The Give and Go
By Charlie Zegers and Chris Liss
RotoWire Staff Writers
Subject: Give and Go
Date: January 12, 2008 1:59 PM PDT
There were a lot of big moves at the trade deadline last February, and some other significant players changing addresses over the summer. That seems to be giving some observers the impression that this year's deadline will be quiet.
I'm of the opposite opinion.
I'm looking at the league and seeing one group of teams that has decided to rebuild with youth, another that is desperate to put things together for a run while key players are still in their primes, and a third that is trying to clear cap space for a big free agent class in 2010. And there, in the background - the looming threat of the economy, which seems to be making owners even more anxious than usual about having to pay the luxury tax.
To me, that means lots of activity this February. And that could mean tons of opportunity for fantasy owners... a clever trade or waiver-wire pick-up of a guy who lands in a better situation can make or break a team.
There are a couple of pretty big names in all the trade rumor columns this week... let's take a look at some of the guys who could be changing addresses.
Josh Howard - Word is, he doesn't mesh well with Jason Kidd, and the Mavs could be pursuaded to part with their talented - but occasionally knuckleheaded - wing. Sacramento and Toronto are reportedly interested. Jerry Stackhouse's name keeps coming up too, but that feels like a potential "Stack gets traded and then immediately waived" scenario.
Brad Miller - Miller seems like an unnecessary luxury on a rebuilding Sacramento team. Cleveland would make sense as a destination, depending on Zydrunas Ilgauskas' status. Cleveland is also one of the few contenders that has assets to trade - most notably, Wally Szczerbiak.
Andre Miller - Miller's contract expires after this season anyway. The Sixers are a win-now team, after committing big dollars to Elton Brand - but they clearly aren't contenders as presently constituted.
Ramon Sessions - One of the most-discussed fantasy sleepers heading into this season, Sessions hasn't been able to displace Luke Ridnour as Milwaukee's starter. I suspect many fantasy owners would be thrilled to see Sessions as far away from Scott Skiles as possible.
Joe Alexander - In reality, most of the Bucks - with the possible exception of Andrew Bogut - have come up in rumors this week, but Alexander's name jumped out at me, only because I was surprised Milwaukee would even consider giving up on a lottery pick this quickly. Of course, the rumored return in the proposed Alexander deal is another high lottery disappointment, Memphis' Mike Conley.
Raymond Felton - I started looking for Felton to get traded right after the Bobcats selected D.J. Augustin in last year's draft. The Jason Richardson deal might have slowed things down, but now Felton's name is hot again - usually in the context of a trade that would net Larry Brown a big, defense-first center.
Shawn Marion - Man, his stock has dropped faster than Chrysler's, huh? It wasn't so long ago that he was a consideration for first overall pick in fantasy drafts. Now, it looks like he might get traded twice in twelve months.
Chris Kaman - I don't think anyone really expects Kaman, Marcus Camby and Zach Randolph to co-exist for long. The Clippers have to get good in a hurry, given the amount of money they've invested in Baron Davis and Randolph... Kaman might be their most valuable trade chip.
What do you think? Which of these guys are most likely to get moved? Who benefits most from the change of scenery? Any guys you're buying just in case they get traded? Any sleepers who could get a value boost if one of these trades goes through?
Subject: Re: Give and Go
Date: January 12, 2008 7:45 PM PDT
I do pick up players based on trade rumors sometimes. When Travis Outlaw was rumored to be going to frontcourt-challenged Memphis, I picked him up, then dropped him when he stayed put. Mike Conley's another player I'd pick up if he went somewhere he'd see regular minutes. It's always odd to see teams give up on such a high pick (No. 4 overall in 2007) so soon. Are the Grizzles that sure he's a bust already? Point-guard takes time to learn for a lot of players - Chauncey Billiups was considered a bust initially, and now he might end up making a case for the Hall of Fame by the time he's done. Teams do learn a lot more from seeing these guys on the court and in practice every day than they could from scouting them against lesser competition, though, so maybe Milwaukee's learned something about Alexander - though 12 minutes a game for 27 games isn't much of a sample.
Josh Howard would be a great fit for a younger team - I don't think his weed-smoking is much of a threat to take down a franchise, and besides, in California, he can get a prescription, and it's legal. Brad Miller can still be a big-time fantasy player - he's been pretty good of late - but I don't see his situation getting too much better even if he is moved, and it could easily get a lot worse if he were to become a role player on a contender. I think Sessions and Marion are the two most interesting guys on this list. Sessions seems to be a disappointment, but as you mentioned, Skiles is the absolute worst coach to use as a barometer, and Sessions put up monster numbers down the stretch last year. Sometimes players do that - Michael Olowokandi even had his two-week stints for the Clips - but for a young point guard to come in and light it up is impressive.
Marion is the ultimate system player - perfect in a high-speed offense where he can finish on the break, and spot up for the occasional three in half-court sets. But in a half-court offense, he's not going to do much as he doesn't create his own shot, and he doesn't have room to take advantage of his quickness. But he's an extremely valuable trade chit both because he could help a fast-paced team, but more because his $17 million contract comes off the books after this year. Maybe the Heat will go after Kaman - they could definitely use another solid big man. Of course, the problem with speculating on Marion for fantasy is that he'll only earn what you have to pay for him if he gets traded to an up-tempo team, and because his contract is so attractive, he could wind up on an ill-fitting slower one just for cap purposes.
In the end, I usually speculate on non-star players only if there's a specific trade rumor involving one of them where the destination is a big step up in role and/or pace. If it's a general rumor that a guy will be moved, then you don't know what the trade will really accomplish. I suppose if a player has a terrible contract, and there's a rumor, you can be fairly sure that the acquiring team is determined to play him.
But enough speculation about trades - the concept that jumps out at me about your entry is when to give up on highly-touted players. The Mike Conleys, the Joe Alexanders, the Tyrus Thomases (though Vinny Del Negro is certainly getting something out of him). I like to gamble on those guys because usually they have more upside than most players who for one reason or another suddenly find themselves with playing time.
Who are some former top prospects you'd gamble on? I already gambled on Bargnani in a league, and that panned out. I wouldn't mind picking up Joakim Noah or Spencer Hawes for cheap, either at this point.
Subject: Give and Go
Date: January 13, 2008 8:36 AM PDT
Are we calling Hawes a former top prospect already? He's only been in the league a year - and he's been blocked that whole time by Miller.
This is why I have a hard time talking about emerging prospects without figuring in trade rumors. I really like Hawes' potential... and Mareese Speights. But they probably won't emerge as important fantasy players until their teams move Brad Miller and Sam Dalembert, respectively. Roster changes - due to trade or injury - are the biggest reasons why players emerge during a season.
The biggest exception would be players that everyone expects to be good, but need a little time to adjust to the NBA game - like Kevin Durant last year. But those guys are can be excellent "buy low" trade targets, especially if their owners thought they'd put up huge numbers from the get-go.
This year, I think we could see a similar second-half improvement from Michael Beasley and Greg Oden.
I think Beasley's progress has been slowed by the fact that he's a similar player to Marion. Sometimes that works - Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis is an example. Sometimes it doesn't - Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph. Whether or not Marion is traded, I think Beasley will continue to improve as he gets more experience, learns how NBA teams will defend him, and figures out the best ways to play off his teammates.
As for Oden - let's just say we may have been a bit unfair to the kid... expecting him to come in and dominate from day one. Big men usually need some time to adjust to the fact that, at the NBA level, they aren't always the biggest or strongest guy on the floor. And Oden missed an entire year of basketball. And he's still just 20. And he's been in a platoon situation with Joel Przybilla - who has been playing very well. I think we'll see more lines like last night's - Oden had 17-and-13 against the Bulls -- in the second half. The blocks will come, too.
Brook Lopez is another young big man that I like for the second half - though I'm guessing a lot of people share that opinion based on how well he's been playing. I was worried that he'd get caught up in a logjam with Nets' other young big men, but Lopez pretty clearly has the most complete game of the bunch.
And I've been a fan of Andray Blatche for a while. If he can avoid the occasional bouts of immature behavior that have defined his career to date, he could really emerge this spring. (Same goes for Tyrus Thomas and, to a lesser extent, Joakim Noah. I have no doubts about their ability - but I worry about them keeping their heads on straight.)
You want to acquire any of those guys, you probably need to do it via trade. But at the risk of using up all my material for tomorrow's "Working the Wire," I can think of a few potential waiver wire-type acquisitions as well, like:
J.J. Hickson - we keep hearing that the Cavs will make a move to bring in a big man. There's at least a chance that Hickson will emerge as the banger they need.
J.J. Redick - Sure, he's buried in Orlando's rotation when everyone's healthy... and he's too small to really defend NBA twos... but he's 8-of-11 from three in his last two games. Anyone who can shoot like that will get minutes eventually.
Kevin Love - The T-Wolves seem intent on bringing him along slowly - he's only getting around 20-25 minutes per game. But he's still managed to post double-doubles in two of his last four games. I expected more assists from him -- still think that aspect of his game will improve as he gets more comfortable at this level.
Danilo Gallinari - The Knicks need a consistent outside shooter in the worst way. If and when the kid gets healthy, I think he'll get playing time. (Course, that's a fairly substantial "if".)
Now, Redick and Blatche are really the only guys I'd call "former" top prospects in the bunch... but maybe that's because I don't expect to get much production out of first-and-second year guys, except for truly exceptional Derrick Rose-type prospects. Which gets back to your point - how long do you wait before giving up on a highly-touted prospect?
I don't really have one answer to that question - I look at 'em on a case-by-case basis, factoring in things like, "does he have a clear path to minutes" and "does he seem like a good fit for his team/coach" and "is he in the news every couple of days for doing something boneheaded off the court?"
Some types of players generally take longer to adjust than others. Point guard is a notoriously difficult position to learn at the NBA level - when a guy comes out of college as a "shooting guard that will need to play the point at the next level," build in an extra year or two before calling him a disappointment. Same goes for the freakishly athletic wings and power forwards who need to learn how they'll score when they're no longer able to simply run past or jump over the competition. The skills that probably translate best from the collegiate level to the pros are one-on-one defense and scoring... so in retrospect, we probably shouldn't be surprised that a guy like O.J. Mayo has been one of the most productive rookies this year.
Subject: Re: Give and Go
Date: January 13, 2008 12:10 PM PDT
I didn't mean to imply that Hawes was not still a prospect - I meant highly-touted players who for one reason or another haven't made a huge fantasy impact yet. And on the one hand, trades or injuries often trigger a young player's rise, on the other, if a player improves in his 15-20 minutes per game and practices well, he should force his way into the lineup eventually or even force a trade. In other words, sometimes you speculate on the player's skill set, and either the coach adjusts the lineup around him to get him more minutes, or the GM realizes this player is ready and moves the guy blocking him. There are other cases (Carlos Boozer/Paul Millsap) where a productive young player is blocked by an all star, and then you need the injury for the team to realize that the young player might be nearly as good. But usually young players (particularly lottery picks) force their way into lineups eventually, and the how is less important than the inevitability.
Redick is an interesting case because he was so hyped in college and has seen little opportunity in the pros. The problem is that Stan Van Gundy is the coach of the Magic, and the Van Gundys actually care about defense. If Redick were playing for Don Nelson or Mike D'Antoni, it might have been a different story. The other problem is that Jameer Nelson is the team's point guard, and so it's not like he can pick up the slack and defend the bigger opposing backcourt player, either.
But to answer your question, the biggest factor in the shelf life of a prospect is pedigree and physical talent. At this point, Kwame Brown and Eddy Curry can safely be called busts (Curry's been accused of something else recently, but I won't link to it here because I'm not sure how credible it is, and the allegations are beyond damaging to his reputation), but neither was a player you'd want to give up on too soon. Stromile Swift was another one whose athleticism merited extra chances. The problem with players like that is psychological - they're just not competitive or driven or disciplined or sometimes smart enough to succeed at the highest level. And a psychological handicap is just as real as being undersized or not quick enough. The problem is that physical qualities are apparent to observers from a distance - you can see Redick's lack of quickness on TV, but psychological ones are not. So you rely on the team to say (or imply by keeping a top prospect on the bench) that for some reason this 6-11, 240-pound guy who can jump out of the gym is never going to be any good. And then you're faced with the question of whether the team implying that knows what it's talking about. So these guys get second and third chances around the league, and either the team was wrong (Tyson Chandler, Chauncey Billups), or, far more likely, they learned by watching a player every day that he'll never be any good.
On the flip side are players drafted later (Steve Blake, Mo Williams) that teams are more likely to give up on prematurely, so they might still have some unrealized upside if given a bigger opportunity. There's also, as you mention, a player's fit in a given system - many players who are virtually worthless in one system will thrive in another, but we usually only realize that after the fact, i.e., it's hard to know in advance the full extent to which a player like Marion was dependent on Steve Nash and D'Antoni.
Article first appeared on 1/13/09