By Charlie Zegers
RotoWire Staff Writer
We're just a few days before the season openers right now, we should be tracking the battles for those last few roster spots. But a couple of major trade rumors add some intrigue to the mix, and could have significant implications for fantasy owners. Let's review.
ESPN.com is reporting that the Heat and T-Wolves have completed a deal that sends Ricky Davis and Mark Blount to Miami in return for Antoine Walker, Wayne Simien, Michael Doleac and a conditional draft pick.
Can't say this is a big surprise... 'Toine and Pat Riley have gotten along about as well as Britney and K-Fed for the last couple of seasons, and moving Davis to free up time for the likes of Corey Brewer and Gerald Green only makes sense for a rebuilding team like Minnesota.
But what else does this trade tell us about the teams involved?
1. Miami is very concerned about Dwyane Wade's status. You have to assume that they wouldn't have made a deal for a wing scorer like Davis if Wade's return was imminent. Various reports have pegged Wade's return at two weeks into the season or closer to the new year. Assume the latter is closer to the truth.
2. Miami might also be concerned about Shaq and/or Zo. Aside from D-Wade, Miami's center tandem is the strength of the team... but O'Neal and Mourning are a combined 70+ years old with a lot of miles on the ol' tires. Blount isn't particularly good -- recent reports had him losing his starting job in Minnesota to Theo Ratliff -- but he's big, and more physically imposing than Doleac. That might make him a better fit.
3. Minnesota is serious about this whole "rebuilding" thing. Davis was/is Minnesota's most valuable veteran player. If he's being shipped out, it seems safe to assume that the T-Wolves are going to focus on developing the young guys. That should mean a bump in fantasy value for the likes of Green, Brewer, Rashad McCants, Randy Foye, Craig Smith, Ryan Gomes and even Sebastian Telfair -- and a similar downgrade for Juwan Howard, Marko Jaric, and Walker and Doleac -- assuming they stick with the team.
Kobe Trade Back On?
Meanwhile, Peter Vecsey of the New York Post claims that Kobe Bryant will be dealt before the season begins. That makes for great copy, but even Vecsey doesn't seem to believe it. By the end of the article, he makes a more convincing case that Los Angeles has the pieces to put together a deal for someone like Jermaine O'Neal which theoretically would appease Bryant and eliminate the reason for his trade request.
The fantasy implication of a potential Bryant trade is easier to figure Kobe is a top five player unless he gets hurt or decides to hold out in an attempt to force a trade. The more contentious things get, the greater the risk of a Derek Bell style "operation shutdown." But for now, we're comfortable saying that Kobe's trade demand is enough to make LeBron James the choice for first overall pick and leave it at that
Around the League:
Once the season begins, we'll use this space to track players whose fantasy value is improving, declining, or uncertain. We're not particularly concerned with hot or cold streaks every player will toss up a 2-for-10 every now and again unless they are extreme or seem to indicate an underlying problem or injury. Instead, we'll be looking at changes in playing time or role or skill level.
Comments and questions are always welcome just post 'em on the message board at the bottom of this page.
Nate Robinson (NY): Little Nate has been one of New York's best players in the offseason he was the MVP of the Vegas summer league and netted 20 points and nine boards off the bench in the Knicks' preseason win over Boston this week. More importantly, he's getting better at distributing the ball, which makes it easier for Knick coach Isiah Thomas to use Robinson as a backup to both Stephon Marbury and Jamal Crawford. That ability to play the point or the off-guard means more minutes for Robinson.
Aaron Gray (CHI): The rookie from Pitt has impressed Scott Skiles with his fundamentals and polish so much so that Gray is a strong candidate for a starting spot in Chicago's frontcourt. In that alignment, Gray is the center and Ben Wallace shifts to power forward, which is significant when considering eligibility.
Bonzi Wells (HOU): Several factors are pointing towards a big season for Wells. He reported to camp 25-30 pounds lighter than last season. He's been reunited with Rick Adelman. And unlike some of Houston's other guards (see Steve Francis, below), Wells already knows Adelman's offense. A very good rebounder from the backcourt, Wells could be a major sleeper.
Nick Collison and Chris Wilcox (SEA): None of Seattle's young bigs (Robert Swift, Johan Petro) have impressed to the point that PJ Carlesimo is willing to hand over the starting center spot. That means Collison will stay in the middle to open the year and Wilcox has less competition for minutes at the four.
Jason Smith (PHI): With Sam Dalembert (see below) sidelined, Smith stands a decent chance of opening the season as Philly's starting center. Smith is more of a jump-shooting four than a five; he'll have trouble guarding physical players, but he has the ability to stretch defenses with his touch from outside. Center eligibility would be a big boost to the rookie's fantasy value.
Kelenna Azubuike (GS) Azubuike has been named as Don Nelson's starting small forward while Stephen Jackson serves out his league-mandated seven-game suspension. As Matt Barnes proved last year, subs and fill-ins can put up stunningly good numbers in Golden State's offense.
Walter Herrmann (CHA) With Adam Morrison (torn ACL) out for the year, expect Herrmann to pick up a lot of floor time he wouldn't have gotten otherwise.
Jason Kidd (NJ): Kidd (back) will reportedly be ready to open the season, but expect the Nets to be extremely cautious with their most irreplaceable player. That means lots of minutes for Darrell Armstrong, at least in the early going.
Josh Howard (DAL): Howard suffered a sprained wrist in Tuesday's game against Chicago. At this point we don't know how severe an injury this is, or how long he's likely to be sidelined.
Willie Green and Rodney Carney (PHI): The competition for Philly's starting off-guard spot is coming down to the wire, and Green and Carney are neck-and-neck. Green is the more polished scorer at this point; Carney takes better care of the ball but sports a very shaky jumper. The job will probably go to whoever fits better with Andre Iguodala, but the minutes will be distributed more or less evenly either way.
Theo Ratliff (MIN) A lot of fantasy owners have probably forgotten about Ratliff completely. That's understandable he appeared in just two games last season. But it seems he's at least reasonably healthy now, and the T-Wolves are reportedly planning on starting him at center on a semi-regular basis. If that happens, Ratliff could emerge as a very valuable (and cheap) source of blocks but it remains to be seen how the additions of Michael Doleac and Wayne Simien impact his role.
Joey Graham, Carlos Delfino, and Jason Kapono (TOR) Toronto would love for one of the three to step up and win the small forward job, but thus far, no luck. At this point it looks like the Raptors will go with the still-recovering Jorge Garbajosa at the three.
Steve Francis (HOU): Francis is reportedly having a great deal of trouble picking up Rick Adelman's offense that's not a good sign, considering the Rockets have an absolute glut in the backcourt. For now it appears Rafer Alston and Bonzi Wells will start and Francis will have to earn minutes.
Sam Dalembert (PHI): Still recovering from a stress fracture in his left foot, Dalembert is expected to miss the Sixers' last two preseason games. His status for the first few weeks of the season is very much in doubt at this point.
Reggie Evans (PHI): Evans is playing with a sprained right thumb, which may be hampering his ability to shoot. He's not expected to miss any regular-season playing time as a result, but his already-paltry scoring could take a hit.
Marco Belinelli (GS) Belinelli probably found his way on to a lot of rosters in leagues that drafted early (including mine in the NBA.com expert league) based on the strength of his performance in the Vegas summer league. But training camp and preseason play have exposed Belinelli's weaknesses; he's having a lot of trouble adjusting to the speed and size of NBA-level competition. He may have trouble cracking Don Nelson's rotation on a regular basis.
Peja Stojakovic (NO) Stojakovic is shooting just a hair over 30 percent in the preseason, and he's dealing with "stiffness" in his surgically-repaired back. Those are both very ominous signs for anyone hoping for a return to Sacramento form from Peja this season.
Jason Terry (DAL) The Mavericks are selling Jason Terry's move to the bench as a way to shore up their second unit. But Dallas' dissatisfaction with Terry and their flirtation with Kobe Bryant is also well-known. It's hard not to view the lineup shift as the first step towards a potential roster move.
Trevor Ariza (ORL) Things you never want to hear from your starting two-guard: "I heard a "pop" in my left foot." Ariza is listed ahead of J.J. Redick on many speculative depth charts, but the ongoing trouble with his foot makes him a risky play at best.
Delonte West (SEA) A number of nagging injuries is hampering West's chances at winning the starting point guard job in Seattle. Given coach P.J. Carlesimo's well-known focus on defense, we like Earl Watson's prospects over Luke Ridnour's.
Thanks to all the Rotowire beat writers whose updates found their way into this week's Barometer.
Article first appeared on 10/24/07