Fantasy Lab: Navigating fantasy trade waters takes smarts, bravado

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In most standard re-draft leagues, the trading deadline will inspire a few moves, with the majority of owners just tinkering here or shoring up a category there. You don't see very many blockbusters, as the vast majority of playoff-bound teams don't want to mess with their success. For example, the Celtics didn't trade Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett but they were willing to part with Eddie House to land Nate Robinson.

In a keeper league, however, the trade deadline often re-shapes the entire landscape of the league from top to bottom. Deadline day can be crazier than Craig Sager's wardrobe, far-fetched as it seems for those of you who have never participated in a keeper league. That's because it can breathe new life into every team, playoff-bound or not, because of the promise of next year. With future draft picks at your disposal, you no longer need to find a perfect player-for-player match to make a trade. You can throw in a draft pick to even out a deal, or, more commonly, deal a scrub and a top draft pick to a non-playoff team to get a "rental" to bolster your team for the playoffs. It's a win-win situation for both teams, and if you're serious about hoisting the trophy, you're going to have to make a move or two to stay ahead of your closest competitors.

The other option, though, and the main focus of the Fantasy Lab today, is a non-playoff team trying to score a top keeper from a playoff-bound team, and to do it without giving up a draft pick if at all possible. These deals happen less frequently than Andris Biedrins sinking consecutive free throws since they're usually initiated by the non-playoff team and requires the team thinking "championship!" to trade away one of their most valuable players. Floundering in seventh place in a keeper league with six playoff teams, I decided to see if I could cash in my players who I did not intend to keep in order to upgrade my keepers. Remarkably, I managed to nab Chris Paul from the first place team. Using this deal as a guide, The Lab will walk you through the process to land your own stud keeper, provided you're not in it to win it -- this year.

The last few days before deadline day is the best time of year to try to land a stud keeper that an owner would never even consider trading on a normal day. Sure you might risk insulting the Kevin Durant owner in your league by merely broaching the topic of a trade (as I did), but you can't get what you don't ask for. It's late in the season and injuries have left holes in a once potent lineup for many playoff-bound teams. The waiver wire is thinner than Jeff Van Gundy's hair. Other teams around them are making additions and there's an increasing feeling of needing to make a power play to keep alive their One Shining Moment chances. The deadline creates pressure to "get something done" and that's when owners become a little vulnerable as they're anxious to improve their squads with victory seemingly in their grasp.

It's your job to identify two things now: 1) keepers you covet on playoff-bound teams and 2) the playoff teams with obvious holes in their lineup. Once you know these two things, see where there's an overlap and those keepers become your targets. You'll also want to make sure you know your own team well, specifically who you intend to keep to build your team around next year. You have to be willing to say goodbye to everyone else because it's going to take multiple talented players to land a top keeper. In typical three-man keeper leagues (or more), you can have a pretty good semblance of where your category strengths and weaknesses lie and develop a trade strategy from there. One or two-man keeper leagues, this isn't a concern because you're trying to land the best player(s) available.

For my team, I had kept Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Bosh and Monta Ellis heading into this year. I was fortunate enough to also own Russell Westbrook, Tyreke Evans and Tyrus Thomas. I decided that Dirk and Tyreke were worth keeping but I wanted to parlay Bosh -- a top 10 talent this year -- and another player into an even better keeper. The reasons are three-fold: 1) Bosh's future is uncertain as he's expected to opt out and could end up on a team with another max-contract player, thereby depressing his numbers; 2) he's playing for a contract and having a career-year, meaning a decline is likely; and 3) he has a long history of knee injuries and missing games.

Looking at the list of potential keepers you developed, you'll probably notice a few players who are injured now. These players make excellent targets since they're not helping their current team at this time and they've usually left a crater in their lineup. CP3 is a prime example of this and it was the main reason I was able to acquire his services. Other players you might consider going after depending on how deep your league is include Bosh, Monta Ellis, Joakim Noah, Blake Griffin, Anthony Randolph, Yao Ming, Greg Oden and the suspended Gilbert Arenas.

Other prime targets are players who might get shut down during the fantasy playoffs, a.k.a. the end of the regular season, though you'll have to be more convincing in your negotiations. Perhaps last week's Fantasy Lab regarding shutdown candidates can provide some support. Playoff-bound teams having to rely on the likes of Al Jefferson, Devin Harris, Baron Davis and Danny Granger, to name a few, are praying these guys don't leave them hanging. In turn, the owner might be more willing to do a two-for-one or three-for-one with the promise of stability across a couple of positions versus the possibility of zero production from a key contributor when it's needed most.

Before you start to make offers, figure out which two-man package from your team will land you the best keeper. Now be willing to increase that to a three-man package because while your two-man offer might be fair, you're going to need to overwhelm the current owner with a big offer to get something done.

Knowing your best two-man and three-man offers, it's now time to float these out to a few different teams. You don't want just one offer out there; it's important to have a few irons in the fire. Not only does this help you better gauge the market value of the players you're offering, but it also creates competition for your players, which you can leverage into a better deal.

When you communicate with your potential trading partners, don't just make an offer over the site, call or e-mail them to let those teams know why you're reaching out. Be sure to point out weaknesses you can fill, or a category or two you can turn into a strength where it did not previously exist. It doesn't hurt to then plant a seed of doubt about their ability to win with these holes in their lineup. Feel free to mention their competitors who have made deals to improve their teams. Engage in a bit of dialogue, then make your first offer. In my case with Paul, I offered a package of Bosh and Westbrook, with Bosh filling a major hole at forward and Westbrook taking the place of CP3 with similar stats in assists, points and steals -- the recipe for success that brought him that far. With CP3 possibly out for our playoffs, he was interested, but said he needed even more to consider trading one of the top three keepers in the game.

When you get a bite like this -- he liked the basic package of Bosh and Westbrook but wanted the supreme deluxe package instead -- this is when you start to use the other offers to your advantage. I had another offer of Bosh, from the second place team no less, for a first-round pick and either a player coming back or a fourth-rounder too. By letting the CP3 owner know I was prepared to move Bosh to another playoff team with a hole at the Forward spot, he acquiesced a bit on his original counter offer of Bosh, Westbrook, Thomas and a fourth-rounder and became more serious about getting the deal done. But be forewarned, if you are going to threaten to go with another deal rather than just mentioning you have another deal in the works, be prepared to make that trade or risk not getting a deal done at all.

Setting an expiration date on your offer -- sometimes called an "exploding offer" -- can also have a similar effect. This is best used on a second or third offer after the basic framework is in place and he's deliberating. Hopefully, you've sweetened it a touch to make it more enticing. You can do that by adding a pick, swapping picks in different round, or adding another player to the offer, which you've already decided you don't need so it doesn't really cost you too much. Combine the pressure of your deadline with the actual deadline, the fear that you'll deal with someone else and his desire to fill the holes you pointed out on his roster and you're almost there.

Going back to the CP3 deal, he countered with Bosh, Westbrook and Thomas and a fourth-round pick. Adding a third (or fourth) player is the preferred method for sweetening a deal when trying to land a keeper and this year no longer matters to you, but if that fails, adding a late-round pick to fatten the offer will usually put you over the top. Now I had no desire to trade any picks coming into these negotiations, but to land Paul I found myself willing to adjust and cede a pick; it just had to be a later one. After some talking, we ended up with a sixth-round pick, which after keepers amounts to at least 90 players off the board already. I could live with that and the deal was done. I got my desired keeper for the next decade in CP3 and he gets a much-improved shot at winning the championship this year.