On Tuesday, rumors began to spreadabout the Cavaliers asking around about trade interest for Anderson Varejao. There’s no indication the Cavaliers have any trade offers, nor is there any indication that they even want to trade Varejao. Just some empty rumors about the Cavaliers keeping their options open.
Cavs GM Chris Grant seems to be the kind of GM who likes talking to other teams and keeping a firm finger on the pulse of the trade market. As well he should. It’s important to know what kind of interest there is, not just for Varejao and other trade targets such as Sessions and Jamison, but for every player on the roster. The only way to make a fully informed plan on how to best rebuild this franchise is to know the value of the assets you hold.
But the rumor did raise an interesting and very difficult question. If there is strong interest in Varejao, would the Cavaliers be wise to trade him?
There are several different schools of thought on this issue. On the one hand, the Cavaliers have a serious lack of true NBA centers. Heck, even Varejao isn’t really a center. The Cavaliers are so short on centers they just play Varejao there due to a lack of other options. They obviously hope Semih Erden becomes a serviceable center, but he’s never going to be a franchise center that makes it ok to just get rid of Andy.
There’s no indication help is on the way, either. Just look at Scott’s last draft big board. The only center mentioned is UConn’s Andre Drummond. If the Cavaliers knew they could get the top pick again, maybe this would be an acceptable route. But you have to assume as the only potential All-Star caliber C in the draft that he will go in the top 3 picks. It’s tough to trade Andy with no guarantee of a top 3 pick. Beyond Drummond, you’re looking at players like Illinois’s Meyers Leonard and Florida’s Patric Young as the next centers on the board.
You could also argue that the Cavaliers are doing themselves a disservice putting themselves in position to draft a center when they so desperately need an upgrade in scoring and creating on the wings. SG/SF is such an important need for the Cavaliers, particularly someone to compliment Kyrie Irving, that keeping a proven quality center like Varejao might be warranted.
Another line of thinking says that Varejao’s trade value is as high as it will ever be. The combination of him being in his prime, having a decent contract, and playing for a bad team make him a prime trade target for other contending teams looking for the kind of intangibles Andy has proven he can provide on a Championship caliber team. Furthermore, some feel Andy will be too old by the time the Cavaliers are ready to contend anyway.
At 29 years old, Varejao is hitting the peak of his prime. There’s no question his production will begin to decline before too long. The question for the Cavaliers is how far away are they from contending? If we use the poster child Thunder as an example of best case scenario for building, they drafted Kevin Durant and acquired Jeff Green in 2007 and went 20-62. The next year they drafted Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka (who didn’t play that year) and went 23-59. The following year they drafted James Harden and Ibaka made his debut and the team made the leap to 50-32.
With Irving and Tristan Thompson in place this year, the Cavaliers are in year one of that rebuilding phase. If they are fortunate enough to have a high lottery pick and nail that pick as well, it would be similar to the Westbrook year. Then the following year they need to add another quality player or two in the draft to be ready for that next step. In a perfect world, that puts the Cavaliers in position to begin hoping to be a playoff team in 2013-14. Varejao would be 31 years old. If it takes a few more years for teams to go from playoff team to championship contender, Varejao would be 33-34 years old by the time the Cavaliers are fighting for a Championship. Remember, this is only best case scenario in which everything works according to plan. But in this situation, Varejao would indeed be hitting the tail end of his career.
If this is the Cavaliers’ line of thinking, then perhaps the setback in losing Varejao’s impact wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen to the Cavaliers. It could set them up to acquire good lottery picks in the next couple drafts where they could continue to add quality young talent to the team.
Ultimately, the decision may rest in what the return for Varejao is. The problem with trading him to a contender is that contender’s don’t have good 1st round picks to trade. If you look at the teams who have extra first round picks in 2012 to spare, you have the Bulls (who have the Bobcats’ pick, top 14 protected), the Celtics (who have the Clippers pick, top 10 protected), the Lakers (who have the Mavericks pick, top 20 protected), the Timberwolves (who have Utah’s pick, lottery protected), the Nets (who have the Rockets’ pick, top 14 protected), the Hornets (who have the Timberwolves’ pick, unprotected), the Rockets (who have the Knicks’ pick, top 5 protected), and the Jazz (who have the Warriors’ pick, top 7 protected).
The Cavaliers are simply not going to (or at least are extremely unlikely to) get a top 10 pick for Varejao. Which isn’t to say there isn’t quality outside the top 10, but it’s much harder to get a player back who will mean as much to the Cavaliers as Varejao does.
And therein lies the problem. Varejao is such an important player to Cleveland. He means everything to this team. He provides defense, rebounding, hustle, leadership….all the intangibles you could want in a player. He has developed a nice rapport with Kyrie Irving on the court. He’s an absolute fan favorite. If the Cavaliers could get a pick they felt confident would be a top 15 pick in this year’s deep draft, it would be tough to turn down. But realistically, I’m not sure that’s going to happen.
Even if Anderson Varejao is on this team in a few years and the team is fortunate enough to be back into playoff contention, there’s still value in the player at an older age. Playoff teams need tough veteran leaders. You typically can’t build just with youth. You need the glue, the veterans who provide leadership and a calming presence. Varejao has been here when the Cavaliers were an elite team. He has plenty to offer the Cavaliers in the future years no matter what the team’s circumstance may be.
Trading Anderson Varejao wouldn’t be an easy decision, and it’s decisions like these we should all be glad we don’t have to make. I don’t know what the demand for Varejao is. Teams aren’t going to give up top draft picks or even really good young players for a player who brings more intangibles than box score stuffing. But the Cavaliers’ front office has to always be cognizant of what is best for rebuilding this team. If trading Varejao were to yield pieces the Cavaliers felt would benefit the team strongly in the future, they have to consider it.
The last thing the Cavaliers need to do, however, is trade Varejao “just because”. Rebuilding is a fine art and it’s not all about young talent and draft picks. You have to build with veteran leaders as well. The Cavaliers don’t have very many players who can provide that role going forward. Jamison and Parker won’t be in Cleveland for long. Daniel Gibson could be one such guy, but he doesn’t make the impact on the organization that Anderson Varejao does. I could talk myself into either position on whether or not to trade Varejao. But deep down, as long as Varejao wants to be in Cleveland and is willing to accept that veteran leadership role while the team rebuilds, then I feel it makes the most sense for Cleveland to hang on to him.