Collusion, KATastrophe, and King James
Coach Thorpe, help me make sense of it all!
BY TRAVIS MORAN
Collusion has become a nasty buzzword in our time, but it’s common practice in fantasy sports leagues. (Hell, they even made an entire television series about it.) Coworkers, colleagues, alliances, and now family—honestly, my NBA categories league trumps them all.
My brother (a.k.a. Luscious Luka Triangle) has long railed against the ostensible collusion of our league brass: three managers who for years worked under the same roof. Any “legacy” status afforded former champions offers little besides open-season bitching about how often council members collude—and 99 percent of those complaints, justifiable or not, are issued by my brother.
This fact is crucial to the case I now present to the committee:
Monday, November 21, 8:16 a.m. ET—
Readying for a much-anticipated matchup with rising powerhouse and Excalibur Rookie of the Year favorite, Big Man Mafia, I plot a perfect 32-game week, fitted to our normal cap.
I schedule streamers—waiver-wire players I’ll likely swap out mid-week—like Cameron Payne, Larry Nance Jr., and Lonnie Walker IV. I’ll end up getting all of them exactly when I need them, too. I’ll even trot out Kentavious Caldwell-Pope twice hunting for team wins. (Still the dumbest category, but it’s Hamburger Hill for the powers that be.) All of these moves lead to Sunday thunder: six games featuring five of my best players.
East Harlem Hustle looks strong. I decide to chum the waters a bit and shoot Big Man this text: “Hustle is no easy matchup, buddy.”
Thursday, November 24, 10:43 a.m. ET—
I’m traveling to Thanksgiving when I notice Big Man has turned the tables on me, and I’m now down 7-4. No worries—all part of the plan. I have Sunday waiting, and I feel good about a 6-5 win for the Hustle.
Sunday, November 27, 3:08 p.m. ET—
“Watch your games,” warns Big Man Mafia.
In the Excalibur League, if a manager exceeds his games played, he owes his opponent money for the mistake. It’s fair: The result cannot be overturned. Once playoffs come around, the fine becomes something that coy managers might even invite: What’s 25 bucks when there are hundreds on the line?
Sunday, November 27, 3:09 p.m. ET—
I’m sitting on 26 games played; the Blazers’ game has already begun, meaning Josh Hart is locked in for 27. I have to scrap (a still-healthy) Karl-Anthony Towns, Evan Mobley, Franz Wagner, Kyle Kuzma, and Kyle Lowry.
My entire plan, tailored to that 32-game cap, has been firebombed by Thanksgiving chaos.
The public shaming begins in our group chat, led by you-know-who:
TRIANGLE: “What’s the penalty for playing too many guys now? Might need a ruling ...”
HUSTLE: “Was it always 27 games this week?”
TRIANGLE: “Sure was.”
TRIANGLE: “The 13-year-old had it figured out.”
HUSTLE: “Yes, he did.”
TRIANGLE: “Appears by the scoreboard Hustle might be a little desperate.”
HUSTLE: “Josh Hart about to go for 70.”
TRIANGLE: “Never know: Jerami Grant just got me for 44. And in case you were wondering, we waited all day to mention that …”
HUSTLE: “I wasn’t.”
TRIANGLE: “Very suspenseful morning at the Triangle/Mafia Co-Op. … $50 fine? Is that what it is?”
Of course, they had colluded. They knew I didn’t know about the 27-game week. My ignorance was their strategy.
Sunday, November 27, 3:11 p.m. ET—
He’s a young man of few words, my nephew—far more reserved than his father. So when he hits back, even via text, it’s a haymaker: “Hustle is an easy matchup, buddy.”
Big Man now has two signature wins and shows no signs of slowing. The first came against former top-of-the-table organization Trust The Process, a two-time champion whose current squad—Stephen Curry aside—seems destined for obsolescence. His latest win was over the reigning champion: my East Harlem Hustle.
Truth is, even if I’d had the ability to play out those 32 games, I would have lost this matchup, just not as badly. Big Man Mafia reaffirmed why 11 grown-ass men are worried: He is making shrewd personnel decisions and flashing real tradecraft. For a kid who won’t shave before LeBron retires, it was an impressive week.
As for my classic Travis gaffe, at least the mistake came early in the season, when it matters less. I’ll still have to hear about this Mafia win for years—right up until the kid wants graduation money.
And that brings us full circle to the idea of collusion.
You see, my brother’s “magnanimous” trade offers for Towns notwithstanding, he has never done anything to help me win a fantasy matchup. Last year, with both our teams in the semifinals and a potential all-Moran matchup looming, I offered him an even split of the pot. His response, to my best recollection, was: Fuck no! Don’t you want to win? (I did, and I did—just not against him. Needless to say, I hoarded my winnings.)
People also like to throw around the word irony, often incorrectly. For instance, that Big Man Mafia was conferring with Triangle during the pivotal days of our matchup is coincidental, not ironic. Now … the fact that my brother sussed out my smugness and then steered my nephew along a path that ensured my demise?
Never mind I’d also been around them over a week at this point: The subterfuge was masterful, and I applaud its execution. But let’s call this what it is …
You can judge for yourselves. I rest my case.
A major trade … right?
The manager of Triple Double—a very competitive team in our league—has an affinity for King James and targets him in every draft. I also know, from personal experience, he will hold onto LeBron despite lopsided trade offers to pry him loose. We even joked about it a couple seasons ago, with him telling me that even he can’t explain why LeBron has to be on his team.
So, just to recap Excalibur League favorites—
Trust the Process: Stephen Curry
Triple Double: LeBron James
Big Man Mafia: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (suspected)
Bias can become a black hole when it comes to superstars, especially if you fail to draft the one guy you have to have.
Once upon a time, the mere mention of LeBron switching teams would exacerbate league-wide fears. Nowadays, at least in fantasy leagues, it’s not if LeBron gets moved; it’s whether teams can deal with the plummeting value of his return.
Windy City Ninjas, irrelevant thus far, drafted LeBron with his second pick (15th overall and just ahead of Booker, whom I took at 16). Apparently, prior to this trade materializing, Triple Double had been priming the pump all year, even offering Rudy Gobert straight-up for James before the two managers settled on this:
Triple Double receives LeBron James and Norman Powell
(COMBINED: 40.6 points / 11.5 rebounds / 7.8 assists / 2.9 stocks / 1.0 team wins)
Windy City Ninjas receives Rudy Gobert and Kevin Huerter
(COMBINED: 29.7 / 15.2 / 4.1 / 3.7 / 1.1)
Gobert has been good, not great, from his normal fantasy perspective, but putting him next to Domantas Sabonis, Jaylen Brown, and Trae Young can’t be a bad thing. In 11th place now, Windy City Ninjas has a lot of making up to do. I’m not sure if this move gets him over the hump, but “Red Velvet” does look sweet, and Gobert might get a brief statistical boost from Towns’ injury.
As for Triple Double, Powell is probably a wash as far as Huerter is concerned (both players began the season on the waiver wire anyway), so the real upgrade is James. The problem is, he also has Anthony Davis; between the two, they’re likely to miss a ton of games. He already has Ben Simmons, James Harden, and Michael Porter Jr. out. Healthy, though—along with Julius Randle, Brook Lopez, and a sure-to-improve Jordan Poole—that’s a squad.
Normally, LeBron changing fantasy teams at any point in the season would be more eye-popping. He still puts up gaudy numbers when he plays; it’s just a question of how often he’ll be available.
Coach Thorpe, how would you rate this trade?
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