Early watch list in new hoops season

These real-life NBA trades are kind of ridiculous. I'm not talking about the endless, incessant Kobe Bryant rumors (just deal him already!), but these minor deals that keep showing up. David Wesley got sent from New Orleans to New Jersey for two players, and any minute now he'll be relegated to the New Unemployed Line when the Nets cut him. The players he was dealt for have already been cut. Also, some of the guys in the big Ricky Davis-to-Miami deal don't have jobs, or won't soon. Imagine a fantasy trade in which both owners just cut the players right away. What's the point?

Well, in the NBA the point is salary cap relief and roster space. In fantasy we want players and their stats. If we want to dump a salary, well, we just cut the guy or trade for a better salary. There's always someone buying.

What does this have to do with fantasy? We're certainly not recommending you own David Wesley or Wayne Simien, but the Lakers' Bryant is clearly and annoyingly on the trade block, and in order to make any deal with him, we're likely to see players included into deals just because their salaries match up.

Trades aren't this meaningless in the NFL or Major League Baseball. Sure, we don't go nuts in the fantasy world when something like Michael Bennett moving to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers happens, but it's minor and it matters. In baseball, even when the most obscure of minor leaguers moves on, there could be repercussions down the road.

So what do I make of all these Bryant rumors? As you might have guessed, I'm not a big fan of them. Sure, he's a great player, and my preseason No. 1 in fantasy -- though I've since moved him down to No. 3 -- but will his stats look any different if he calls home Chicago, Dallas or somewhere else? It's possible they will, and that could certainly affect how you proceed with drafts or potential trades. It will more likely affect those around him, especially Andrew Bynum, who is one of the players I'm watching closely this first week of the season.

I don't think Bryant's game will be vastly changed with all the unhappiness in his life, but Bynum's could. The kid turned 20 years old three days ago. On the current Lakers team, Bynum looks like a moderate sleeper to break out. Put him somewhere else and his value could go up or down. Leave him where he is, but subtract Bryant, and who knows what happens. Bynum put up interesting stats this preseason, averaging 12.7 points and 7.9 rebounds, with the requisite blocks and field-goal percentage we demand. I'll take the under for those stats in the regular season, but there's little question Bynum will emerge at some juncture.

OK, week 1 is here. Who are some other players I am watching this week?

&#8226 Kevin Durant, Sonics: I ended up with the league's top rookie in a few drafts, because I believed he was undervalued. I saw one projection for him that was in the 15-point, 5-rebound range. C'mon, that's all! I'm thinking he scores 20 a night and hauls in at least seven boards. The field-goal percentage is a bit of a concern, even more so now that he's dealing with a sprained ankle, but I think we've got something special here. Durant opens on Halloween at Denver, and the next night he faces the Suns. It's really a shame he's going to be at least partly handicapped by the ankle, because he'd be able to score on those teams. If Durant plays poorly, or shoots like 5-for-20, pounce in trade talks. You want him. If he plays well, then maybe I'm underrating him.

&#8226 Samuel Dalembert, 76ers: This underrated center -- that's right, he wrote underrated -- is still dealing with soreness from a stress fracture in his left foot, and while he has practiced the past few days, I'm very skeptical this is going to end well for Sammy or his owners. It's a shame, because Dalembert did play in all 82 games a season ago, registering career bests in scoring, rebounding and, not to be forgotten, shooting. Still, some complain that he doesn't score enough, or block enough shots. He's getting there. However, I don't know if he gets there this season because of the foot injury and the fact many observers believe the 76ers are the worst team in the East. If that's the case, why abuse poor Sammy if playing him could lessen the number of bouncing balls in the lottery? Rookie Jason Smith is the name to know here. He's big enough to play center, but from watching him this preseason he can't defend other centers. In fantasy, he could deliver 12 points and seven rebounds, and he's out there in so many leagues.

&#8226 Charlie Villanueva, Bucks: I don't have much doubt the guy can score, but the fact he's going to come off the bench for Milwaukee, rather than start at power forward, might be scaring fantasy owners away. Who is going to score more this week, and beyond, Villanueva or rookie Yi Jianlian? I'll take Villanueva, and not only in deep fantasy leagues. The one thing that worries me about him is the durability, but it seems to me he's a decent scorer you can still get off free agency. It should be interesting watching him this week coming off the bench. A year ago, in a small sample size because he played in only 39 games, Villanueva had far better numbers as a starter.

Your thoughts

Bob (Chicago): "Eric, I'm always willing to find diamonds in the rough, or hopeful that injured players (with some statistical dominance) can put up a productive season. Hear me out. Is it wishful thinking to target Peja Stojakovic as a cheap source of treys knowing he might only play 60-65 games this year? This is among the issues I'm contemplating. Thanks."

Eric: I admit I did not draft Peja in any leagues this season, because I want to at least attempt to draft durable players, but I would have taken him as a late sleeper. The problem is, there was always someone in the drafts selecting him too high. Peja did not shoot well this preseason (.394 FG), nor did he even show a glimpse of trying to rebound (1.3 per game), and since shooting is his main asset, and rebounding never was, that's a problem. I actually ended up with Morris Peterson on a team, very late and in a deep league, figuring he'd gain from Peja missing time. We'll see. I have a feeling this won't go so well for Peja or his owners, as well.