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Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Anatomy of a midseason trade

By Adam Madison
Special to ESPN.com

One of the toughest things to do in a fantasy league is to work out a proper trade. After all, everyone seems to have a different perception of even the same player. While the production may be inarguable in a vacuum, there are always a ton of angles to think about. Is the player performing above his head or just coming into his own? Is his role on the team stable, or is he benefiting from injury? Or maybe his coach likes to tinker -- as Anthony Randolph owners can attest, you may not want to play that game no matter how talented a player might be. And that's just for one player; add other players into the mix and you're dealing with a delicate mixture of perceptions that must be balanced to ever get anything accomplished.

In an earlier column I discussed how I went about preparing various offers, acknowledging that you're going to strike out much more often than you'll hit a home run. This time, however, fantasy editor Pierre Becquey threw me a bone by informing me about a massive trade offer he received in a 10-team ESPN prize league. And both because he's my editor and, more importantly, because it makes a pretty compelling topic for a column, I jumped at the opportunity to break it down. Let's take a look:

Scott W. trades:

Dwyane Wade
Carmelo Anthony
Josh Smith
Chris Douglas-Roberts
Tyrus Thomas
Josh Howard

Pierre trades:

Monta Ellis
Chauncey Billups
Al Horford
Troy Murphy
Kevin Love
Stephen Jackson

Now keep in mind this is a 10-team league, and for reference the best available talent on the waiver wire includes Blake Griffin, Courtney Lee and Chris Duhon. So it plays a bit deeper than you would think when you factor in that everyone knows what they're doing, but you can still scrape up a usable player once every couple of weeks.

Another major key to evaluating any trade is each owner's roster composition and place in the standings. Pierre is seventh with 40 points, 15 away from first place, with strengths in free throw percentage, 3-pointers and steals while struggling immensely in field goal percentage (a whopping 13 percentage points away from second-to-last), rebounds and blocks; in points and assists he is middle of the pack. Scott, meanwhile, is last with 29 points, near or at the bottom in everything but blocks, where he's first, and steals, where he's fifth. That also gives us a glimpse into the motivation of the deal: Scott needs to rip someone off to have a fighting chance, while Pierre, if he were to make a trade, needs to focus on points, rebounds and blocks, as those are the categories in which he can make up the most ground. He's better off taking the loss in field goal percentage, where he's a whopping 13 percentage points away from even second-to-last, and giving up some ground in 3-pointers and steals.

Dwyane Wade
Dwyane Wade is having a down year by his recent standards, but is still elite.
So with that in mind, this trade makes little sense for Pierre. While Wade and 'Melo are the shiny bright toys that are supposed to make Pierre forget about the other quality players he's giving up, those two players hardly fit his needs -- he doesn't need their field goal percentage, as that's a rate statistic that is extraordinarily hard to make up ground in when you're well behind everyone else. That right there really makes everything else null and void, as what's the point in giving up most of your team if you can't even maximize the value of the two best players in the trade?

As far as I'm concerned, though, the initial trade proposal is only the beginning. It's a feeling out process -- you're putting out some ideas of your perception of value while making it clear who you don't mind giving up and who you want in return. So what do we learn here? For one, Scott was right to target guys like Al Horford, Troy Murphy and Kevin Love; Pierre can't use their field goal percentage, making him more likely to include them in a trade. Another thing is that Scott apparently has no misgivings about giving up a stud for quantity, now we just have to find the right combination of "quantity" that works for Scott. And now, since Scott also just lost Michael Redd for the season, he has an even more dire need to trade one (or two) of his studs for quantity.

That makes it clear that if a trade is going to work, Pierre is probably better off targeting the likes of Wade, who is in the midst of a down season. While it's not a perfect mesh of needs, he can target one area of concern, blocks, and since Scott also threw in Tyrus Thomas in the initial proposal, we can discern that it's OK to try to buy low on him, too. Thomas, incidentally, is one of the best buy-low options around because there is quite a large chance he's traded in the next month, which could catapult him into a top-50 commodity, with potential for significantly more. His low field goal percentage is inconsequential, and although his shoddy free throw percentage hurts, he can also be expected to improve a bit in the category as the season goes on.

Now we know who to target, so we just need to figure out whom to give up. If you read my column last week, you know I would love to jump at any opportunity to trade Monta Ellis. No one is going to give up Wade without getting another great player back, and Ellis, who is just two spots away from Wade on the ESPN Player Rater -- and is probably a better bet to stay healthy -- certainly passes the eye test. In a perfect world, Pierre would likely prefer to package Ellis with Rashard Lewis to get back Wade and Thomas, but let's be real, we may need to give up a little more than that. However, either Murphy or Horford should be enough to net Wade and Thomas, so the only question is whether we're giving up too much value by doing that. Considering their field goal percentages don't help Pierre, it definitely fits his needs, although I still feel like we can squeeze more value out of that. Horford has a lot of value to the right team, and we can still use his blocks, but we can probably afford to give up Murphy; the loss of 3-pointers hurts, but Wade does hit more 3-pointers than Ellis, softening the blow. And since Pierre has a surplus of 57 3-pointers over the next-closest competitor in the category, it properly leverages his strength without depleting it.

I do think Ellis and Murphy can get back a little more than Wade and Thomas, but it's a strong offer that should definitely get accepted. Pierre can add a third player on both sides -- maybe throw in Ron Artest for Yi Jianlian or something -- but if I had a gun to my head, I'd accept giving up Ellis and Murphy to net Wade and Thomas given his roster composition. Of course, since I do believe that proposal would get accepted, I wouldn't propose it until I explored all other possible combinations, and if Scott refuses to give up Wade and Thomas lightly, then blow him away with Ellis and Murphy and walk away content.

Adam Madison is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at mr.adam.madison@gmail.com.