Practices are typically a time of rest for Cleveland’s Anderson Varejao.
Earning the most playing time in his career to this point in the 2010-11 season, a team-high 32.1 minutes per game entering Sunday night, Cavaliers head coach has been taking it easy on his starting center when the team takes to the practice floor at the Cleveland Clinic Courts. But as their luck would have it, in what is slowly becoming a season to forget, Varejao would fall victim to a foot injury while running a non-contact drill during Thursday’s practice.
“He was just running,” Scott said before Sunday’s game against the Phoenix Suns. “Then he planted, touched the line and ran to the other end. And then he just buckled. I feel terrible because of the way he’s been playing.”
The way Varejao has been playing continues to be discussed by the Cavaliers head coach. Many thought that the scrappy, always hustling big man was successful only due to having a superstar player in LeBron James around to attract double-teams on the offensive end. With Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Shaquille O’Neal moving on, Varejao has been tasked with playing the starting center spot and has responded with career-highs in points (9.1), rebounds (9.7), and blocked shots (1.5).
Incidentally, Varejao’s style of play has lead to injuries in the past. In 2005, Varejao missed 32 games with a dislocated shoulder. In 2008, Varejao missed the entire month of February after injuring his left ankle. And just days before injuring his foot mid-practice, Varejao was fitted for a mask after he sustained a broken cheek bone in a game against the Charlotte Bobcats.
“The way [Varejao] plays, he’s bee injury prone,” said one league source. “Hindsight will be 20/20 on what [the Cavs] should have done with him, but this has all but assured them the worst record in the NBA.”
The Cavaliers, falling to 8-29 following the 108-100 loss to the Phoenix Suns, will be forced to turn the center position over to some of the younger players on the roster. With the 28-year-old, seven-year veteran Varejao done for the season, and fellow veteran Leon Powe out approximately six weeks following surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee, Byron Scott will counter opposing teams with J.J. Hickson, undrafted rookie Samardo Samuels (3.6 pts, 1.0 reb) and first-year Cavalier Ryan Hollins (4.7 pts, 2.4 reb).
As a center, Hickson has surprisingly faired a bit better than he does as a power forward. On the season, the 22-year old’s PER at the center position is 11.4, nearly a full point more than when the often frustrating big man is playing power forward. In his most extended run at the center spot for the Cavaliers this season, Hickson finished with a promising 23 points, 17 rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot against the Suns.
While Hollins is the lone seven-footer on the Cavaliers roster, his lack of aggression on the defensive end has forced Scott to use the center in only times of need. With Hickson and Samuels both measuring in at 6-foot-9-inches tall, the Cavaliers will often be undersized compared to the opposition. The Wine and Gold are already among the worst in the league in rebounding totals, coming in at 39.4 per contest, and are dead last in the NBA in blocked shots, tallying 3.4 rejections per game.
Though their biggest trade chip has taken a hit in value, the Cavs will continue to look to other teams to help fill their void at center. While the team passed on then Minnesota Timberwolf Al Jefferson this past summer, players of intrigue remain, including New York’s Anthony Randolph and Sacramento’s Jason Thompson.
In the meantime, the Cavaliers have lost 20 of their last 21 games and will pay visit to the most recent NBA champions this week in the Los Angeles Lakers. Oh, and Varejao’s first game-distributed bobblehead – with real hair – will be on March 8th.