We haven't rapped about making fantasy hoops deals since our trade deadlines passed. Why talk about something you can't do? Now that the 2010-11 fantasy season is in the books, though, the 2011-12 campaign is underway in keeper leagues, and that means we can scratch our fantasy hoops jones by swapping players.
That's one of the beauties of taking part in a keeper league: There is something you can do during the NBA playoffs and offseason to make your fantasy team better. What strategies should you use and what types of players should you aim for this offseason? Let's take a look in this season-ending -- or is it season-beginning? -- Grand Theft Roto.
Know your league's rules
Every league has its own set of rules, and those rules affect what you can and might want to do via trading. If your league allows you to keep your entire roster, your approach to the offseason is going to be different than a league in which you can keep only one player. Does your league require contracts of the players in a deal to match up for a trade to be legit? Whether it does or not, if you play in a league that has a set budget for each team, squads with several players who are outperforming their contracts will operate differently than teams with few or no players who have valuable contracts.
Assess strengths and weaknesses of teams in your league
Start with your own team. Do you have quality keeper players, like guys with good contracts or players you know other owners like? Is your team getting old? Do you need to infuse some youth?
Maybe you feel your team is on the verge of winning the title next season, but you were short on rebounds this past run and need to fill that hole now. Turn the same investigative eye toward the other teams in your league and assess their advantages and needs. Does one team have four great centers and no decent guards? Perhaps another squad won the 3-pointers category last season by 300 but was 100 blocks behind the second-worst team. How about a league that allows you to retain four keepers for next season, but the reigning champion has six players worth keeping? These are all teams that could be prime targets for an offseason swap.
Make offers to teams that match up well with your squad
People always seem more likely to pull the trigger on a trade during the offseason. Maybe it's because we aren't in the midst of the season with everything on the line. Or maybe it's because we still have a draft or auction in the fall to fill out the rest of our rosters.
There's also a practical sense sometimes if your roster has any of the aforementioned strengths and weaknesses. If you have six nice keepers but can keep only four of them, you should be inclined to do a 2-for-1 or even a 3-for-1 deal with a team that has only one really good keeper. This will improve the overall value of the four guys you lock down for next season. If your whole team shot 3s like Ray Allen but blocked shots like Earl Boykins last season, and there's a team with the opposite affliction, you should have little problem swapping 3s for blocks to help both teams.
Maybe you're like me and always draft ultra-talented young players who are still developing, but you feel you need a veteran presence to push you over the top for next season. Then look for a team full of veterans and an owner who wants to take a shot at a young stud breaking out next season.
Target specific types of players
Trading because you have specific strengths and weaknesses that match up well with another team's strengths and weaknesses makes sense on a lot of levels, one of which is that a trade that helps both teams is the most likely type of trade to happen. However, it can also be used as a sneaky vehicle that allows you to target specific players you want under the guise of a trade offer that helps the other team, in general. In other words, I like to target a specific player on another team and try to pry that player away by making an offer that helps my opponent improve his keepers, age or categorical needs. Which players should we target during the offseason?
You've had injured players on your team; let's face it, you probably despise some or all of them. It's no different for the other owners in your league. They are going to be down on any player who was dinged up a bunch last season and therefore will be more apt to deal him. The key for you is determining which injured players are going to rebound next season and beyond.
Rudy Gay and David West went down with long-term injuries, long enough that their owners should at least be concerned. However, both have been workhorses throughout their careers, so odds are they should return to form. On the other hand, guys like teammates Brandon Roy and Greg Oden appear to be unable to recover from their career-threatening injuries. Still, if you have a team with weak keepers, maybe you can make a low-ball offer to whoever owns Roy. Odds are he/she won't be keeping him and would deal Roy and another player for one decent keeper. Maybe you'll get lucky on the cheap. You could also take a swing on injury-prone guys like Andrew Bynum and Devin Harris and hope they can turn things around physically, because the fantasy skills are there for both of them.
Look for players who came up short of expectations this season, because whoever owns them can't be happy. Tyreke Evans, Andre Iguodala, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez and Chris Bosh all came in under the bar this season, but all have plenty of space and opportunity to improve significantly next season. You should be able to extract them from their owners for a reasonable price and reap the rewards next season.
It's a rare situation when a player doesn't have a career-best performance when he knows he'll be a free agent at season's end. Everybody wants to get crazy-paid. Things aren't quite as cut and dried as normal due to the expiring collective bargaining agreement, but at this point Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, Steve Nash, Gerald Wallace, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Eric Gordon, Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Bynum, JaVale McGee, Roy Hibbert, D.J. Augustin, Anthony Randolph, Michael Beasley, Jameer Nelson, Brook Lopez, O.J. Mayo, J.J. Hickson, Nicolas Batum and Chris Kaman will experience or have the option to experience some form of free agency next summer. The top-end guys are still going to crank out top-end stats, but some of the lesser-knowns could break out next season, especially Gallinari, McGee, Randolph and Batum.
Young talented players on the rise
Some people don't have the patience to wait for young ballers to develop their fantasy games. But you can't ask for a better investment than acquiring young talent in a keeper league. I'll be looking to draft all of the guys below in all of my leagues next season, which means I'll also be trying all summer to add them in keeper leagues. John Wall, Gallinari, Ty Lawson, Brandon Jennings, Greg Monroe, DeMarcus Cousins, Wesley Johnson, Serge Ibaka, McGee, Batum, Marcus Thornton and Darren Collison have talent, opportunity and the ability to develop outstanding fantasy games. Go get 'em now!
Tom Carpenter is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.