The Ultimate Guide to Making Succesful Fantasy Basketball Trades

The biggest problem I've found with managing a successful fantasy basketball team isn't with analysis of the numbers or projections of future play, but in how people evaluate and select trades.

I've played fantasy basketball for about a decade now, both in private, public, free and paid leagues. I've used several sources, from free rankings to paid insider information, and from podcasts to personal contact with experts.

And yet, the biggest problem I've found with managing a successful fantasy basketball team isn't with analysis of the numbers or projections of future play, but in how people evaluate and select trades.

On a base level, trading seems simple - try to swap players to improve your team. But the critical thinking and behavior that leads to successful trades go much deeper than this.

This article seeks to create a comprehensive guide to helping better your trade negotiations by offering proven principles for negotiations and trades.

Qualities of a Successful Trade

Is it wise?

First of all, a trade needs to be a wise choice. This is the part that the majority of people do consider. Does this trade make my team better? If so, it's likely the wise decision for my team.

Does it improve the relationship?

This is an often overlooked part of trades.

If you are in any year-by-year league, you mustn't create bad trade relationships with people. This means that win-lose trades in your favor are not always good in the long run. It may help you in the short-term, but it could also ice you out from trades with the player in the future.

Manipulating a fellow manager into believing something false (say, spending 20 minutes trying to convince someone that Kelly Oubre Jr will be a bottom 200 player all season), then boasting about the trade when he starts playing much better is incredibly damaging to your prospective future trades.

Contrary to this, leaving the other manager happy post-trade opens up a level of trust and comfort that can lead to future trades - both in the current season and in seasons to come.

An enormously important part of trade negotiations is your relationship with that manager, the trust level between you two, and your reputation overall. Trust me on this: Gaining a reputation as someone who always wins a trade is cool, but it obliterates your ability to make trades in the future.

We'll get more into why win-win trades are the best scenario later on in the article.

Offering Trades

Stop low-balling

Let's be honest: we've all sent a low ball offer before. Or, maybe two or three.

It's tempting to throw out offers where you're the clear winner and hope that someone accepts, and low balling someone in hopes that they bite can occasionally get you a great trade.

However, in an experienced league, it's not a conducive way to get trade negotiations going, and more often than not, it is directly harmful to your ultimate goal.

If there's a player you want, send them a decent offer that they can counter. You don't have to send outright exactly the trade you want, but you absolutely shouldn't send them an offer that they're going to reject immediately. Not only does this not create an open line of negotiations, but it also annoys opposing managers, who will be more likely to look at future trade offers you send their way unfavorably.

This is called the anchoring effect - your first trade offer sets the tone of the entire negotiations and future proposed offers. If you send them something they're quick to reject, they're more likely to reject trade offers in the future quickly. Send them something interesting, and they're more likely to find future trade offers interesting too.

Don't swing too far the other way

While sending a trade that the other manager accepts quickly is mostly good, minimal negotiations can mean that there was wiggle room that you lost out on. Though low balling will have a negative effect overall, working out a perfect offer isn't always the best move either.

The key is to find the sweet spot between low balling the opposing manager and sending a trade that immediately hits your WTP (willingness to pay).

Send an intriguing offer that opens up negotiations, and from there, you can increase the value of your trade until you hit the max you'd be willing to offer.

Prepare for the negotiations and analyze the results ahead of time

Leading from the last point, you need to have your WTP figured out before sending your trade offers. Figuring out the best offer you can make is crucial to successful trade negotiation.

You can do this by running the numbers - either by yourself or with an online tool like our fantasy basketball trade analyzer) or trade machine) - and checking how much each team improves and how much you improve compared to the rest of the league.

Once you've figured out your WTP, offer something a bit lower than that. The space between your initial offer and your best offer is where most of the negotiations happen, and the more you raise your offer, the more the other manager sees the trade in their favor.

For example, my best offer might be Rudy Gobert and Gordon Hayward for Zach LaVine and a filler player, but I might start the negotiations with Zion Williamson and Michael Porter Jr instead. Once trade negotiations open up, every piece I add to the offer makes it harder for the opposing manager to resist, making the trade more likely to happen.

Not only does this strategy make it that you can sometimes get the trade you want for less than your WTP, but it also makes it more likely that the manager will accept your WTP if it does come down to it. Otherwise, if you send your WTP in the initial offer, the opposing manager is likely to counter using that as a starting point, and you're outbidding yourself from the beginning.

Look at what the other manager needs

This is the essential part of sending a serious trade offer to someone. A real trade offer takes time to think about.

If you want a player, don't just offer someone you're willing to let go of for that player. Go to the other manager's team, evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, and offer them something they want.

Better yet, open up a line of communication and ask them what or who they want, and then try to work with it. In my experience, this is the absolute best way to create willing trade partners. If you're in a league that doesn't trade much, this is the best way to get the ball rolling. For example, you want Christian Wood, so you send an offer with Fred VanVleet as the centerpiece. Is it a bad trade offer in terms of value?

Probably not. However, if you look at their team and see that they also have Giannis, you might realize that they're punting FT% while focussing on FG%, making Fred VanVleet a terrible fit for him. Maybe they're lacking blocks or points, in which case an offer involving Rudy Gobert, Deandre Ayton, or Zion Williamson as the centerpiece instead would be much more intriguing to them.

This creates a scenario where both teams can improve by getting guys that fit their team needs better, with streamlined negotiations and less frustration overall. Analyzing your opponent's team and finding what they want out of a trade leads me to the final point on offering trades, which is...

Win-Win trades are the best scenario

Offer win-win trades. Stop trying to renegotiate so that you become the clear winner. Let the other team get better too.

No one likes to be on the butt end of a win-lose scenario, and experienced managers will be on the lookout for this. Trying to create win-lose scenarios ice out the negotiations and prevents trades from happening altogether - which means your team doesn't improve.

Don't be lazy; look for trades that make both teams better and then work towards making it happen. Even if the other team wins more than you do - it usually doesn't matter, as long as you get better.

Of course, the exception to this rule is if the trade makes the opposing team better than you. You don't want to make a trade with a person only for them to spank you in the finals.

However, if you make a trade with someone that gets them from the last place into the playoffs, while you just move from the third-best team to the second-best team, that is a major win (and this example is something that really did happen to me during a championship fantasy season of mine in 2018).

Evaluating Trades

Be aware of the Endowment Effect

The Endowment Effect is a psychological bias we have towards things we own. Basically, when we own something, we overvalue it based on our ownership. Your WTP (willingness to pay) for a player is generally going to be lower than your WTA (willingness to accept). While you would be willing to trade Butler for Turner, you likely wouldn't be willing to accept Turner for Butler. It's a behavioral phenomenon that we all fall into, whether we know it or not.

If you're about to reject a trade offer, always take time and consider whether you would be willing to make the trade in reverse. Evaluate the offered player(s) in their entirety: Are they just starting slow? Are they in a slump? Are they going to break out halfway through the season? What are the chances of that happening?

Analyze the offered players the same way you've already done for the players you have on your roster.

In fact, it can often be beneficial to leave a trade you're going to reject sitting there for 24 hours and come back the next day to re-evaluate. On the other hand, look at how you're overvaluing your own roster: What's their real potential? What are the chances they outplay their ADP? Are there reasons to hold onto them?

Always Negotiate

No matter what, always open up negotiations.

Even if you've received a trade offer you like, or someone agrees to an offer quickly, work with the other manager to explore other options. Make sure that the trade that's going to get accepted is the best option for both parties. Occasionally, you can find something that both managers like better. Quick negotiations aren't always the best. Only when you feel comfortable that you've spent time and done your due diligence should you pull the trigger.

Value vs Team Improvement

Here's something you'll rarely hear: you're probably too concerned with the objective value of the players you have.

What I mean by this is that you're probably so concerned with "losing" trades, that you often reject trades that would make your team better because you're concerned about the value you're getting in return.

Early on in the season, this is usually okay, but once you get about halfway through, you can all but throw value out the window.

The only thing that matters come playoffs is whether or not your team is more likely to win post-trade than pre-trade, not the numerical rankings of your players. Focus on improving your team and getting more wins. It is perfectly okay to make a 1-for-1 trade for a player that is 20 ranks lower than the player you're giving up. If your team improves, then it's usually a good trade.

The only thing you need to consider is...

BATNA

This is the most important part of evaluating a trade: What is your Best Alternative To the Negotiated Agreement?

BATNA is why I say to stop worrying about the objective value of your players.

For example, if you decline a trade that improves your team because you weren't receiving equal value, but you end up not making a trade at all or trading for a better player that improves your team less than the declined trade, then you made a bad decision.

If you get offered a trade that doesn't give you equal value, but it makes your team significantly better because the fits of the players you're receiving make the categories you're focussing on much stronger, then you probably should take the trade.

Don't worry about who's winning or losing based on objective value. The truth is that they might be getting the better player, and that's okay because you might be improving your team more.

The Negotiation Room

Communicate Directly

Talking directly to people (through phone, text, fantasy message, etc.) will lead to more productive negotiations than just sending offers.

It's easy for managers to press a red button when they see a trade offer, but it's much harder for them to ignore your actual voice or messages. People are naturally inclined to personal communication, and sometimes that can be the difference between a quick rejection and a solid trade.

Don't get frustrated

Frustration from a lack of progress can lead to you becoming less motivated.

While personal communication does help, it also makes rejection much more difficult. Though it's true that personal communication can be the difference between a quick rejection and a solid trade, it can also be the difference between a quick rejection and a frustrating, drawn-out rejection.

Keep your head about you and power on to the next negotiation. Understand that everyone wants to get better, trades are important for both sides, and fairness is often relative. If you need to, take a breather, figure out what went wrong with the negotiations, and how you can improve - then go back in for round 2 or move on to the next one.

Manage your expectations

Make sure that your end goal in a trade is realistic.

Don't expect a trade to take you from the last place to first place, and don't expect to improve in every category. You have to lose some stats to improve the ones you want.

An aspect of the Endowment Effect is overvaluing your losses, so try to look objectively and weigh what you're gaining and losing equally rather than putting more weight into the stats you're losing. This doesn't necessarily mean that you have to strictly be a realist, as there's a benefit to being optimistic, but setting high expectations will lead to a breakdown in negotiations and disappointment.

Make yourself likable

It is significantly easier to negotiate with people who like you.

Work on becoming people's friends, complimenting their players/team, point out their strong weeks, etc. to build trust with them. Kindness can go a long way. A simple way to do this is to be active in any group chats that your league has. Talk about the actual games. Let people become more familiar and comfortable with talking to you, and they're more likely to feel more familiar and comfortable with trusting you.

Ground your rationale

Use objective measures to build a foundation for your negotiations.

Fairness is subjective, but numbers aren't. Demonstrate why your trade helps the other manager. This means showing any numbers you've run, share trades using our trade analyzer, and explaining exactly how their team improves and why you think this helps them.

Don't just say, "dude, Ben Simmons is amazing, why wouldn't you want him?". Instead, take the initiative by proving the worth of your players and convincing the other manager of the trade's rationality for them.

This works especially well for stat categories that can be overlooked or undervalued, such as blocks or steals. If the trade takes them from 8th place to 3rd place in blocks, show them that (which you can do using our free league tools). It will go much further in convincing them than just promising them that the trade is right for them.

Conclusion

Use these tips to help you with future trades, both in sending out offers, evaluating the ones you receive, and using negotiations to work towards conclusions.

Trades are one of the most significant aspects of managing a successful fantasy basketball team, and probably the most fun part of fantasy sports. Use it to your advantage.

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