By Alex Barutha, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
One of the most exciting days of the NBA season, the trade deadline, is nearly here. With just over a week left until Feb. 9, the rumor mill is starting to overflow.
Trade speculation has its limitations in fantasy basketball — context is essential. For example, OG Anunoby is one of the hottest names on the block, but there's no reason for you to trade him if he's on your fantasy roster. Wherever he ends up (maybe still Toronto!), he will continue starting and be a defensive force. Any hit to his usage rate would be negligible, and speculation about that isn't worth a panic trade. Keep him and enjoy the fact you nailed that pick in the draft.
Other players have a higher chance of getting dealt and landing in a muted role — namely, veterans on struggling and/or young squads. That long and often-discussed list includes Jakob Poeltl, Bojan Bogdanovic, Mason Plumlee, Jordan Clarkson and others. It will be tough for you to find someone willing to take on the risk. You'll have to offer your league-mate a deal they can't refuse. But even if those veterans don't get dealt in real life, they may suddenly come up with an ailment or an aversion to back-to-backs as their team attempts to secure a better lottery pick.
The two most crucial waiver wire periods of the year are after Week 1 and after the trade deadline. You can take advantage of that by making 2-for-1 deals in fantasy, following up by being aggressive on the post-deadline wire to backfill your roster. Keep in mind that this strategy gets exponentially riskier the deeper your league is. Making 2-for-1 deals in an eight-team league is a no-brainer due to the wealth of options on the wire and the ease of streaming. Making 2-for-1 deals in a 16-team league opens you up to starting someone like Joe Ingles if a couple of your players get injured. But this 2-for-1 strategy only applies to managers in the bottom half of the league who need to take risks to climb the standings.
If you're someone who's near the bottom of the standings, consider taking a chance on these players that many fantasy managers would realistically be willing to trade:
Kristaps Porzingis, Wizards
Don't look now, but Washington is on a six-game winning streak and sits ninth in the East at 24-26. Don't let the Rui Hachimura trade fool you — this team is committed to winning ... roughly half their games.
Like most teams on the treadmill of mediocrity, the Wizards are practically never discussed in the media unless it's about trading Bradley Beal and blowing the whole thing up. But if you look, you'll notice Kristaps Porzingis is having the best season of his career.
The big man has missed just eight games (amazing for him) and ranks 18th in nine-cat per-game value. If I have Porzingis on my roster, I'm paranoid that a long-term injury is coming. I'm willing to cash out now and tell someone, "The crash is coming. You'll thank me."
You're the fantasy manager buying. Porzingis is producing at a level in fantasy similar to LeBron James, Fred VanVleet and Donovan Mitchell. But you'd have to pay up for them, and you're not in a position to do that because, well, your team is bad. That's why you're trading for Porzingis in the first place.
Porzingis is giving you a stat profile unavailable on the waiver wire. He's a big that's providing legitimate big-man stats but is also drilling threes and shooting well from the free-throw line. That's why they call him The Unicorn, and that's why you need him to mount a comeback.
Honestly, I have no idea what a trade structured around Leonard even looks like. But if Porzingis is a ticking time bomb, Leonard is nuclear.
The closer your rival manager with Leonard is to the top of the standings, the easier it will be to acquire him. They took their chance, it's paid off recently, and now they'll happily take a 2-for-1 offer. So, where do you start?
I would begin with a lowball in the category of "mildly disrespectful." Markelle Fultz and Ivica Zubac? Kevin Huerter and Cam Johnson? Spencer Dinwiddie straight-up? These offers might even be too much. Valuing Leonard is less like the stock market and more like buying modern art.
The point is: any reseaonable manager will see your offer and start negotiating because someone sent them a trade offer for Kawhi Leonard. Be persistent, offer them a couple of borderline fantasy starters, and see what happens. Leonard ranks sixth in nine-cat per-game production over the past month, by the way.
In an effort to not recommend trading for more injury-prone/aging ballers — because my line of reasoning for trading for Porzingis and Leonard also applies to Kyrie Irving, Chris Paul, Paul George, Draymond Green and others — I'm suggesting something different. There are a group of players that are in a gray area when it comes to their availability on the real-life trading block. Hield is one of them. This is also a great buy-low opportunity since Hield has struggled with Tyrese Haliburton out, and the point guard is hopeful of returning Thursday.
The Pacers are struggling without Haliburton and have slipped to 11th (24-28), but Indiana ownership doesn't like to tank, and they just re-signed Myles Turner. The bottom of the East is jumbled — they can still make the playoffs.
Hield is not on an expiring contract. He's owed $19.3 million next season. There's a good chance Indiana will hang onto him this year and see what's possible this season. It's a bit like the Oklahoma City Thunder's situation. Like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Haliburton is clearly a great player right now, and they're too good to tank now. Why not push for the playoffs and get their young players valuable experience?
The question is whether your rival manager with Hield on their roster feels the same way. They might think, "It's a seller's market. Indiana would be foolish not to see what's out there!" What matters is that they have a reason to mitigate risk, and you have a reason to take on risk. Hield ranks 55th in nine-cat, per-game value and is an elite three-point threat.