An NBA trade can make or break fantasy value.
Kyle Korver to the Cavs? In reality-based NBA terms, it's a good story. It's an escalation of the ongoing Cleveland-Golden State arms race. It's a clear statement of serious postseason intent.
In Fantasyland? Korver is a 3-point specialist with percentage-based upside. The deal places him in an interesting situation and gives him an outside opportunity to shoot his way back into the top 100. But it isn't a front page fantasy story outside of deep leagues.
The bigger fantasy story is that trade season has begun. You're going to hear a lot of trade rumors over the next six weeks. Ninety percent of them won't happen.
But when a rumor hits? Fantasy championships can be won or lost via a single NBA trade. And superstars don't have to move to mean something in fantasy.
The 2015 trade deadline was one of the busiest in league history. There were 11 last-second deals. Isaiah Thomas, Goran Dragic, Will Barton, Thaddeus Young, Reggie Jackson and Michael Carter-Williams all changed jerseys. Thomas was the only top-30 player moved. But thanks to the sheer volume of player movement, a lot of value shifted.
It isn't just about a traded player's individual production. There's a ripple effect.
Will the traded player be stepping into a starting gig? A bench role on a contender? Is he going to take minutes away from an established fantasy contributor on his new team? Who takes the minutes vacated in his old rotation? Will a single player -- hopefully with upside -- step in? Or will those vacated minutes be divided among multiple players?
That's a lot of sudden variance. And variance can make or break your imaginary team. Which is why trade season is a nervous time for fantasy owners.
When divining a rumor's validity, there are certain factors to look for:
1. Expiring contracts
Is the rumored player in his walk year? Is a player about to enter (especially unrestricted) free agency? Is there a feeling that his current team won't re-sign said player?
If a team believes (or knows) said player is about to walk away ... giving them nothing in return? That's a rumor worth monitoring.
Is a franchise waving the white flag on 2016-17? Are they giving up the pursuit of the playoffs in the pursuit of more Ping-Pong balls? Those are teams that become sellers at the deadline.
3. Cap management
This can go hand-in-hand with tanking. A capped-out team on the wrong side of .500 might elect to jettison some high-priced talent for expiring deals. Conversely, a winning team could be creating space for the summer to pursue free agents. Regardless of motive, these trades can be incredibly lopsided.
4. Miserable superstars
If a star is disgruntled and wants out? A trade can materialize posthaste.
Keeping these factors in mind, let's examine some rumors.
Millsap is likely to exercise his player option and become a free agent this summer.
He's about to turn 32. He's having a down year, shooting just 44 percent from the floor. He's struggling to adjust to Dwight Howard. The Hawks just unloaded Korver. That's a clear signal they're going to be sellers at the deadline ... right?
For a couple days last week, a Millsap deal felt like a formality. Now? Not so much. The Hawks have won seven straight. In the East, a .500 record could land you a No. 6 seed. At 22-16, the Hawks aren't tanking.
Millsap has told the world that he wants to stay with the Hawks. Hawks general manager Wes Wilcox has told inquiring teams to back off their trade requests.
But the deadline is still six weeks away. A lot can happen. The Hawks could be posturing to up Millsap's value.
If you're rostering Millsap, should you worry about a potential trade? There are a few playoffs-or-the-GM-might-be-fired franchises that could make this kind of move. The Washington Wizards would be a nice fit. Fantasy-wise, the Sacramento Kings would be intriguing.
In fantasy, I hang on to Millsap. His trade value is at rock bottom (by his standards). Millsap should regain some value and make that 21.2 ADP look less gutting.
Wait. What? How could a Butler trade possibly happen? Butler is only 27. He's one of the top 20 players in the NBA. He's top-12 in fantasy.
But the Bulls are hovering on the wrong side of .500. The Wade-Rondo experiment hasn't taken the East by storm. Trading Butler would trigger a full-blown revamp of the Bulls' roster.
What would it take to begin a conversation about trading Butler?
The Celtics own the Nets' 2017 first-rounder. That pick has a strong chance of winning the NBA draft lottery. The Celtics have a bank of assets they could package around that pick in pursuit of a superstar.
If the Bulls continue to struggle, Butler to Boston becomes ... possible. That would dent Butler's value. Butler is clocking in at a career-high 27.6 usage rate. He isn't going to get that kind of volume playing alongside Isaiah Thomas.
In Chicago, Butler has top-10 upside. In Boston, he becomes more of a top-20 player. Fantasy-wise, Butler is peaking in value right now. He's coming off recent 42-point and 52-point games.
If I'm rostering Butler? Like the Bulls, I'd put some feelers out to see what I could get.
A lot would have to happen in New York to make an Anthony trade seem conceivable. But a lot of those things seem to be happening.
First off, bringing in Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah hasn't upgraded the Knicks' playoff prospects. Even in the feckless Eastern Conference, they're still only a fringe playoff team. The team seems to be lurching toward relative disarray.
Second, in absence of serious playoff mojo, this is becoming Kristaps Porzingis' franchise. The present isn't working. It's probably time to wave the flag. Build around Porzingis. Make him a No. 1 option. That makes dealing the Knicks' present, 32-year-old No. 1 option more attractive.
Third, would Anthony be willing to waive his no-trade clause? Did you see him get ejected Monday? I'd wager that the answer would be "yes."
Fourth, would another team be willing to trade for Anthony? He's nursing a shoulder injury. He's in the middle of a miserable season. He's due to make $26 million next year. Even so, any team that was/is interested in Millsap could be interested enough to kick the tires.
Plant this rumor firmly in the "Miserable Superstars" column. But if Anthony goes anywhere else? His fantasy value drops.
He wouldn't waive his no-trade to go to a bottom-feeder. Those teams (Nets, Mavericks, Suns, Heat, Timberwolves) probably aren't looking for an Anthony-type situation anyway. If he somehow landed on a win-or-else team such as the Wizards? He wouldn't be the No. 1 option anymore.
If I'm rostering Anthony, I'm hanging onto him and praying he stays a Knick. I'm hoping the Knicks remain in play for the eighth seed. Those are the conditions that will keep Anthony engaged enough to rebuild some fantasy value. Then I'd see what I could get for him.
DeMarcus Cousins, PF/C, Sacramento Kings
Cousins has been mentioned in trade rumors since the night he was drafted. The Kings are preternaturally unstable. Ditto for Cousins. It's a bad, enabling mix.
Cousins is a top-10 talent -- in fantasy and in reality. But deep down, it feels like DMC will never reach his full potential clocking in at his current workplace. From a pure basketball perspective, I would love to see Cousins play within a different dynamic.
On the other hand, Cousins can sign a $200 million extension this summer. He's never going to leave Sacramento.
Cousins is averaging career highs in the two advanced stats that mean the most in fantasy: usage rate and PER. He's averaging a career-high 28.0 points per game. He's canning 1.8 3-pointers per game ... at a .384 clip!
If you roster Cousins, relax and hope he doesn't get ejected. If you are looking for the King most likely to be dealt, how about ...
Rudy Gay, SF/PF, Sacramento Kings
Gay is still working his way back after missing nearly a month with a hip injury. He is a sneaky good fantasy contributor, and he has a walk year coming up in 2017-18.
If the Kings remain in playoff contention, Gay probably stays in Sacramento. If they start to fade, he's a prime deadline candidate.
No matter what, the key to Gay's fantasy outlook rests more upon his hip than his franchise. He's a nice buy-low candidate. If I'm rostering him and I've held on this long, I keep hanging on in hopes that he rebuilds some value.
On paper, this is a classic tanking situation. Brooklyn is on track to finish with the worst record in the NBA. But thanks to maneuvers of years past, this franchise will not own its first-round pick. Tanking here -- if this is a normal situation, Brooklyn is doing so magnificently -- is all for naught. Oh, and the Nets won't have another first-rounder until 2019.
Going into the draft with a first-rounder would seem to be in Brooklyn's best interest. Dealing Lopez for as many first-rounders as possible is the smart move. A team with a need at the 5 (say, Portland) that has the assets to make this happen should do this deal.
Any such deal would definitely harm Lopez's value. He's the unquestioned first option on a talent-bereft team. Any other team won't afford Lopez the same type of opportunity.
The Miami Heat (all of them)
I wouldn't be shopping either player, but I would be trying to gauge value and see what's out there.
Despite the Heat's overall struggles, both players are in great fantasy situations. A la Carmelo Anthony, if I have either player, I'm hoping he sticks in Miami.
The Denver Nuggets (almost all of them)
I'm hoping for the Nuggets to make some kind of move. They have a lot of tradable fantasy assets -- so many assets that minutes just aren't there to let fantasy value develop and grow.
It's time to clear the logjam. Fantasy-wise, both Noel's and Okafor's prospects would improve regardless of destination. As their names start to percolate closer to the deadline, they could both prove sneaky adds in hopes that they'll land larger roles with fresh starts.