February 03, 2010

In case you haven't heard, this summer is going to be epic. At the very minimum, three of the NBA's best players are going to be unrestricted free agents and that has teams clamoring to clear sap space while simultaneously creating a favorable environment to woo these superstars. That means NBA GMs are going to be extraordinarily busy before the Feb. 18 trade deadline, which is just over two weeks away. And when NBA GMs start making moves, fantasy GMs quickly follow.

Some teams will be buyers, other sellers. A few will stand pat, but most will be involved in serious trade discussions with gigantic fantasy playoff implications. With each NBA trade, at least one player's value is altered and the ripple effects can be felt across a bevy of players on both teams. To help prepare you with what to expect this trade season, the Fantasy Lab is going to review the NBA teams with the most logical -- and rumored -- trade scenarios. From this, you can figure out if you should be buying, selling or looking to acquire certain players. It might even be worth your while to make some speculative adds in the deeper leagues if you're in a comfortable position.

Paul Millsap is the man that inspired this column. In the past two games, with Mr. Opt-Out, Carlos Boozer, sidelined with a calf injury, Millsap dominated to the tune of 28.5 ppg on 63.6 FG%, 11.5 rpg, 4.0 apg, 0.5 spg and 2.0 bpg. While the Jazz are in the thick of it in the West, they won't get anything in return if they keep Boozer and let him walk during the summer. While it's doubtful that management will want to go against Jerry Sloan's wishes, Millsap's play could be the catalyst for a Boozer deal to help the Jazz land a center to compliment Mehmet Okur, who is having a down year across the board, and possibly some more scoring in the backcourt.

Some may want to sell Millsap because Boozer should be coming back relatively soon and don't believe a trade is in the works. Others might want to take this gamble and hope a trade goes through or see the injury becomes a lasting concern. Either way, the point you should glean here is some backups will become not just valuable fantasy contributors, but bona fide studs if the right trade is made.

Despite the injuries at PG to Mo Williams and Delonte West, the Cavs have weathered through so far and will likely pass on acquiring a PG. But they are looking to add another impact player and all the chatter is pointing to a scoring PF, namely Antawn Jamison. The thinking is that incumbent PF JJ Hickson, though talented, is too young and inconsistent to be counted on come playoff time. An addition like Jamison would relegate Hickson to the bench, but the stats he'd take away from Anderson Varejao and Shaquille O'Neal would be made up for by the extra playing time they'd receive when Zydrunas Ilgauskas is sent packing since he's their best trade chip. Wherever he lands, and assuming he is not bought out, he should see increased fantasy value as he figures to see more minutes and shots than he did in Cleveland.

Everyone and their mothers are talking about the Suns dealing Amar'e Stoudemire, but the vast majority of people don't have the right reason as to why. Unlike LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who are all planning to opt out of their current max deals to sign another max deal, Stoudemire is very possibly not going to land a max deal due to a variety of reasons, but it's mainly the injury history. The Suns, who have been in cost-cutting mode since Robert Sarver became the owner back in 2004, are scared to death that Stoudemire won't opt out since he's due $17.6 million next year -- a total he'd be lucky to sniff on the free agent market -- and something that could force them over the dreaded dollar-for-dollar luxury tax. So they're looking to trade him for smaller salary scale pieces that could be moved, bought out, etc. Yes, this is happening in the middle of a playoff race. Anyway, if this comes to fruition, expect to see a lot more of Channing Frye again, but the big winner should also be Jared Dudley, who already contributes across the board and is among the NBA's best three-point shooters. Also, talented rookie Earl Clark will surely see more time and is one to watch for the future. Did we mention Robin Lopez's solid play is just another reason that this will happen.

Talk about a snake-bitten season. With the team's terrible record and Gilbert Arenas now suspended for the year, the Wizards are going nowhere but down. So they might as well crash spectacularly and start over, right? Antawn Jamison is clearly a valuable trade piece since he's too old for the Wizards to build around but would be an instant impact addition on any playoff team. If he's dealt, Andray Blatche has already proven earlier this year that he's a very useful fantasy fill-in as an NBA starter, especially with C eligibility. It seems unlikely that the Wizards will want to deal players making bank in the final year of their deals, so Mike Miller, Brendan Haywood and Mike James should be staying put, but an offer could come along that proves more valuable than cap space (hello, draft picks!), freeing up playing time for block specialist JaVale McGee at center and scorer Nick Young on the wing. And if Caron Butler is dealt, Young will become the team's top scorer.

Few teams appear more likely to sell players this year than the Sixers. GM Ed Stefanski's hopes of a promising season under new coach Eddie Jordan were quickly dashed as the team limped out of the gate and struggled with Jordan's variation on the Princeton offense. The team has a few desirable assets, but they each come with an albatross of a contract. The pipe dream for Philly has to be dealing an understandably inspired Sam Dalembert and an overrated and overpaid Andre Iguodala for Tracy McGrady's league-leading $23 million expiring contract, instantly making them players in the free agent market this summer while helping them drop games in the John Wall sweepstakes. If this happens, or any other deal since it will likely have to include Dalembert's $12.2 million contact for next year, Marreese Speights will become a hot commodity. If Iggy is dealt, Elton Brand will get more touches, but Thaddeus Young will get the reigns on offense on the wing (ahead of early-season "failure" Lou Williams) and should be reinserted into the starting five permanently. It will also signal the season is over, and rookie Jrue Holiday should play till his feet bleed. He's a sneaky source of steals and assists when given enough PT.

There's been a lot of talk from other teams about dealing for a struggling Kevin Martin or the promising Jason Thompson. I hate to burst the bubble, but it ain't going to happen. Geoff Petrie is very good at what he does and knows how valuable both young pieces are once everyone gets acclimated to having Tyreke Evans at the helm, because that's the only thing actually chiseled in stone out in Sac-town. Don't count on a deal, but if the Kings do decide to get out from under the very reasonable $36 million more Martin's owed over the next three seasons, Beno Udrih seems like the logical replacement now, but it's probably Donte Greene who will benefit most. The team should have liked what they saw from him earlier this year (the Lab did) and the former first-rounder could really blossom with extended PT as the Kings continue to evaluate how he fits into their long-term plans.

The league's worst kept secret over the past two years has been New York's desire to land LeBron James and another mega free agent or two this summer. To do that, they've had to shed salary and won't do anything to jeopardize that. So while they are in dire need of a legitimate point guard, they probably won't be making a move to land one during the season. What they'll try to do is dump more salary, specifically Eddy Curry's $11 million for 2010-11, but that's not going to happen. What could happen is glue guy Jared Jeffries and his $6.8 million remaining could be sent packing for an expiring deal, opening the door for Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari to play even larger roles than they already do, as they are the two best players on the team still under contract next year thanks to their rookie deals. Just know this; if someone of mediocre fantasy talent or above miraculously lands on this team, jump on them immediately; they'll play a ton of minutes and pile up stats by the boatload at Mike D'Antoni's pace.

No matter what you've heard, Jermaine O'Neal isn't going anywhere; he's in the final year of his contract and is making a $5,000-hair under $23 million. Pat Riley needs this cap space to attract a free agent to play alongside Dwyane Wade -- provided he can re-sign Flash this summer when he opts out. Even though Miami is in the seventh seed in the East, the team's eye has to be on the summer considering their .500 record and having no real chance of winning it all. The Lab would say look for them to sell assets for cap space, but they don't really have any tradable assets with years left on their deals right now, just James Jones and Daequan Cook, with Michael Beasley being the lone untradeable commodity. They're going to find themselves hamstrung unless they decide they want to deal Udonis Haslem ($7 mil expiring deal) for players and/or picks that will make their situation look more appealing to picky and pricey free agents. Provided that happens, Beasley figures to be the big winner since he'll be forced to play more crunch time minutes. However, the acquired players should benefit, too, as they'll likely earn starting jobs, especially with JO and possibly Wade headed for early shutdowns this year due to injuries.

Vinny Del Negro has rebounded from early season struggles that threatened his job, but he isn't out of the woods yet. It's surprising to see him not give Tyrus Thomas more time now that he's healthy, but maybe that's coming from management, which isn't inclined to re-sign the impending free agent. Still, he's a valuable trade commodity and should be showcased soon. Even if he doesn't get more minutes, it would be a surprise if he wasn't in a new uni in a couple weeks, doing major damage for whomever he joins. Jump on him now. Another valuable piece that could be dealt is John Salmons, who is having a very down year after a spectacular season last year. A change of scenery would benefit the versatile vet, who is languishing on the bench. If Thomas is dealt, Taj Gibson should inherit some extra minutes, making him worth a low level roster spot in normal leagues.

Going nowhere fast, the Pacers are actively trying to move veterans Troy Murphy and T.J. Ford while they still have value, and they certainly do for a playoff-bound team. If that happens though, Ford's value goes up for even if he doesn't start on the new team, he will get playing time, which he isn't getting now. On the flip side, Murphy would probably see a reduction in minutes and in freedom. He'll likely have a more set role on the new team (rebound, shoot threes or set screens) and see a sharp decline in at least one category, if not more. Shipping him out of town clears the way for rookie Tyler Hansbrough to play more regular minutes once he returns from this mysterious ear infection that's sidelined him for weeks. Also, Roy Hibbert's going to have to take more shots and board more, especially with Jeff Foster now slated for back surgery.

The Spurs are always contenders with Tim Duncan, but are they good enough to win it as is this year? Probably not without adding a solid big man, despite Antonio McDyess rounding into form. The problem is that if they want to land Amar'e, as many rumors have indicated, they're going to need match salary by providing at least one big expiring deal (remember, the Suns want to clear space, otherwise they'd keep Amar'e). The only big expiring deal on the team is Manu Ginobili and his $10.7 million. That's a jagged pill for the Spurs to swallow -- one that they probably wouldn't do considering Manu is as responsible for his championship rings as anyone on the team, including Duncan and Tony Parker. The only other option would involve dealing Richard Jefferson, but since he's owed a cool $15 million next year and he'll probably cost you a pick and DeJuan Blair, too (who will cost less than $1 million a year for the next three years), it's not something the Spurs would be eager to do. But fantasywise, a big man's arrival would be bad news for McDyess, Blair and even Duncan, since he figures to help ease Duncan's load in scoring, boarding and playing time. If RJ departs, George Hill's recent uptick in value with Parker's injury will become permanent, unless Michael Finley is able to return to relevance after he's back from injury.

With Chris Paul headed for knee surgery, the Hornets should become instant sellers as they figure to disintegrate from the tight race in the West without their leader. If they can find anyone willing to take on the $29 million Peja Stojakovic is owed between this and next year, they'll make the move in a heartbeat. James Posey is going to be a popular option given his championship pedigree and reputation as a glue guy who can hit threes. The team will be hard-pressed to deal Emeka Okafor's mammoth contract, and they probably don't want to deal David West, either, so the big men will remain largely unaffected. It's the backcourt that figures to be affected most. Right now, two rookies are running the show in Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton. Both look like worthwhile fantasy additions now, but if a third player deserving of 30 mpg is imported, then their values take a hit. Maybe this will be the year the team finally gives Julian Wright an extended look. Maybe not ...

As it stands now, pretty much every top player on the Rockets was a fantasy steal this year: Aaron Brooks, Luis Scola, Carl Landry and Trevor Ariza in leagues that don't count percentages. Unfortunately, a trade with the Rockets likely means that T-Mac's $23 million is headed out the door in return for a plentiful booty of talent. To command these salaries, and for Daryl Morey to pull the trigger with the biggest cap-space contract in existence, the incoming players are definitely going to negatively impact the current players, especially Landry. As a sixth man, he could end up even further down the depth chart, cutting valuable minutes off his average. Ariza could also find himself on the bench if his shot doesn't improve, but it's more likely to be Shane Battier given the money the Rockets paid Ariza and the age discrepancy. Brooks looks safe as the PG of the future, but he is already dealing with internal competition that holds him back in the form of the rugged Kyle Lowry (who makes for some nice trade bait of his own).

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