Friday, February 10, 2012

Andy Varejao decision a hairy one for Cavs

Most of the focus on last year's Cavaliers was on the one player who wasn't with the team anymore. Understandably so, as the "Cavs without LeBron" storyline had a 2+2=4 simplicity that was easy for the national media to digest.
The loss of Anderson Varejao to a season-ending ankle injury was not quite as sexy, but in hindsight that injury had a huge impact on a season in purgatory. If That Guy in Miami (TGiM) was the Cavs' body, Varejao was the heart that kept its blood pumping.

This year's surprising team, now a year past its LeBron hangover, is infused with the fresh talents of an electrifying rookie, improved play from the bench and a coach who seems to be squeezing every last drop of ability out of an on-paper middling roster. What hasn't changed is the importance of having the mop-haired Brazilian on the floor every night.
Varejao is the crazy-straw that stirs the Cavs' drink, a walking bottle of Jolt Cola, the kind of guy you love if he's on your team but hate if he were dressed in an opposing uniform
His numbers this year - about 11 points and 12 rebounds per - are both career highs, while his intangible energy mirrors a squad that makes up in hustle for what it lacks in talent.

Varejao's trade value, meanwhile, has probably never been higher. He's 29 and comes with a reasonably friendly contract (at about $7.7 million this year), meaning the Cavs wouldn't have to take a fat deal in return. It's unknown exactly what kind of assets Varejao would accrue, although a first round pick and/or a young player would probably be the best the Cavs could get.
The point seems to be moot at the moment. According to ESPN's Marc Stein, Varejao's recent play has made him virtually untouchable. This puts the Cavs in an interesting dilemma. Thinking with your head and not your heart,  you have to wonder if Varejao is the type of guy who can maintain this level of on-court ferocity in three years, when, if everything else goes perfectly, the Cavs may once again be serious playoff contenders.
Varejao is a tick from the big three-oh and throws himself around the court like a maniac. Can he sustain that level of punishment, perhaps a Dennis Rodman with better offensive skills but without the cross-dressing and cameraman-kicking? Why not? Hell, Rodman averaged 15 rebounds a game at age 36 for the 97-98 Bulls, and was a huge reason Chicago was able to finish off its second three-peat of that decade.
Of course, Varejao's unique talents are not an end-all for the Cavs. He's certainly not going to be a second banana to Kyrie Irving. The sidekick Irving needs is still in college. In theory, trading Varejao now (along with Antawn Jamison and perhaps Ramon Sessions) would submarine the season but give Cleveland a better chance in the lottery.
Still, this year's draft is deep enough where a guy like Ohio State's Jared Sullinger, a certain top-5 selection in 2011, could potentially fall to the 10th or 11th pick in 2012. And from a practical standpoint at least, there are so many bad teams this year, it's hard to imagine the Cavs being able to out-suck the competition for a high lottery slot. Why not let Andy bounce around like Tigger and help the team sneak into the playoffs, then? "Four days in April" could have the same impact on Kyrie Irving as it did on Derrick Rose, after all.
It's a difficult decision, and perhaps the most important one to date for GM Chris Grant. The Cavs are a franchise just beginning to rebuild. Perhaps Varejao can still be part of that foundation.