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One of my Twitter followers has been asking me all week about the NBA trade rumor mill and whether he should make any moves based off of the rumors (@ProfessorDrz, follow me). Speculating on the rumor mill is always extremely risky, because if you bank on a trade happening and it doesn't, you could very well end up with much less value than you had anticipated. That said, if you can buy low on a player pre-trade and the trade happens like you hope, it can obviously give you great value. It's a gamble and one that is only worth entertaining if you have a certain risk/reward ratio.
If your team is strong and you are competing for the top spot in your league, there's really no reason for you to risk speculating on rumors. On the other hand, if your team is in the middle of the pack and can only get back into the mix if you start hitting home runs, then this section is for you.
The key to rumor mill speculation is to a) identify players that are likely to be moved, b) find the teammates that would most benefit from that player's departure, and c) acquire those teammates at current value before they get the post-trade boost. You can also try to identify which players would have their value increase if they were sent to another team, but this is more difficult as often there's no way to know whether a new team would be a help or a hindrance. So here, I'll stick to the first approach. Let's look at four situations where a player is in the trade rumor mill, project how likely a potential trade might be, and identify who benefits most if the trade happens.
Jazz trade: Paul Millsap
Odds of trade: 60%
Beneficiaries: Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Al Jefferson
This is the potential trade that makes the most sense for the team and yields the players with the most to gain. The Jazz have four starting-caliber big men in a league where many teams barely have one. While any of the four could be moved, Millsap seems the most likely because he has value as a proven productive player, but he doesn't have the upside of Favors. A Millsap trade might slightly help Jefferson, but the biggest projected winner by far would be Favors. Favors has legitimate star quality, and could blossom into an impact roto producer if given consistent starter minutes. Kanter has also shown signs from the bench, and trading Millsap without getting another big back might allow Kanter to start getting note-worthy minutes.
Hawks trade: Josh Smith
Odds of trade: 60%
Beneficiaries: Al Horford, Zaza Pachulia
This potential trade also seems likely (see note on Josh Smith in Around the NBA section). Unlike in Utah, however, there aren't any top-3 NBA lottery talents just waiting in the wings for a trade to happen to explode. This trade could be good for Horford because it would let him move back to his natural power forward slot and would also make him the first option for offense in the Hawks' frontcourt. Pachulia has shown over the last couple of years that he can be very productive as a starter. This year Pachulia is averaging nine points and nine boards as a starter, and a nightly double-double threat would have value in most leagues.
Lakers trade: Pau Gasol
Odds of trade: 35%
Beneficiaries: Dwight Howard, Antawn Jamison
The Lakers have insisted all season that they don't plan to trade Gasol, but to my eye, he remains the piece that just doesn't fit. The Lakers could really use another dynamic wing, and Pau and Howard just seem to get in each other's way on the court. Swapping out Gasol seems like the best move for all involved. If it happens it should be a benefit to Howard, as he could move back to the block more consistently while also grabbing a lion's share of the boards. Jamison is the player that could gain the most, though, because if he moved into the starting lineup as the stretch four on a Mike D'Antoni team, averaging 16 points and seven boards with two treys per game would be a reasonable expectation.
Kings trade: DeMarcus Cousins
Odds of trade: 10%
Beneficiaries: Jason Thompson, Thomas Robinson, James Johnson
A few weeks ago, Cousins was one of the more popular names in the trade rumor mill, but I just can't see him getting moved. With the Kings apparently trying to sell the team, it makes no sense for them to trade their best and most dynamic selling point. Cousins is volatile, but he's also young and big with proven talent, making it unlikely he'd be moved just before a team sale. That said, if Cousins is moved, it would be another rather low impact situation. It would give Jason Thompson more minutes, and Thompson is historically a double-double threat when starting. The more intriguing possibility is increased minutes for lottery rookie Thomas Robinson, who thus far has had a rookie year resembling Derrick Williams' efforts last season. This isn't good, but Robinson also hasn't gotten much playing time. If Cousins gets moved, that would open up some space for him.
Around the League
Paul's knee: In the XM/Sirius experts league, my team has been struggling this week with Chris Paul on the shelf. Paul has a sprained knee that has kept him shelved for the past three games, and he is listed as day-to-day moving forward. He should return to action soon, but with his history of knee trouble, this is worth keeping your eyes on if you're a Paul owner that's relying on his production moving forward.
Curry's ankle: Speaking of injury risks, just two weeks ago I wrote, "As the calendar flips to 2013, Curry has moved back into my top-10 by finally staying healthy and living up to his potential. With the possible exception of Chris Paul, there isn't another point guard I would rather have on my team right now than Curry." When I wrote that, my editor sent me an e-mail that said, "You realize that by pointing out how healthy Curry is, you've doomed him. Dude is going to end up breaking his ankle this week.†" Well, Curry made it through that week, but two weeks later he's back on the shelf with a sprained ankle. Warriors coach Mark Jackson insists that he is not concerned and that Curry will return soon, but with his injury history, and the fact that he had just sprained his right knee before aggravating the ankle, one can't help but be concerned. The universal fear that his ankle instills means that Curry's trade value is at a low, so you won't be able to trade him for comparable value right now. On the flip side, if you're desperate for talent and you're willing to roll the dice that he'll bounce back, this could be the time to start putting feelers out to the Curry owner in your league.
Disgruntled Smith: Josh Smith was suspended by the Hawks for Wednesday's game for conduct detrimental to the team. The speculation is that this stemmed from an incident in practice, but that wasn't confirmed. What was confirmed is that Smith will be a free agent this summer, and that his agent has been speaking with Hawks ownership about Smith's frustration with the team. Smith is a popular name in the trade rumor mill, and the events of this week only increased the speculation that he could be on the move.
Thompson Rising: Everyone remembers that Kyrie Irving was the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft for the Cavaliers last season. Few remember, however, that the Cavs had a second top-5 pick in that draft: Tristan Thompson. Thompson had a pedestrian rookie season, then was hidden at the start of his sophomore campaign by the early brilliance of Anderson Varejao. Varejao's injury has opened the door for Thompson to shine, and he's taking advantage of it. Thompson has double-doubles in 10 of his last 15 games, regularly pulling down the 14 and 15 rebound games that were becoming Varejao's calling card. He's a foundation piece on a bad team, and some question whether Varejao has played his last game in Cleveland even if he's able to return from his injury this year. I'm bullish on Thompson's potential for the rest of this season.
Javelevator in basement: Michael MacNeill (@wizmasta) tweeted me the question, "Hey Professor, Is Javelavator even worth rostering? #Frustratedbyfreakofnature" It raises a good point: Is JaVale McGee worth holding on to? He's still averaging 10 points, five boards, and two blocks on the season, but over the last couple of weeks, those numbers have dropped under eight points and four boards in only 19 minutes per night. He's still getting his 1.6 blocks even over that stretch, but he's purely a 20-minute bench player at this point. In deep leagues, or if you have a squad good enough to wait on upside, or if you're just desperate for blocks, then it could be worth it to keep McGee. But if you're like most of us, trying to maximize your day-to-day production on teams that already are fighting off injuries to starters, it is hard to justify keeping a deep bench player on your squad. McGee could flip the switch and average a double-double with three blocks for the rest of the season, and it wouldn't surprise me. But few of us can afford to wait on maybes, so you'd be perfectly justified to cut him loose.
Rubio back in starting lineup: Ricky Rubio returned to the starting lineup for the Timberwolves on Thursday night, scoring four points with six assists and a steal in 27 minutes of action. Not exactly world shattering numbers, especially considering that co-point guard Luke Ridnour scored 21 points with five assists and four boards in 34 minutes. Nevertheless, Rubio is Minnesota's franchise guard, and his move back to the starting lineup, and ultimately to starter's minutes, should eventually pay dividends for those hoping to see the impressive numbers that Rubio was producing as a rookie.
Jarrett Jack (50% owned in Yahoo! leagues): Jack has spent time in this space already this season for being such a strong sixth man. The Warriors have had a lot of success with Jack and Stephen Curry on the court at the same time, which has given Jack plenty of minutes. Jack gets a boost in value for as long as Curry is out with his sprained ankle, and with Curry's injury history, Jack could very well be called upon to be a long-term starter at any time.
Amir Johnson (46% owned): Johnson has been getting starter's minutes of late, and he has responded by averaging almost a double-double with almost three combined steals and blocks for the last two weeks. He has always had the talent but has had trouble maintaining consistency for long enough to be relied upon in most standard fantasy leagues. Johnson's rise has corresponded to the Raptor's improved play, and despite being an eight-year vet, he is still only 25 years old. Maybe this is finally the hot streak that sticks.
Wilson Chandler (42% owned): Chandler has returned from his hip injury, but he is still battling the injury. As such, he played two games (averaging 13.5 points with six boards and 2.5 assists in only 20 minutes per game), then sat out a game. Barring a setback, though, Chandler still obviously has the talent and should increase his minutes enough to regain roto relevance as the season progresses.
Antawn Jamison (27% owned): Last week I planned to have Jamison in this spot. Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, and Jordan Hill had gone down a couple of games before, and I had assumed that Jamison would be the one to reap the benefits of expanded minutes and role. Instead, Jamison had back-to-back meh single-singles prior to me submitting the article, and I had to wonder if Jamison had either completely lost it and/or if he were in coach Mike D'Antoni's doghouse to the point that he just wouldn't get the playing time to produce. Instead, I talked about Metta World Peace doing well in his extra minutes at power forward. Since then, Jamison has four straight double-digit scoring efforts, including one 19-point/10-rebound double-double and eight treys in the last three games. I still maintain that Jamison is the ideal D'Antoni power forward: undersized, natural scorer, long-range shooter, and that, if he stays in the coach's good graces, he should produce even if Howard and Gasol are available to play.
John Henson (7% owned): Henson has drawn attention among my Twitter followers this week with five double-digit scoring efforts and three double-digit rebound efforts in the month of January despite playing only about 15-20 minutes a night. He's young, a late-lottery rookie that was expected to be a bit of a project, but he's already showing he can produce in Milwaukee. There's a glut of power forwards in Milwaukee, but the rookie could continue to build a larger role as the season progresses.
Keeping up with the Professor
If you're interested in my takes throughout the week, you can follow me on Twitter @ProfessorDrz. Also, don't forget that you can catch me on the radio on RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today with Chris Liss and Jeff Erickson on XM 87, Sirius 210.