's past two games were more than solid and you know there is a market out there for this fantasy darling. He plays an efficient game and has extra value in turnover leagues. Here's the thing, I don't think he starts this season unless he is traded from the Knicks. Recent articles in the Daily News and the New York Post are similarly doubtful of Lee starting. The emergence of Wilson Chandler has pushed him to the pine and the immanent return of Jared Jeffries as the starting center on the Knicks will only reduce his minutes further. Trade him now before Jeffries comes back. If you can't, hope for the best; the best being that Lee is traded at some point this season.
The above subtitle has double meaning this week. You see, a funny thing happened on the way to this column; I got a new job. As a result, I am taking my leave of Grand Theft Roto and the ESPN fantasy team. It has been a great ride and I want to give shout-outs to Matthew Berry and Pete Becker for giving me the shot they did. If not for them geez, I don't actually want to go there; visions of myself posting angry comments on other peoples columns are too much to bear. Props must be given to my editors. Keith Lipscomb has always had my back as have the rest of the crew. Thank you, all. I also want to thank you, the readers. The emails have been frequent, interesting and, for the most part, kind. Good luck with your seasons. I am leaving you in good hands. Josh Whitling will be taking the reins of the GTR stagecoach and you will not be disappointed. Josh knows his hoops. He, Brian McKitish, Adam Madison, John Cregan, Seth Landman, Neil Tardy and Eric Karabell form the best fantasy hoops team out there. You are lucky to have them and I will miss being a part of the team.
Guy Lake is fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Guy.Fantasy@gmail.com.