Heat moves might leave deep impact on fantasy game

AP Sports Writer

MIAMI (AP) — LeBron James might have been the most coveted basketball player on the planet this summer. It’ll likely be a different story this fall.

At least in the fantasy basketball world.

Sensing that James will be hard-pressed to match the stats he posted in Cleveland now that he’s around other star-caliber players like Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, fantasy experts say the Heat forward probably shouldn’t be considered the automatic No. 1 pick in drafts that’ll take place around the globe over the next few weeks.

In short, the NBA’s reigning two-time MVP might not be as valuable anymore in the stat-driven world.

“It’s the definition of watered-down when you take a look at it,” said Sergio Gonzalez, a fantasy analyst for CBSSports.com. “It’s the same thing that happened in Boston a couple years ago when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen went there with Paul Pierce. There’s just not enough stats to go around for all these guys, who are used to being ‘The Guy’ on their teams.”

Gonzalez’s site predicts James to finish with 21.3 points, 8.0 assists and 7.6 rebounds per game — great numbers, yet not at the clip of 29.7 points, 8.6 assists and 7.3 rebounds he posted with the Cavaliers last season.

Most experts agree, while James might be the league’s most dynamic player, Kevin Durant will likely be the No. 1 pick in the fantasy draft world this season. James is typically slotted in around the No. 3 spot on most draft boards, behind Durant and New Orleans guard Chris Paul.

On the day he signed with Miami, James said he couldn’t care less about his numbers.

Still, it clearly stands to reason that James’ statline will dip, now that he has Wade and Bosh alongside him.

“It’s probably not going to be as pronounced as maybe the conventional wisdom right now,” said Brandon Funston, a fantasy expert for Yahoo! Sports. “In the fantasy game, at least in the Yahoo! fantasy game, the standard is to use nine categories. I think the only one you really see going down is points per game. Maybe a few assists go down because he won’t have the ball in his hands quite so often.”

James left Cleveland after seven seasons and was the biggest star in a summer of stardom on the NBA free agent market, eventually choosing to join Wade and Bosh in Miami as the Heat engineered one of the most sizable offseason overhauls in league history.

The Heat made the moves, of course, to win a title.

Which raises the question — will James, Bosh and Wade be helpful or hurtful come fantasy-title time at the end of the regular season?

“If they’re geared for a championship, they win a ton of games and blow teams out, then starters get rested … you just don’t know what’s going to happen,” Funston said. “How good are they going to be? Are their starters going to be sitting in the fourth quarter? Come fantasy playoff time, will they be there when owners need them the most? I don’t know if there’s ever been a team with these good of players right in the middle of their prime.”

Either way, Gonzalez thinks fantasy basketball — which is growing — could easily see a big spike this season after the summer buzz.

“It’s going to open things up,” Gonzalez said. “We’re already starting to see people pick it up.”

Received 09/21/10 02:22 pm ET