Five rules for improving competitiveness

Many leagues have seen their trade deadline pass, but there are plenty of owners who still have a few days left to flip some players. Here are five rules to help you make your team as competitive as possible before you're reduced to fishing for help on the waiver wire.

1. Don't sit still

The one thing you simply can't do is accept the status quo. No matter how good your team looks, no matter how far ahead you are, you can always make your team better. If you're in a league where other owners are active and swapping players, you better believe that their teams will be getting better. So if you stand still and they get better, your team actually is getting worse and the odds of you holding the championship trophy at season's end diminish.

There's a natural fear to making trades, because you don't want to make the wrong move or get mocked by your fellow owners for "losing" a trade. It doesn't matter whether you are a grizzled fantasy hoops veteran or just cutting your teeth in your first campaign, that's a legitimate concern we all have. I've been playing for a decade and a half and I still have those reactions. To help me overcome that fear, I like to paraphrase Wayne Gretzky's saying that "you miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take."

You lose 100 percent of the trades you don't make.

I've seen far more teams win leagues due to trading than teams taken out of contention via trading. You think that coming up short because you made a shaky trade is painful? It's 10 times worse if you chickened out, sat still and watched your team sink below teams that were active. Trust me, I lived that early in my fantasy career, until I convinced myself that I had to be active to succeed.

2. Lopsided trades are OK

Whenever someone asks me whether they should pull the trigger on a trade, they want to know whether they'll win or lose the deal. I always repeat my mantra that you can't look at a trade in the vacuum of winning or losing it straight up -- a good trade is one that makes your team more likely to win a title. That's never truer than at this point of the season.

Does trading Kevin Durant for Rajon Rondo sound like a bad trade? In a vacuum, it's completely lopsided, because Durant has a better overall game and averages 17 points per game more than Rondo. However, if you have a massive lead on the rest of your league in scoring and need to make up ground in dimes and steals to win, then trading Durant's scoring and complete game for Rondo's top-end assists and steals makes perfect sense.

At this point of the season, the name on the player's jersey or how well-rounded his game is doesn't really matter. Neither does winning or losing a trade straight up. All that matters is whether you can get the stats you need for stats you can afford to give up.

3. Acquire players who will play

There's nothing worse than trading for a player who ends up missing games. I traded for Yao Ming in 2008, 12 hours before he fractured his foot and missed the rest of the season. So I know the pain all too well. Of course, I knew the risks involved in adding Yao to my roster, took the chance and it didn't work out. While you can never eliminate the risk of adding players who will miss games down the stretch, minimizing that risk is important.

Some players are more likely to miss games late in the season. Obviously, any player who is prone to injury in the first place is more likely to go down as the season gets further along. The same holds true for any player in their mid-30s, no matter how healthy they may seem. Even a guy like 36-year-old Ray Allen, who has missed no games this season and only five the previous two seasons, carries an inherent risk of sitting because a little ding to a vet can keep him out for several games.

The risk is two-fold for Allen and other veterans on championship contenders, because their teams are focused on keeping them healthy for the postseason. If they get their playoff seed set with a couple of games remaining, they may not even see the hardwood the final week of the season.

The ideal trade targets typically are in their mid-to-late 20s and play on teams that are fighting for a postseason spot. There will be little risk of these players falling to injury or picking up a random DNP-CD.

4. How many games are left to be played?

Whether you're in a head-to-head or roto league, knowing how many games remain for your players and team is crucial.

In head-to-head leagues, you have to look at how many games each of your players will take part in each week of your playoffs. You'll be better off trading players with light schedules down the stretch for players who will have more games to play. Consider that in the final four full weeks of the season, the Boston Celtics, New Jersey Nets, Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings and Washington Wizards play four more games than the Minnesota Timberwolves and New Orleans Hornets -- specifically one more game each week. That means if you can swap Chris Paul for Rajon Rondo, you should end up with more stats each week, despite their similar value.

This is also a factor in straight-up rotisserie leagues. Suppose you're in a tight battle for steals and pull the trigger on that same CP3-Rondo deal. Paul and Rondo have both averaged 2.4 steals per game on the season. With four extra games, though, Rondo should give you about 9.6 more steals during the final month of the season. That's a significant number in a narrow statistical fight.

You also need to consider how many games your team has remaining. Most roto leagues have an 82-game limit per position. If you are over pace, then you may want to try trading two players for one. For instance, the Chicago Bulls have 20 games left to play, so if you can play only 15 more games at your center spot and Joakim Noah is your center, you're going to end up leaving 5 of his games unused. You might as well trade Noah and another player for one better player so you can max out the games you have left to play.

On the other hand, if you are under pace, then go ahead and trade one stud for a couple of good players that you can use to max out the extra games you have left to play.

5. Aim for keepers if you're out of the running

One of the best things about a keeper league is that when your team stinks you can take advantage of your misfortune and improve your team for next season. The top teams are all looking no further than the next five weeks, because they want the immediate gratification of pulling a Charlie Sheen: winning. That means they desperately need replacements for guys like Eric Gordon and Rudy Gay, both of whom are great keepers who should be 100 percent healthy by next fall. Offer an aging vet or two who help that owner make a push down the stretch and you can get a great long-term investment for the future.

Tom Carpenter is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.