Over the years, Anderson Varejao has been everything that the Cleveland Cavaliers have wanted him to be … except for healthy, and this coming after one of the healthiest seasons of his career. In 2013-14, Varejao played a whopping 65 games for the Cavaliers; a staggering number considering he was coming off three seasons in which he amassed a total of 81 games played (granted, this included the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season … but still).
A stat line of 8.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game last season is nothing to marvel, but these numbers don’t begin to show the impact that Varejao has had in Cleveland. Over his 10 years playing for the Cavaliers, Varejao has remained the consummate team player, doing anything possible to help the team win. From diving on the floor for loose balls, to battling opponents much bigger than himself for positioning under the hoop, Varejao has done it all. In some ways, it’s a wonder that he has remained as healthy as he has some seasons.
Through all of this, his numbers have remained consistent, and his name can be found all over the Cavaliers’ record books: eighth all-time in steals (496), eighth in blocked shots (376), fourth in total rebounds (4,122), eight in field goal percentage (.512), and an amazing ninth in games played for the franchise (527). All of this considering that he has only played an average of 53.4 games per year during his career.
If it weren’t for his health/injury issues, the Cavaliers would almost certainly pick up the additional year on his contract for 2014-15, at $9.8 million. Varejao is everything a young team like the Cavaliers needs: he is a veteran player, who has been a part of a winning team, has played in the NBA Finals, and helps to set a defensive tone (something the current team desperately needs).
But that is exactly the problem … he has almost always had the caveat of “if he wasn’t injured.” If he wasn’t injured, he would be worth the money he makes … but if he wasn’t injured, he would have ceased to be a Cavalier many years ago.
For years now, Varejao has been one of the Cavaliers’ top trade assets. Teams have called about him, and the Cavaliers have openly sought offers as well. It’s never been secretive, or discrete, as fans openly waited for the right trade to come along. The problem simply was that he was too injured. It felt as if during each season, just before the trade deadline, an ankle would give out … or a knee … or something else like a blood clot would end his season (January 2013).
Now, his contract is exactly the reason why he is unlikely to wear a Cavalier jersey next season. With a team option of $9.8 million for next year, he is effectively an expiring contract that can be immediately removed from a team’s salary sheet … it’s just unclear as to whether it will be Cleveland or another team that sends him to free agency.
The Cavaliers have been stockpiling non-guaranteed contracts like Varejao’s, for the express purpose of exploring the summer trade market. This was almost the sole reason that Cleveland signed Scotty Hopson this past season. In total, the Cavaliers have roughly $15.5 million dollars in non-guaranteed contracts, enough to make a significant trade if any highly paid All-Star becomes available.
Cleveland has no shortage of assets to include in such a deal. Between young players such as Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Tyler Zeller, and Anthony Bennett, and all of their own future first-round draft picks (including this year’s lottery pick), the Cavaliers have enough talent in place to make such a move happen … but without Varejao they wouldn’t easily have the ability to match salary in an appealing way.
If All-Stars such as Kevin Love or Roy Hibbert are made available, or Dan Gilbert can somehow convince LeBron James to return through a sign-and-trade, a $9.8 million expiring contract is exactly what will be needed for the Cavaliers to jump into the action.
Once again, it appears as if it is up to Varejao to make things work for the Cleveland Cavaliers … even if he is only making it work financially. Although his numbers won’t be enough to have his jersey hang in the rafters of the Quicken Loans Arena, his career as a Cavalier should still be celebrated by the fans … if only he wasn’t injured.