Culture of Hoops

Why the Cleveland Cavaliers should finally trade Anderson Varejao

Image courtesy of Erik Daniel Drost/Flickr.

Image courtesy of Erik Daniel Drost/Flickr.

Ever since the big guy with the receding hairline, the all-world talent and a trunk load of MVPs left Cleveland in the summer of 2010, rumors have swirled about the potential trade of Cleveland Cavaliers forward/center Anderson Varejao.

Varejao, who is affectionately known as “Wild Thing” for his seemingly non-stop motor, penchant for taking charges and frequent floor burns is attractive to teams for two reasons:
1) He has what is essentially an expiring contract. Varejao is making $9.1 million this season with a $9.8 million team option in 2014-15.

2) In his 10th season, the 31-year-old is playing at a high level (averaging 8.8 points a game to go along with 10.2 rebounds, 0.8 blocks and a PER of 17.55). Andy V is widely regarded as one of the better defensive bigs in the league and he brings with him a wealth of playoff experience.

Why would Cleveland not want this guy on their team? Well for starters, Cleveland boasts a record of 16-33 and has lost six straight games. Entering the season with playoff aspirations, the Cavaliers have spiraled out of control and appear headed for their fourth straight lottery. With twice as many losses as wins, now is as good a time as ever to distribute Varejao’s 30 minutes a game to the team’s young frontcourt players. Youthful bigs Tyler Zeller, Tristan Thompson, and rookie forward Anthony Bennett can use as much in-game experience as they can get. With Varejao out of the picture, the Cavaliers youngsters will have room to grow in an otherwise lost season.

Over the last four seasons, Cavaliers coaches (Byron Scott and Mike Brown) have both publicly commented on their desire to hang on to Anderson in hopes that his experience, leadership and style of play would rub off on the young roster. After three and a half seasons that hasn’t been the case. While Varejao has been the same player when healthy, the rest of the roster (excluding Kyrie Irving) has been abysmal since their last playoff appearance back in 2010. Add to the fact that the Cavaliers still have battle-tested veteran Luol Deng on the roster, and the role of “positive influence” on the team slides to the former Chicago Bull, who was acquired via trade in early January. Varejao is a solid player on a team that’s going nowhere. But on a contending team, Varejao can be a difference maker.

The return value on the 6’11″ Brazilian will only lessen as time goes on. For the last few years Cleveland has reportedly turned down several offers for Wild Thing, ranging from first-round draft picks (Oklahoma City Thunder) to promising young players (DeAndre Jordan, Perry Jones III). With Varejao having missed a significant amount of games due to injury throughout the past two seasons and his physical style of play, Cleveland is unlikely to receive any assets close to the value that has been offered in past seasons. But, is something better than nothing? In this case, yes.

Some rumored possibilities for Varejao include a middle to late first-round pick in the 2014 draft or a lottery-protected first-round pick within the next two to three years. There’s also the possibility of adding a veteran wing (Celtics guard/forward Jeff Green was a rumored trade target early this fall), though that now seems unlikely after acquiring Deng. It would seem that with the Cavaliers on the fast track to the lottery once again, their target would be a first-round pick in June’s draft. At this point, if you can free up almost $10 million in cap room and gain an extra draft pick, there is no reason for the Cavaliers (currently 11th in the Eastern Conference standings) not to trade their longest-tenured player.

So what’s the hold up? As I mentioned above, for as talented as Wild Thing is, he has been injury prone over the last two and a half seasons. Complicating matters is the fact that a more talented player who plays the same position, with a larger expiring contract (Pau Gasol) is currently being shopped around the league. The Cavaliers would be wise to act fast and move Varejao as soon as possible before Gasol talks intensify around the league’s February 20th trade deadline. The fact that Gasol’s expiring contract ($19.3 million) is substantially larger than Varejao’s can be seen as both a positive and negative in trade talks. Yes, the team that takes on Gasol’s salary will see almost $20 million of cap relief this summer, but they will also need to piece together enough assets to fit Gasol onto their own cap. Varejao can be had for less than half the salary of Gasol and will not require as much in return. Oddly enough, as Fox Sports Ohio’s Sam Amico reported in early January, the Lakers asked the Cavaliers about acquiring Varejao as part of a trade package that would send Pau Gasol to Cleveland.

One thing is for certain: over the next two weeks we should see plenty of Varejao rumors across the blogosphere.

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