As the Cavs embark on the 2012-13 season, the debate over what to do with Anderson Varejao will only intensify. Martin Rickman wonders if there's one right answer.
No two-word phrase holds as much weight with Cleveland Cavaliers fans over the past two seasons aside from ‘The Decision,' but that's neither here nor there right now; LeBron James isn't on the Cavs, and this isn't about him. If you want my thoughts about LeBron, they're easy to find.
Back to those other two words.
Anderson Varejao is one of the most beloved Cavs since Mark Price. He is the longest-tenured player on the roster, one of the only remaining ties (along with Daniel Gibson) to the playoff teams coached by Mike Brown. He is athletic, extremely gifted defensively, especially on the pick and roll, is a talented rebounder and somehow he's still undervalued by most fans around the league.
But his team-friendly contract, age, and concerns about his durability lead us back to a question that has echoed in Quicken Loans Arena since the rebuild began: should the Cavs trade the Brazilian big man?
You'd have to be out of your gourd to trade Andy.
Are you kidding me? Trade a fan favorite and one of the few veterans on the team? He hustles hard, posted his best numbers through 25 games in the shortened 2011-12 season, and is an invaluable member of the Cleveland Cavaliers with regards to chemistry and mentorship. You can't discount the importance of a guy who does things the right way, can be a role model for a group of young bigs, and who can teach the team how to play the way Coach Byron Scott wants them to.
Varejao gets fans to the arena, gets the city (and by some measure, the team) excited with his play. With his contract the way it is, you'll never get a full return on any trade offer because what Andy brings to the game is often unmeasured in stats. Fans and executives outside of Cleveland don't realize the importance of a player like Varejao because of the uniqueness of his game. Heck, some fans even within Cleveland are prone to underrating the big man.
The center's contract is extremely team-friendly, which should help the Cavs make a push toward keeping their young players or acquiring assets through trade or free agency. They are in no risk of hitting the luxury tax ceiling any time soon and control their own destiny as long as they continue to make smart moves and draft picks.
Letting Andy play out his contract will leave him at almost the age of 33 before the team has to make a decision on picking up his option (which they almost certainly would), and he could have one more smaller contract left before retiring as a Cavalier. Players like Varejao don't come along often, and the Cavs would be foolish to trade him in hopes of landing a home run in the draft or getting back $.75 on the dollar when they already have a valuable asset in their control for the next 2-3 years.
Trading Andy is the right thing to do.
Let's face it. Varejao isn't getting any younger. And his contract has two years left after this season, the final year being a team option. If there is any time to trade him, it's now. The Cavs have one more lottery-level season left, and a trade of the second most valuable player in Win Shares on the team, while hurting the record in the interim, will only boost draft position on top of whatever trading Andy nets Cleveland.
Varejao is coming off another injury-filled season, and while the injuries have been different (fluke, even) in scope, they could be symptomatic of a larger problem -- the way Anderson Varejao plays basketball naturally leads to an increased potential for injury. He throws his body around without regard, goes as hard as he possibly can on every play, and when you start to get up in age, you just don't bounce back as easily from those bangs and bruises as you used to.
Either he'll have to change his playing style (which is arguably Andy's most important trait) or run the risk of getting hurt yet again. Having Andy on the bench for the second half of the season doesn't do the team any good if he's nursing an injury with the team already out of playoff contention.
The way I see it, Anderson Varejao is a Beanie Baby. He's cute, he's cuddly and he's extremely rare, so he's very valuable, especially to the ones who love him and take care of him. That said, there are people out there who do want the Wild Thing Beanie Baby. His value will never be higher than it is at this moment. He has three years left on his deal, making a very manageable $27.3 million over those seasons, including the team option in 2014-15. That's a very small price to pay for a contender or a mid-seeded playoff team looking to make a final push, needing a big man.
Just look at some of the deals offered around the league for productive centers. Even at 31 years old, that's a bargain, especially with luxury tax issues starting to become a problem under the new CBA. If the Cavs were inclined to take on a larger, longer deal to flip Andy, they could acquire a nice player (even if he is overpaid), as well as a good haul of picks and/or a young talent. When you're rebuilding, any chance to expedite the process is one you have to consider, and I believe Chris Grant knows that.
Plus, this Beanie Baby's bidding could go down after this season. What if Andy hit his peak before the injury a year ago? What if the signs of decline come more quickly than expected? What if he gets hurt again? These are things you don't like considering, but you have to face. Let some other team cherish the joy of owning their very own floppy-headed plush toy, and reap the rewards.
Let's not forget there is a stable of young bigs behind Andy on this team. While Varejao offers the best chance at winning right now, his 30-plus minutes a game ultimately hurt the evaluation of players like Tyler Zeller, Tristan Thompson and to a lesser degree Jon Leuer or Samardo Samuels. These guys, while unseasoned, need to get critical game time as the coaching staff and front office seek to find the right fit in the post.
We know what Andy can bring, and you don't pay a guy $8-9 million to sit him, but while the pain would be more in the short term, the potential benefits are much greater if the young guys get as much game time as possible. We saw some growth out of Thompson near the end of the season, and a lot of that can be attributed to increased minutes. There's a comfort level in knowing you're going to be on the floor for an extended period of time.
So what now?
Chris Grant is no stranger to fielding calls or making deals. He's come out and said teams are constantly inquiring about the availability of Varejao. And why wouldn't teams come calling? He's productive, cheap and a good clubhouse guy. But Grant is no fool; he's not going to trade a borderline All-Star and fan favorite just to make a deal. The team is rebuilding, but veterans are important (regardless of what side of the fence you fall in that argument), especially ones who set good examples on the floor and post quality metrics.
Either the Cavs will be blown away by an offer and they make the deal because Grant sees a chance to improve the franchise for the future, or they stand pat, holding onto one of the most popular players to don a Cavs uniform in recent memory. Regardless, the problem of what to do with Anderson Varejao continues not to be a problem at all.