Grand Theft Roto: Final month strategies

Certain happenings force one to take stock.

For me, flying is one of them. I'm on something called an Air El Europa Grande flight at the moment, trying to distract myself from being, well, frankly, scared out of my wits. I don't do well above ground, and I really don't do well on small planes that seem to fly low enough to the ground that I can still look in the windows of passing office buildings. I can only assume my pilot is a combat veteran and is used to flying underneath enemy radar.

On Air El Europa Grande, they also spend a really, really, really long time on emergency measures. I mean, like about 25 to 30 minutes. It doesn't exactly fill one with confidence when they pause in the middle of their instructions for takeoff.

Now, I'm bumping over the Bay of Biscayne, and I'm feeling rather bitter. All sorts of scars, slings, arrows and rebukes spill out at times like this.

Mainly, I'm thinking about those of you who haven't responded to my trade offers.

Fantasy basketball can be a cruel, fickle mistress, one that can take with one hand and give with the other. Catastrophe is always just a few pixels around the corner. Injuries can strike, suspensions can hit and players can be traded to the Knicks. But the important thing is to keep trying, keep hitting the waiver wire and, most importantly, keep considering trades. Even if you don't want to try one yourself, you owe it to your fellow owners to at least take a look when an offer is deposited in your inbox.

As I move closer and closer to the trade deadline, it gets harder and harder for me to gauge just how many people in any of my leagues still are willing to talk trade.

Currently, I'm wrapping up a business trip here in Europe. It's been England, France, Italy, Spain and England in nine days. I've really taken advantage of certain recent developments -- such as not sleeping -- to redouble my efforts on the trade market. Sometimes, I find that just by pushing through a single Mike Miller for LaMarcus Aldridge deal, I can transfer an entire league from potential to kinetic trade energy.

How do I overcome a bearish trade market in a particular league?

1. Pinpoint Your Needs

This might seem like obvious advice, but you need to apply a little math before you start making offers. Even if you are in the lower regions of the standings, things can happen.

Take a look at blocks, steals and 3-pointers. If you are in a head-to-head situation and headed toward the playoffs, think about where you are habitually being beaten each week. Maybe you have some negative numbers to overcome: bad percentages and turnovers.

No matter what, do some number crunching. Get a calculator and figure out where a trade could do the most good. DO NOT RELY ON THE PR15 METER. I love PR15, but it's a slippery slope to just using a dartboard. Or whatever Chris Wallace used last week.

2. Check the Trade Block

This is the easiest way to pinpoint league-wide interest. In November.

It's extremely rare to find a league's trade block that is updated beyond Thanksgiving. And that's in ESPN-hosted leagues, where owners tend to be more active than those on other sites. (Congrats again for being discriminating enough to give yourself the very best. You probably deserve it.)

But by now, you will have to try more extreme measures if you hope to improve your team, so …

3. Reach Out to Active Ownership

Whether you are in one or 11 leagues, the personal touch is important. You don't want to come off as the Gordon Gekko of your league. No one likes a self-styled shark. In my experience, stable owners tune out pushy owners. If you are firing out three or four trade offers a day, you probably need to take a breath and reconnect with your spouse, call your mother or find out what you gave your kids for Christmas.

What I like to do at this late stage (four weeks to the deadline) is to send out a quick, professional league-wide e-mail, one that won't get confused with spam.

Something like: "Greeting and salutations. The trade deadline is only four weeks away, and I'm looking to shake up my team a bit. Let me know if you're interested."

This should result in at least a nibble or two. Then …

4. Target individual teams

It's time to begin some negotiations. Look at your standings. If a team sitting comfortably in first makes you an offer, it will be a poor one. An owner with a sizeable lead is likely looking to pad his advantage and is averse to taking risks. Deals with these owners are possible, but be wary.

This close to the deadline, what you want is an owner fighting for first place. These are the owners who are willing to roll the dice. E-mail the interested teams before making an offer. Find out what they are looking for. This is where you can do some preliminary wheeling and dealing before you …

5. Make an Offer

I never like to make an offer until I've done some preliminary back and forth via e-mail. Ideally, a formal offer will be a final offer, something that already has been agreed to in principle.

It's very important to think of this as an ongoing process, not just a one-and-done e-mail. I find that 80 percent of all trades I eventually make require at least three or four counteroffers. Get beyond that, and you probably have hit a brick wall.

I try to shy away from asking for whom I actually want in my initial e-mail. I usually try to go one tier higher. If I really want Chris Kaman, I'll first ask for Dirk Nowitzki. If I want Chauncey Billups, I'll first ask for Chris Paul.

If I want Chris Paul, I might ask about another top-tier player, like Caron Butler.

6. Don't Get Swept Up

It's incredibly embarrassing, but I still get a little wave of endorphin activity when I'm about to pull the trigger on a deal. I imagine it's close to the same chemical reaction that occurs in The Current Mrs. Cregan's mind when she walks into an Anthropologie. In both cases, it's important to fight that feeling, consider your spouse and use your head.

Making a trade is exciting. I encourage everyone to be willing to try to make at least two or three a season. If you are stuck in the middle of the pack, I even encourage you to make one just for the sake of making one.

Just take a breath before clicking on "Accept Trade."

7. Know When to Walk Away

Some people are just plain unreasonable. More than half of you aren't happy with a trade unless you know you're totally hosing the other owner. I know this because I'm in 11 leagues and deal with the likes of you constantly. Sometimes, I get so angry, I find myself agreeing with the likes of Lou Dobbs.

And as much as I advocate a free market, sometimes you have to retreat into a little isolationism. Don't let yourself get bullied. There are owners out there who will throw a Vesuvian outpouring of stats and rationales at you to make a deal. One thing I've learned is that the harder someone tries to convince you to make a certain trade, the more one-sided it is.

There are other fish in the sea. If an owner is making outrageous requests, the best revenge is to make a deal with the person directly below them in the standings.

8. Don't Give Up

Again, this is paramount. If you really love fantasy sports, you have to look at this with a wide-angle lens. You are building an aggregate body of experience over the course of many seasons that will serve you well in the years to come. Don't get jaded. If you go through a year without making a trade offer, you need to really take a look at whatever it was in your life that led you to this dark corner of your existence.

It's only a game, after all, and in the end, you should feel free to make a mistake or two. Don't take this too seriously, and realize that next year's draft is only a few months away.

And if you need some inspiration, just remember, in America, even Mitch Kupchak can pick up the phone and pull off a Grand Theft Roto.

John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.