One of the harsh realities about the early part of the season is just how difficult it is to make a trade. Since everyone has very limited information to evaluate from, the margin for error on any kind of trade tends to be fairly high. As a result, most owners are reluctant to make any significant trades during the first month or so.
It also tends to be difficult to work out early-season trades because the most concrete valuation tool we have to go on is still the draft position of players. Unfortunately, however, once the season gets going, such a ranking is really just an imaginary construct, and if two owners deviate in their evaluation of a player, it's difficult to close the gap since few want to pay significantly more -- or sell for significantly less -- than the round in which they just drafted the player.
So that really leaves you with two options: (1) be willing to make strong, definitive statements about a few players you'd like to target or sell early on before the perception catches up to reality; or (2) be ready to sit back and compile information, so that when your league mates start to loosen up and are more open to wheeling and dealing, you know whom to shop and/or buy and have a good idea of what it will take to get them.
Now, in the next week or two I'll make it a point to discuss players whom it actually makes sense to "buy high" or "sell low" on -- before the perception of their value changes permanently -- but for now it seems like a better idea to just gather information on the guys for whom you may want to make a strong pitch. And to truly rip someone off, you have to welcome uncertainty. Guys like Marc Gasol or Brandon Jennings may have made it loud and clear they were vastly underrated on draft day, and you may even suddenly be their biggest believers, but with each team having only a couple of games under its belt, the only impression they've made on their owners is an extremely positive one, meaning you're not exactly going to be bartering from a position of strength.
Instead, zoning in on players whose value may fluctuate wildly from owner to owner is going to yield the ripest fruit. Sometimes you'll run into astute owners who are immune to emotional swaying on their early-season investments based off just a few games or weeks. However, that's also how you run into the guy who is secretly desperate to dump what he figures is bad stock onto the hands of the first guy who gives him a decent offer. So allow me to use the first week of the season to highlight a handful of players about whom, if you're going to capitalize on their murky situations, you're going to have to make quick and hard decisions:
Jose Calderon, PG, Toronto Raptors: A lot of people were/are quite high on the 28-year-old, but Calderon has given his owners little to celebrate with measly averages of 10.0 points, 6.7 assists, 0.3 3-pointers and 0.3 steals through three games this season. Many people liked Calderon to improve on last season's numbers, as it was reported he played hurt for much of that campaign, but three games of mediocre production to start off this season leave that excuse sounding a little hollow. His supporters need to decide if this is just short-term variation and his numbers will improve as he learns to assimilate his new teammates, or if his slow start is the sign of something more ominous. As those who read my one-on-one of Jose Calderon versus Jason Kidd know, I'm not necessarily the biggest Calderon fan, but I recognize a lot of other fantasy owners are -- the reason he makes such good trade bait if you're so inclined. If you're beginning to lose faith in him, the time to move him would be soon, while most people still respect his perceived value as a No. 1 point guard. For those who believe in him, however, it's probably important to note that he's faced the Orlando Magic and Cleveland Cavaliers in two of his three games, teams that finished first and third, respectively, in defensive efficiency last season.
Pau Gasol, PF/C, Los Angeles Lakers: On Monday, coach Phil Jackson surprised many by saying Gasol's injury would normally require six weeks of rest; to date, Gasol hasn't played in about three weeks. Few would want to give up on their first-round pick so early on, but early-season injuries can be quite frustrating to their owners, and if it still looks like Gasol will be a couple of weeks away this time next week, you could steal him away by making a strong, decisive offer in the meantime. The Lakers' offensive firepower and Lamar Odom's quality play in Gasol's stead could mean his owner is getting a little antsy; you would only be doing your due diligence to make sure he can't be had for a little less off his draft-day price.
Anthony Randolph, SF/PF, Golden State Warriors: Randolph's value has plummeted in the past couple of weeks, as head coach Don Nelson has made it clear he's still just as crazy as ever. However, this is a case where patience will work in your favor. There are still 80 games to go, and the longer the season goes on, the more the Warriors will have to turn to Randolph if for no other reason than to develop their young talent in what should be a playoff-less season. Randolph was one of the sexier upside picks in drafts, but he's already been ditched in 3.9 percent of leagues in the past week, so his owners really are panicking. And even though Corey Maggette has been stealing time at power forward, he's a foul-magnet there, and when his inevitable nagging injuries catch up to him, it will be Randolph who will take full advantage of any opportunity.
Tyreke Evans, PG, Sacramento Kings: OK, now people are just getting crazy. Evans' ownership has tumbled 11.8 percent as a bum ankle has put a damper on his production in his past two games. But come on, Evans should be considered the favorite for rookie of the year, four games be darned, and is in the perfect situation: the future of an awful team in an up-tempo system playing for a coach, Paul Westphal, who should let him play through any growing pains. And as icing on top of the cake, Evans could (and should) gain shooting guard eligibility sometime during the season. And many of these same points you could make about Spencer Hawes, as impatient owners in 4.4 percent of ESPN leagues have already decided to bail after Sean May has started over him early on.
T.J. Ford, PG, Indiana Pacers: For a starting point guard on a team that finished with more possessions than all but the Golden State Warriors and New York Knicks last season, Ford sure has a way of jerking around his owners. Two games into this season, Ford is averaging fewer than 22 minutes per game, as backup point guard Earl Watson has carved out a niche. An outsider would think that the Pacers would remain more committed with Ford in the long run over Watson, but we saw similar unrest with Jarrett Jack stealing much of Ford's minutes last season, so the situation bears watching.
And before we wrap up this week, I'd like to extend an open invitation to any questions, inquiries or outright bragging about wheeling and dealing in your own league. Input from our readers is always welcome, and with enough material I would love to highlight a few of your own grand theft rotos or air out the mailbag once in a while. And it's always useful to get feedback on how to better tailor this column for your own fantasy needs. Good luck and happy dealing!
Adam Madison is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.