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Thursday, January 14, 2010
Planning ahead should trades occur

By John Cregan
Special to ESPN.com

Trade talk is a hurting thing.

People are presented with an expectation to be professional, to keep up the good work, all while blocking out all the chatter that the team for whom they've worked so hard is about to be destroyed.

I am, of course, talking about myself.

I don't think you all fully realize what a Troy Murphy trade -- to anywhere -- would do to my fantasy teams. We're talking about the perfect guy in the perfect situation. Short of him going back to Notre Dame, there isn't a better fantasy fit for a man of Murphy's talents than the Indiana Pacers.

Because while fantasy puts its owners' focus squarely on the individual player and individual stats, a player is, in many terms, only as good as his real-life NBA situation.

Antawn Jamison
For years, Antawn Jamison has been one of the most consistent threats in the NBA.
Right now, there's no amount of trade chatter greater than that surrounding Antawn Jamison to the Cavaliers. (The Wizards are everyone's favorite imaginary "third team" when visiting the Trade Machine. I just heard one podcast that floated the Wizards dealing Caron Butler for future considerations and a "World's Greatest Brother" trophy.) But if you think Jamison is putting up 29 and 12 for the Cavs and their fantasy-killing approach to basketball, you're in need of some strong mood-altering medication. If Jamison went to the Cavs, I think you'd see his stats nearly cut in half (probably something like 15 points and eight rebounds a night).

Now, there is something of a silver lining to all this trade talk.

As rosters are blown up, minutes float to the surface, and borderline fantasy contributors suddenly find themselves cracking the magic 30-minutes-per-game barrier. In short, trades help produce second-half fantasy sleepers. There are players out there logging 20-25 minutes a night on bad teams with fantasy-friendly systems who will be in for solid second halves as their stars depart and/or their coaches start programming their rotations for the lottery.

Points per game is a solid indicator of an NBA team's fantasy potential, but I prefer to use "Pace," which is the amount of possessions a team generates per game. Pace, as a single stat, is a purer indicator of just how much fantasy goodness a particular NBA team is capable of doling out to its individual players.

Let's take a look at five NBA teams in the bottom third of the standings that have three things in common: good pace, low power rankings and a reasonable amount of trade chatter. Keep in mind that trades don't have to happen for some of these teams' players to become fantasy-worthy; some of these players will become contributors simply as their squads pack it in.

Washington Wizards (12-25)
Pace: 8th (96.5)
Hollinger power ranking: 94.7 (26th)
Stein power ranking: 26th
Rumored targets: Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood
Players with potential: Randy Foye, Mike Miller, Andray Blatche, Nick Young, JaVale McGee

Naturally, there's no roster as close to imminent detonation as my beloved Wizards. Of all of the rumored targets in this column, none are as close to reality as Jamison, Butler and Haywood. They could all be gone, and if the blogo-podosphere has its way, the Wizards will get absolutely nothing but cap space in return.

Bullets faithful, we're going to have to climb down into the darkness to get out of this crevasse. That means come All-Star Weekend, we could be looking at a starting lineup of Randy Foye, Nick Young, Mike Miller, Andray Blatche and (just maybe) JaVale McGee. This would be John-Wallian apocalyptic in basketball terms, but in fantasy, we'd be looking at two or three second-half sleepers.

Miller, when healthy, has shown he can still duplicate those 8-8-8 lines that so frustrated Timberwolves fans last season. But Miller, if ambulatory, could wake up in a couple of weeks to find himself the No. 2 option on the Wizards. Foye has already shone in Arenas' absence, and shouldn't be available in your league at this point. I'm done with Blatche, and Flip Saunders seems to agree with me, but again, if trades should strike, he'll get his much-complained-for shot attempts.

One final wild card could be McGee, who would see his minutes soar if Haywood is dealt. He's apparently the one untouchable player on the Wizards' roster (along with Arenas, but for other reasons), and if the Wizards go into full-on "Wall mode," you could see his potential on display for 25 minutes a night.

Indiana Pacers (13-25)
Pace: 100.0 (2nd)
Hollinger power ranking: 92.9 (27th)
Stein power ranking: 27th
Rumored targets: Troy Murphy, Mike Dunleavy, Danny Granger, Jeff Foster
Players with potential: Tyler Hansbrough, Earl Watson, Dahntay Jones, A.J. Price

Earl Watson
Earl Watson is averaging nearly six assists per game in his 13 starts this season.
For all of the talk pumping up the Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks, there has been no more fantasy-friendly system over the past three seasons than Jim O'Brien's high-flying brand of basketball. Much like the Suns, their high-paced style turns fringe players into fantasy contributors, and fantasy contributors into stars.


One notable difference from the Suns has been the Pacers' lackluster point guard play. T.J. Ford has fallen into a street-clothes role in the rotation, leaving Earl Watson and rookie A.J. Price to pick over his minutes. Watson has 25 points and 17 assists in his past two games, and could be a serviceable fantasy bench player if he sticks in the starting gig.

Roy Hibbert is maddening to own, as his minutes go up and down according to the individual low-post matchup. But Hansbrough is another young Pacers big who could plow his way into consideration as the season unwinds. He had put together a nice string of games before going down to an inner ear infection in December. He's been shooting poorly (.359) but makes up for it with his performance at the line (4.1 attempts per game) and on the boards (5.1 per game).

Sacramento Kings (15-22)
Pace: 6th (97.3)
Hollinger power ranking: 25th (96.5)
Stein power ranking: 20th
Rumored targets: Kevin Martin, Andres Nocioni
Players with potential: Jason Thompson, Spencer Hawes, Jon Brockman, Donte Greene, Ime Udoka, Francisco Garcia

I'm not -- nor have I ever been -- a Kevin Martin enthusiast. As a matter of fact, I hope Geoff Petrie deals him, because in Martin's absence, the Kings have become a very intriguing fantasy team.

Historically, Paul Westphal has been one of fantasy's great coaches, and his hire was a major reason I was so high on the Kings' individual players coming into the season. Omri Casspi has been in a little slump of late, but has still proved to be one of the nicer waiver-wire adds of 2009-10. When Martin went down, Beno Udrih's minutes went up and his production returned to 2007 levels.

Aside from the impact of Martin's imminent return, the overall issue here lies with the logjam in the Kings' frontcourt. In Westphal's offense, everyone has potential, and the Kings have 5-6 frontcourt players who all seem to hover in the 18-25-minutes-per-game range. Of all of them, Thompson and Greene have had the nicest runs so far this season, but don't forget about Garcia. He was a sneakily effective fantasy contributor last season and will produce again, especially if a trade or two clears up some minutes for the underrated swingman.

New York Knicks (16-22)
Pace: 10th (96.1)
Hollinger power ranking: 99.2 (19th)
Stein power ranking: 21st
Rumored targets: Basically, anyone to help create cap space
Players with potential: Jonathan Bender, Nate Robinson, Larry Hughes, anyone with Ghostbusting experience

If you listened to the excellent BS Report with Chad Ford this week, you'll have heard the latest trend in "Summer of 2010" talk: that teams like the Knicks with no shot at LeBron/Wade/Bosh should look instead to trade their cap room for proven players. If that trend takes hold on the improving Knicks, you're bound to see at least one fringe player stumble out of the ether and become roster-worthy.

When it comes to "young bench players with upside," the pickings are somewhat slim with the Knicks, but there are a couple of candidates. Robinson is back to being just one rotation spot away from semi-consistent contribution, but one other current Knick I'm tracking is new addition Bender.

Once upon a time (2001), Bender was a young player with fantasy upside to burn. Still only 28, Bender has impressed Mike D'Antoni in his brief stay, and has been guaranteed for the rest of the season. He showed just the tiniest smidge of Channing Frye against the Thunder the other night, canning two of five 3-pointers. I'm not saying "Go out and grab him;" I'm just saying "Keep an eye on him in case something happens in the Knicks' frontcourt."

Golden State Warriors (11-26)
Pace: 1st (103.4)
Hollinger power ranking: 97.4 (22nd)
Stein power ranking: 25th
Rumored targets: Monta Ellis, Corey Maggette, Andris Biedrins
Players with potential: The field

The question on everyone's lips right now is "Who the hell is Cartier Martin?" It doesn't matter who he is; he's a true small forward, Don Nelson (for this week) likes him, and he's already averaging 25 minutes per game. That means you should watch him.

Due to the Warriors' having been hit particularly hard by the injury bug this season, Nelson has had fewer opportunities to wreak havoc on fantasy lineups. That means more minutes for fewer players, and a less unpredictable track to Nelson's rotations.

If something should happen to Ellis or Stephen Curry (trade or injury), there's no other Warrior with as much statistical potential as Anthony Morrow. Morrow's finally showing signs of shooting his way out of his month-long slump (24 points versus the Heat on Wednesday). Even off the bench, Morrow should be a nice source of 3s and steals, but if he lands a starting gig and can hold it, the sky's the limit.

Also, it pains me to type this, but if Maggette gets dealt, Vladimir Radmanovic lands on the fantasy radar by default.

There. Now I can breathe again.

Bonus players I like should trades strike: Taj Gibson, Jonas Jerebko, Hakim Warrick, Austin Daye, Ersan Ilyasova, Brad Miller, Jerryd Bayless, James Harden, Jodie Meeks, DeAndre Jordan

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