StrategyDecember 8, 2008

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Trading – Rules of Engagement #2

By Aleksandar Jovanovic

In the first part of this article, I gave the five main rules to follow when making a trade offer. In this part we’ll take a look at some typical trade scenarios and try to analyze them further. So let’s begin.

- Early season trades are very risky and I would have to advise against them. If you are confident that you know what you are doing and are trying to pull off a steal, this is the perfect time as most players’ values are murky and you can potentially trade someone who’s starting hot but with weak long-term value for a player who’s a tier better, but starting off slow. The problem is that any such trade can easily backfire on you. Most of GMs are aware of this however, and will be reluctant to make any big deals, opting to wait and allow players to establish their values for current season. Also most people will like their teams after the draft and will be high on most of their picks even if those picks don’t pan out immediately, so that overrating staff (see the 4th rule in part one) is probably most evident at this time of the year. For all these reasons very few deals get done in the first few weeks of the season. Trades that do happen here are usually motivated with lack of depth on certain positions, so keep an eye out for owners that ended up with no reserves in some areas because you can negotiate with them from a position of strength.

- Trades involving players with “upside”. The Jameer Nelson example I gave you in the first part of this article applies here. People will be reluctant to trade these types of players. They’ll keep imagining the best case scenario for a player they are giving up and won’t be willing to trade him for a player with worse numbers then that, imagined best case scenario, even if his current production is nowhere near that level. On the other hand buyers will be reluctant to give up too much for “upside” alone. That’s why you won’t see many of these trades either, but where this can really hurt negotiations is in multiplayer deals where one GM is reluctant to give up a player with upside to complete an overall good trade due to fear that his “upside” player will miraculously turn it around and burn him after the trade. Keep in mind that most of those “upside” players never perform up to expectations anyway (Tyrus Thomas?).

- Two-for-one trades (or any trades that don’t involve same number of players from both sides). This is another type of trade that is difficult to pull off. Many of them qualify for the one-sided category. Most people prefer to get best player involved and are reluctant to take a trade like this even when it is good for them if they aren’t getting the 1-player side of the deal. A good manager can take advantage of this and try to trade his high pick big name player for two very good players, or one very good and one very underrated player, and pull off a steal though he is giving best player in the deal. What you have to keep in mind is that no deal is really 2 for 1 since the manager getting 2 players has to drop 1 player in order to create a roster spot, and the manager getting 1 player has to pick up another player off the FA list. This means that when offering a deal you have to consider who would be dropped by manager receiving 2 players and if you are receiving 1 player, who is available for you to pick up. Many people come to these kind of offers by basing them on one-sided 1-1 deals and adding a scrub from their roster to “make up for the value difference in that 1-1 base”. This is completely wrong and never goes through. Sometimes the throw-in scrub is even weaker then any player on the opponent’s roster who would have to be dropped, which makes the offer even more ridiculous. So logic dictates that 2-player side has to give up stats at least as good as 1-player side + the worst player on 1-player side’s roster and probably more due to getting the best player in the deal. Where 2-1 trades really make sense is in deep leagues. If you lose high pick due to injury in a deep league, it’s likely that your season is over, so some managers wouldn’t mind trading their stud for two good players in order to “spread the risk”, but the same rules mentioned earlier still apply.

- Sell high, buy low is a good way for a skillful manager to improve his team. He does it by continually trading players whose value has risen and/or acquiring players whose value has fallen. Of course you only do those trades if you believe that player on the rise won’t be able to keep up playing on that level for the entire season and if you believe that player who is falling will bounce back soon. That way you keep improving the overall value of your team and put yourself into good position for further trading. You have to be aware however, that this can easily backfire if you’re not the best judge of player trends. Every time you trade for a player whose value is falling you risk losing value if he doesn’t bounce back. This is not a strategy that I would advise to just anyone. I myself rarely attempt something like this because I’m not a big fan of taking risks.

- Trading for “hot” players is very tempting, because owning a late round steal who is outperforming many studs feels great, but also very hard to pull off without having to overpay. When you draft a player like that you’re not likely to easily give him up. Having a guy vastly outperform his draft position makes managers who drafted him very prone to overrating him based on his current performances. The advantage of the original owner is that while he wouldn’t mind selling high if opportunity presents itself, he has no problem keeping that player and enjoying his draft or free agent steal, so he is negotiating from position of strength. Buyers, on the other hand, often tend to underrate the same player and are not ready to accept just how much his value has increased, which makes this kind of trades extremely rare. Al Jefferson two years ago was a great example. He had few bad seasons at the start of his career and wasn’t even drafted in many leagues, but once he started realizing his potential everybody wanted to have him. Yet very few people were willing to trade a top 40 player for him though he was playing at that level, since it’s not easy trading your 4th rounder for somebody’s 10th rounder. Two years later he is top 20 fantasy contributor.

- Keeper league trades are not as straightforward as trades in 1-year leagues. Just like in real NBA, in a keeper league a GM can decide at certain point of the year that he has no chance of making playoffs and that it would be wiser to trade some players who are performing well but don’t have as good of an outlook in coming years, for young players that should improve over that span. Depending on the keeper structure these trades can look completely one-sided in year-to-year leagues, but still make perfect sense in keeper leagues. Before using a veto in situations like these, be sure to analyze the trade’s impact on coming seasons as well as the current one.

- Vetoes are very controversial issue. There are two most commonly spread views on this matter.
First one goes against using vetoes except in cases of collusion between managers because “it’s not up to you to protect anyone who’s making bad deals and hurting their own team”. The other one advocates vetoing a trade whenever it is one-sided enough to jeopardize the integrity of the league and grant any GM a huge advantage over rest of the league by taking advantage of a bad GM (I bet most real NBA GMs wish they could have vetoed the trade that sent Gasol to Lakers). As you can see neither of those two descriptions is too precise. Tools available to the commish to prove that a trade is result of collusion are extremely limited so the trade alone becomes main proof of it. On the other hand, where is the border between a really bad trade and the trade that hurts league integrity? I’ll agree with first group that it’s nobody’s concern to protect other managers from bad decisions, but I’ll side with the other on that it’s everyone’s concern to preserve league’s integrity. In the end it comes down to your own perception of the trade and if it is one-sided enough to be treated as collusion/integrity threatening. Whenever you are thinking of vetoing a trade, try to build a case to defend it first. If you can’t find any good arguments for defense, feel free to proceed with the veto, but if you do manage to find good arguments in favor of the trade, you shouldn’t veto, even if you yourself would have never agreed to it. As I mentioned earlier, various people have different perceptions of player values based on stats, injury concerns, targeted cats, play-off schedule, and many other factors so you shouldn’t dismiss deals too easily. Also bear in mind that if you become too “veto happy” and use it when it’s not appropriate it can come back to haunt you when your trades get vetoed as revenge. As for the matter of league veto vs. commish veto you should go with league veto in most cases. Commissioner veto is ok only if everyone in the league trusts the commish enough to give him that power and not be afraid he’ll abuse it.

Here are some additional words of wisdom. When you are initiating trade talks it’s not enough to just come up with reasonable offer and hope your opponent accepts it. Most people will opt to pass rather than risk getting burned, so you need to intrigue them with your offer and convince them that it’s good for them. That’s where sending comments really helps. Via comments you can state that your offer is open to negotiations, that you are maybe willing to include some other players as well and many other things that might help catch the attention of your opponent and get him actively involved in negotiations. In some of my leagues, GMs don’t mind if I send them a detailed explanation of why I’m proposing the deal and why I think it will help both sides. Whether they agree with my arguments and accept or reject, they appreciate me making the effort and trying to work out mutually beneficial deal. You can’t do the same if you are trying to rip somebody off though. As an initiator you rarely can negotiate from position of strength, so whenever that opportunity presents itself in the form of a non-ridiculous offer being proposed to you, try to take advantage of it by countering and initiating some real negotiation rather then just rejecting it without giving it much thought. One of the most frustrating things in fantasy basketball is to have the trade you put time and effort into get rejected without a word of explanation, so even if you don’t want to counter at least write a few words explaining why you are not interested.

In conclusion let me just say this: don’t let all the talk about fairness, integrity, and correctness in this article blind you to the fact that your main goal when trading is to improve your team and get as much value out of the trade as possible. If you can rob your trade partner and get away with it, more power to you, but this article was written for competitive leagues composed of clever GMs who won’t allow you to rob them. Following the rules and advices above will help you successfully trade in leagues, where deals that are mostly likely to get accepted are those that help both teams.

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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Trading – Rules of Engagement by Aleksandar Jovanovic (posted on 12/06/2008 in Articles)
Creating a Successful Trade Offer by David Vauthrin (posted on 10/16/2008 in Articles)
Down, But Not Out by Aleksandar Jovanovic (posted on 12/15/2008 in Articles)