Sibling rivalry is no fantasy
The time for pulling punches has passed
BY TRAVIS MORAN
You gucking dope.
Sibling rivalry is often intense, always melodramatic. I’m five years older than my only brother, so coming up with new ways to inflict pain was my favorite chore. Whenever his arm would dangle from the top bunk, I’d yank him headfirst into the floor. We had to quit playing one-on-one football after I bodychecked him into the wall hedges and my mom had to pull a six-inch twig out of his eye socket.
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As we got older, things ratcheted up. Younger brothers also get bigger and have long memories.
One day, we stopped by our parents’ house to grab something. When I came out of the bedroom, he was lying in wait at the end of the hall with an air rifle trained on me like we were characters in “The Sniper.” The shot spun me like a flicked nickel, and today, a tiny ball of copper-coated lead slowly erodes within my throwing arm. (“I only pumped it once,” he managed through tears of laughter. No one ever fired that gun. It had probably been pumped 294 times before he shot me from spitting distance.) Mind you, we were by then well in our 20s. About a year later, he was visiting me at grad school and showed me a new folding knife he’d purchased. Now, whether it opened on its own accord when I tossed it back to him is still up for debate, but it indisputably stuck between his ribs like a dart for like six seconds before wobbling and falling into my floor. (When he complained and I said, “It’s not like I shot you,” he was … unamused.) But come between us … I once ate an entire bar of Irish Spring to spare my brother from that future fate. (Our mother, ever ahead of us, would counter with liquid soap.) There may also be one or a dozen times where he has saved me from the grievous bodily harm my own mouth could cause.
Trading barbs is nothing new; since the day my parents brought his ass home from the hospital, I’ve been saying his head is too big. My point is, though it’s all love, our most entertaining moments are often … adversarial.
It’s also impossible for either of us to imagine a situation that can’t be turned into a contest, and—once transformed—there must be an undisputed winner and a dejected loser. Dem’s the rules. There have been at least 10,000 head-to-head matchups across every sport or game we’ve been able to conceive; countless cuts and contusions (though the principal recipient did reverse about 20 years ago); myriad third-degree burns; and now 15 years of fantasy sports competition. Fantasy sports (baseball and basketball, for us) became a way to keep the flames of our lifelong rivalry burning.
Of course, I’m biased: He’s my all-time favorite antagonist. Still, when he called me a “gucking dope” this past week, the lack of autocorrect confused me. I couldn’t recall him ever throwing that particular jab.
Like broken wind, it was painless, yet somehow poignant, and it stung my eyes a little.
You see, our last update revealed that East Harlem Hustle (my fantasy squad) was putting first-round pick Karl-Anthony Towns on the trading block. Shortly after publication, presumably motivated by his unassailable desire to do a fraternal solid, Luscious Luka Triangle (my brother’s team) made a formal offer for the possibly available Towns: D’Angelo Russell and Paolo Banchero for Towns and Kyle Lowry.
Here’s a snippet of those negotiations:
HUSTLE: Would have been great if you had sent me that trade offer this morning, before we published.
TRIANGLE: Oh, I haven’t read it yet lol. Just saw the first paragraph or so.
HUSTLE: Paolo doesn’t fit my roster. I don’t want flowers. D-Lo.
TRIANGLE: Well, damn ... just trying to help a brother out.
HUSTLE: First off, I think Towns alone covers those two players since Paolo will likely be rested late.
TRIANGLE: Paolo fits any roster, you gucking dope.
HUSTLE: Not when I’m already trying to play four PFs.
TRIANGLE: And I’m excited to hear why they will rest their new 19-year-old superstar.
HUSTLE: Victor tickets—same as Shai.
TRIANGLE: Hardly the same.
HUSTLE: On your team, my main interest would be CJ ...
TRIANGLE: Might be able to work something out.
HUSTLE: Maybe ... As I told [Big Man Mafia], I’ve written myself into some corners here.
TRIANGLE: Write yourself out ... You have a degree in this.
HUSTLE: Would entertain a Wagner-for-Mathurin package.
TRIANGLE: Bet you would. Benny is currently involved in another trade negotiation.
HUSTLE: Oh yeah? Trading up, I hope.
TRIANGLE: Triangle always on the cutting edge.
HUSTLE: Wagner looked good last night; Shai looked twice as good.
TRIANGLE: You think I want three Magic players rostered? I have the two best now. It’s not working in Orlando. Doubt it works in Excalibur [league name].
HUSTLE: By the end of the year, Wagner is 18/5/5. I was hoping for 20. The problem in Orlando is the guards (my opinion). They need someone more solid and less chuck-y than Anthony, and I’m not sold on Suggs but experts like him. In terms of fantasy, Anthony and Lowry are about the same.
TRIANGLE: I don’t want any of those turds. Lowry was a throw-in to make the roster spots work.
HUSTLE: I thought we were talking about Orlando, in terms of fantasy assets.
TRIANGLE: We were, and somehow you included Lowry.
Triangle’s second proposal came minutes later. This time, he was offering CJ McCollum and Nic Claxton for Towns and Lowry—a step backwards. After a couple days of détente, he slapped a third offer on the table and this one had teeth: Clint Capela, CJ McCollum, and Bennedict Mathurin for Towns and Lowry. And here’s where the bias turtle starts to peek: I have to believe my guys are better or else I’m admitting to him I completely fucked up my draft.
“A fair offer,” I texted back, “but I just don’t think that Capela/CJ/Mathurin is better than KAT/Lowry/SF-I’m-not-playing in overall long-term production.”
“I don’t disagree,” he responded. “That’s why I made the offer.”
As far as getting one over on me goes, it was a worthy attempt: After a sluggish start, Towns has been fantastic these past two weeks and much closer to ninth-overall-pick value. And after wavering on Lowry, he’s been baking beans. As I said a couple weeks back, Towns looks like he short-circuits in this new-look Wolves offense. (Others are noticing, too.) Recently, though, he seems to be the only Timberwolf who has figured anything out.
Truth was, I’m thinking he should be more concerned about this:
Over the past two weeks, Franz Wagner has been quite good, giving the Hustle 22.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game. The Magic also knocked off the Warriors, Suns, and Mavs—good for three crucial team wins in our Excalibur League. (Over that same period, Mathurin averaged 19 points and 3.3 made 3s per game, and the Pacers went 3-1.) Wagner might be progressing more quickly than expected, and he’s starting to sniff that 20-5-5 line I envisioned when drafting him. One thing’s for certain: The fewer 3s he takes, the better off he is as far as the Hustle is concerned. My concern over Banchero sitting seems justified, but that probably means Wagner would suffer the same hit.
As of now, East Harlem Hustle sits in third place with a half-game lead over Luscious Luka Triangle. Last year, he won the regular season; I won the title. That’s an entire year of superiority—fantasy or not, it sure feels the same as it always did.
One thing that’ll make it hard to stay above my brother: East Harlem Hustle has lost Siakam, Cam Johnson, and now Bane—my top target in this year’s draft—who has been far and away my top performer.
To mitigate the first two losses, I plucked Kevin Love and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope off waivers. The pair has combined for 23.5 points, 10.7 rebounds, 5.2 made 3s, and 1.8 steals per game since joining the Hustle. Of course, the bonus value here was supposed to be team wins, but the Cavs just lost four straight.
So, when Saddiq Bey, who’s rostered by 79 percent of ESPN fantasy teams, appeared on waivers, I wondered how valuable he might be to a team in need of flash-in-the-pan scoring. With a roster spot open, I added Bey and immediately proffered him to another team for new TrueHoop darling Josh Hart.
I’d had my eyes on Hart as a valuable late-round pick during the draft; ultimately, he was selected by another squad (Lincoln Railers). As I’d hoped, Bey had a glittery night (25 points against the Thunder) to up his appeal, and a Hart-for-Bey deal got completed.
Here’s what the league cream had to say:
GOONS: Excalibur Trade Activity <THREE SIREN EMOJIS> Mark it for future discussion.
PROCESS: Bey was just on waivers lol. If you get a couple extra minutes today [Windy City Ninjas], show [Lincoln Railers] where the ‘add’ button is.
HUSTLE: Trash and treasure.
TRIANGLE: What a worthless trade! Those negotiations had to be intense.
HUSTLE: It wasn’t worthless for the Hustle. Important positional dynamics. But in terms of headlines, weak sauce. [...] I would like to thank Bey for a couple of strong games there while he was languishing on the Hustle bench. Clearly upped his value!
TRIANGLE: Nothing like trading waiver fodder.
HUSTLE: I prefer to call it Targeted Acquisitions Management.
PROCESS: Gotta be honest: When I saw Railers and Hustle had completed a trade, I thought it’d be much more harmful. Enjoy Josh Hart—he plays hard lol.
HUSTLE: You know, the thing is, I’m not struggling in points so much as rebounding. If I’m going to play a guy, I need him to fill a gap. [...] I see 8+ rebounds, 5+ assists, and 1.5 stocks, and a guy who's probably more valuable than Ben Simmons is (at least currently).
TRIANGLE: <VOMIT EMOJI>
HUSTLE: Simmons was the 41st overall pick—ahead of Ingram, Vooch, Barnes, Maxey, Wood.
TRIANGLE: <VOMIT EMOJI>
Before the draft, I had better projections for Ben Simmons (I’m sure Nets fans feel the same), but I had no intention of choosing him before the sixth round. He went in the fourth, right after my pick of Evan Mobley. Once considered a fantasy unicorn, Simmons has fallen into the waivable zone, where Hart likely would have been found in a 10-team league.
Aside from the extra 1.5 assists per game, Hart is clearly the stronger fantasy player—and all it cost me was a waived Saddiq Bey.
Going into Week Three, I was very concerned with my team’s rebounding and its lack of positional range. Because we offer SG, SF, G, F, and UTIL positions, players with both shooting guard and small forward eligibility are the most versatile. Hart checks both boxes. I’m happy to have him—and I couldn’t help sharing this with the group when I saw it post-trade.
On Tuesday night, Simmons shot the ball seven times, hitting five. He scored 11 points, grabbed five rebounds, and dished out three assists (two turnovers) in 20 minutes against the Kings. The same night, Hart scored just six points in 36 minutes, but he did nab seven boards, five assists, and three steals. The Nets lost; the Blazers won.
It’ll be a month before I can deploy Hart against the Triangle, but rest assured: He’ll be a hot topic either way.
Indeed, the past couple weeks have been sunny in East Harlem, and the team is generally trending in the right direction.
My draft strategy focused on three areas: rebounding, 3-pointers made, and team wins. Booker and Bane would be my shooters; Towns, Siakam, and Mobley would hold me down in the paint; Wagner and Kyle Kuzma (who’s been great) would fill in some gaps. I honestly had punted on assists during the draft, yet East Harlem Hustle remains among the league leaders (even with Siakam out). Our team defense is in shambles, and turnovers are my unintended punt this year. At 1.8 turnovers a game, Hart is now my safest overall option on that front.
How Hart helps me with Bane out, though, I have no clue. The assists should help, but with Bane and Siakam filling my two injured reserve spots, I’ll be down to 10 players for the foreseeable future (unless I drop Johnson, which I’m not prepared to do). Instead of choosing between players, I’ll be scrambling to get 32 games played. With two of my top-five picks down without a timeline, even splitting the next two matchups will be tough, especially with a surging Big Man Mafia lying in wait.
The pros and cons of legacy
Our league’s “Board of Directors” comprises five members—Goons Local (league founder), Trust The Process (commissioner), Windy City Ninjas (treasurer), and two Morans (legacies as former champs).
Though he’s my favorite (another of my biases), Luscious Luka Triangle is far from our league’s only trash talker. Trust The Process, in particular, keeps a mental log of any minor slight against the great Steph Curry in addition to any general critique. He’s also, when it comes to fantasy sports, the king of schadenfreude. When East Harlem Hustle lost Pascal Siakam to adductor strain, Process slipped in this nugget:
PROCESS: What? Oft-injured, notorious softy Spicy P is injured? Meanwhile, Zion is playing games … carry on.
We’re facing each other this week in a less-than-pivotal early matchup, but a fun one for shit-talking nonetheless. Rivalries are the best part of head-to-head fantasy play, and our league features a few years-long conflicts. And as much as I’d love to claim Process as my top rival, it’s impossible to supplant a brother.
Rivalries can ignite overnight, though—especially when you have someone stoking the flames. Triangle, as the league’s most outspoken critic and chief rabble rouser, will douse the dimmest ember with gasoline.
Last week, Big Man Mafia—one of our league’s expansion teams—bested Process, who’d also had a monster week from Steph Curry.
Triangle was quick to pounce:
TRIANGLE: [Mafia] celebrated club dub this morning. Nothing beats spanking a fantasy lifer.
PROCESS: Proud of him. Huge win.
TRIANGLE: Without Giannis? Sheesh <EXPLODING HEAD EMOJI>
GOONS: Dude about to weaponize Time Lord and JJJ real soon, too <WORRIED FACE EMOJI>
The verbal barrage has been picking up steam—thanks in no small part to Desmond Bane’s recent toe injury:
PROCESS: Down goes Desmond Bane! Process needed a break.
A few hours later, my brother jumps in:
TRIANGLE: No Zion tonight? Quick karma. <SHRUG EMOJI>
PROCESS: Except he was already doubtful lol. At least it’s not 2-3 weeks for the big, soft body.
HUSTLE: Right. That’s never been a concern for him.
PROCESS: Lmfao. Oh man, I knew I could count on you to call this out.
TRIANGLE: Just seemed ironic when I got that notification.
HUSTLE: Great content.
PROCESS: It really is. I’m enjoying it even though it hurts.
TRIANGLE: Personally, I’ve never been a victim of foot-in-mouth disease, so I’m just living vicariously over here.
Indeed. And does it really matter why he jumped in? Triangle is, if nothing else, a natural cheerleader—whether he’s backing his only brother or Big Man Mafia, his support goes beyond mere prodding. Triangle brass spearheaded the league’s expansion from 10 to 12 teams—even leveraged its success by ultimatum (expand by two, or reduce by one).
I have a ton of faith in my roster, but I have to admit: Big Man Mafia is going to be a real problem for this league. He hit the lottery and got Giannis with his first pick, then added (in draft order) Dejounte Murray, Bam Adebayo, Tyrese Maxey, Andrew Wiggins, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Anfernee Simons. Yikes! He’s been battling some injuries so far, but (again) he has Robert Williams III chilling as an injured reserve, and Jaren Jackson Jr., who had five blocks in his debut, has returned to action. I imagine he has been busy behind the scenes. Big Man Mafia has been known to be a trigger-happy trader; with that roster, he could destabilize the entire league with one impulsive move.
As much as I’d like to think it’s our bond that keeps my brother interested, I know Big Man Mafia is the only reason he still invests all the time, energy, and vitriol that fantasy basketball demands. For his sake, I hope the don doesn’t cross a line and lose his phone privileges when we face off next week.
Excalibur League has an in-person board meeting scheduled for Thanksgiving week, but let me tell you: The kitchen’s already getting haught.
Until next time, hustle hard!
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