StrategyDecember 6, 2008

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Trading – Rules of Engagement

By Aleksandar Jovanovic

For me trading and negotiating trades is most amusing element of fantasy basketball. Ability to successfully negotiate trades is one of the most important skills that every GM needs to posses in order to be successful in this game. Rarely will your initial trade offer be accepted, and if it does get accepted it probably means that you aren’t doing it right. In most cases you need to be ready to negotiate. This guide will help you in that process.

Coming up with good trade scenarios and negotiating requires time and effort, there is more to trading then just sending some random offers and hoping that they’ll get accepted, but if you put in that time and effort chances of you doing a good trade increase significantly. Obviously player values vary depending on league settings, but these simple rules should be helpful to everyone no matter what kind of league they are playing. Any examples I provide will be based on standard nine category leagues, but the general rules I’m elaborating on still apply for any other type of leagues.

First of all I have to define a term “position of strength in negotiations”. A GM that is “less desperate to get the deal done” is in position of strength. Usually it’s the GM receiving the offer and though it doesn’t necessarily have to be too big of an advantage, it does help. If you do not use the trade block feature (providing it’s available and actively updated in your league) when initiating negotiations, your opponent is probably not too keen on trading players you are targeting which weakens your position in negotiations and strengthens his. Updating trade block to show your targets is a two headed sword. It reduces your strength in negotiations, but at the same time can help you get type of offers you want. Whether you should use the trade block or not comes down to whether your league members are active traders in which case you probably won’t need it, or are they trigger shy and could use every possible help to come up with some offers. From my own experience, I‘d say the second type of leagues is much more common so the trade block feature remains valuable tool. Whether you’re negotiating from position of strength or not, sending comments along with offers can be a huge help during negotiations, so I’d advise you to do it whenever possible.

On to the rules:

1st and most important rule is very simple: DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, OFFER RIDICULOUSLY ONE SIDED TRADES. Why is this so important? First off it won’t go through in any (at least somewhat competitive) league. Even if other manager has moment of temporary insanity and accepts, other league members or the commish (depending on league settings) will veto it. The other much more likely scenario is: opposing manager will reject it with short but rude comment attached to the rejection. Some managers take this kind of thing very seriously and might even remove you from the list of potential trade partners in the future. So best case scenario is you cause your opponent to smile while rejecting your offer, and the worst case scenario is you offend him. I’ll repeat this once again: in leagues worth playing, one-sided trades can’t go through so you can not gain anything by proposing them. A very simple way to avoid doing this is to ask yourself: “Would I accept this offer if I was in my opponent’s place?” and if the answer is “No way, no how, not in a million years,”, chances are he wouldn’t do it either.

2nd rule: You need to have a clear goal of what you want to achieve when proposing a trade, whether it is to improve in certain area(s), to gain more flexibility with position eligibilities, or simply to trade away certain player(s) for as much value as possible because you don’t want to own him for whatever reason. This is a fairly obvious rule. If you do not have a clear goal it’s harder to successfully negotiate and the deal can go in a completely different direction from what you originally intended. This doesn’t have to necessarily be a bad thing and you can still do trades this way, but as with everything else in life, it helps to know what you want.

3rd rule: After you figure out what you want to achieve with the trade you should analyze what your potential trade partner might want to do. For example if your opponent decided to ignore blocks, shot-blocking specialists (such as Amir Johnson, Darko, etc.) don’t hold much value to him so including them in any deal won’t help get it done. You don’t have to spend hours analyzing every team in the league (though I guess it couldn’t hurt), but you have to be aware of any cats your potential trade partner tanked and any needs he might have in certain area(s) in order to successfully negotiate. This is where the trade block feature can prove to be very helpful, but even if you don’t use it let your opponent know what cats/positions, if any, you are targeting in the early stage of negotiation (your initial offer, or your first counter offer) and find out his targets as well.

4th rule: This is not a rule as much as it is an observation and it goes like this – everyone tends to overrate their own players to some degree, while underrating their opponent’s. This is one of main reasons why many good trades fall through. It happens because people keep imagining best case scenario for players they’re giving up and worst case scenario for players they are getting. That is not the way to do business, every trade is a risk and trying to minimize it on your side while maximizing it for your opponent’s won’t get the trade done. Ideally you want both sides of the deal to hold similar risk and reward. There’s little you can do to change your opponent’s perceptions as most (but not all) GMs wouldn’t take kindly to you trying to convince them that their players, the very same players you’re trying to acquire, don’t hold as much value as they believe. What you can do is to try not to complicate things further by overrating your own guys and hope your opponent read this article as well. Here’s simple example from my own experience: 3 seasons ago Jameer Nelson was considered to be a bust-out candidate (oh how the time flies) and was picked in the middle rounds of most drafts, only to fail miserably and burn many fantasy GMs along the way. I acquired him as nothing more then a throw-in in a 2-2 deal around mid-season, and at the time of the trade I considered him barely worth owning. A few weeks later I entered another negotiation where I was supposed to ship him out as a throw-in in another 2-2 deal and I almost called the whole thing off just on a hope that he would suddenly start playing up to his draft position. Fortunately I managed to get over it and completed the deal that helped my team.

5th rule: You don’t want your initial offer to be too good to refuse. Your goal is to get as much as possible for as little as possible, so low-balling your opponent with your initial offer is ok, but only to a certain degree. If your offer is too low he’ll just reject it and dismiss you (see 1st rule). It helps if you decide exactly how much you’re willing to pay for a certain player combo before you send your first offer. Unfortunately, I can give you no help with main problem in this department and that is how low can you go without killing the deal. That changes from person to person and there is no way to be sure. When deciding on this keep in mind the first rule and also if you have your final offer set, don’t go too far bellow it with initial offer because the chances of your opponent underrating his own players are slim to say the least (see 4th rule).

Those are the 5 main rules that you need to follow to ensure you get players you want, if it is possible. That won’t happen all of the time, as sometimes you and your opponent have a large difference in perceptions of player values to find any common ground, but those 5 rules will improve your chances.

In the second part of this article (which will be up soon), we’ll take a look at some typical trade scenarios and try to analyze them further.

Aleksandar Jovanovic is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Aleksandar in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of KalElen.
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