Whatever playoff hopes the Cavaliers had, losing Anderson Varejao to a wrist injury has dashed them considerably. It’s such a shame, as Anderson was having his best season and was finally getting some recognition for his invaluable contributions. But even in their best-case-scenario, these young Cavaliers had such a slim margin for error. Cleveland is a top heavy team with a decent, if unspectacular, bench and some aging pieces. For the Cavs to make the playoffs, a lot of things would’ve had to gone right and broke their way.
Things have not gone right.
Personally, I was against the idea of the Cavs making the 8th seed (as much as I’d have enjoyed a showdown with LeBron’s Heat, that wasn’t going to end well for Cleveland fans), but I was interested to see how this young team would’ve handled itself down the stretch. Would the Cavs have made a dumb trade for Chris Kaman? Would Byron Scott have increased Kyrie Irving’s minutes? Would Antawn Jamison have played defense at any point of the season? If the Cavs were in playoff contention, would they have still looked to flip players like Jamison and Ramon Sessions (both of whom won’t be back next year)?
Anderson Varejao’s injury makes all of this speculation moot.
Even as a guy firmly in the “the Cavs need to be drafting high in the 2012 lottery” camp, losing Andy still hurts. While Varejao was their biggest and best trade asset, I was fine with the Cavs holding on to him (mostly because I wasn’t a fan of many trade scenarios). It’s hard to find size in the NBA, hence why big men are habitually overpaid and stiffs like DeSagana Diop, Michael Olowokandi and Hasheem Thabeet are routinely picked high in the draft. I just don’t see how Chris Grant would’ve gotten equal value for a super role player like Andy (not to mention the issue of trading a legit NBA big man without having a replacement ready to step in).
Having Varejao on the court gives Coach Scott a perfect example of how to compete at the NBA level. With Varejao injured, the Cavs are not only without their best big man but also their best veteran leader. Sure, Jamison and Parker are still around, but their “locker room” leadership is of a different variety than Anderson’s “here’s how you play hard for every single second of NBA game” leadership style. As Kyrie said, Varejao’s energy and toughness is “contagious.”
It’s not coincidence that without their two best players and facing a playoff team like the Sixers, the Cavs inspired flashbacks to last year’s squad. Of course, any team would look that much worse when missing their starting point guard and center. But other teams also don’t employ Semih Erden, Samardo Samuels, Christia Eyenga, Ryan Hollins, and Omri Casspi… the Cavs are more than just a piece away. I was never rooting for the Cavs to actually tank games (I don’t think any fan watches games hoping that their team’s shots don’t fall or that they blow leads), I just didn’t think that Kyrie and Andy dragging an under-talented, overachieving team to the playoffs was in the Cavaliers’ best long term interest.
If there’s a silver lining to this injury (asides from a higher draft pick), it’s that Andy ‘only’ broke his wrist. This was a freak injury that could’ve happened to anyone (Drew Gooden simply slapped at the ball) and not an injury that’s indicative of Varejao’s wild style of play. One of the arguments for trading Andy this season is that his body may not hold up by the time the Cavaliers are ready to contend in a few years. This is a legitimate concern. In his seven years in the NBA, Varejao has only appeared in 70 or more games just three times. Losing Andy to ‘only’ a wrist injury saves him from another year of
flops charges taken, wear-and-tear on his body and additional miles on his legs.
The good news is the Cavs are in the midst of a nine game home stand, so they should be able to find some practice time to work on life without Varejao. Plus, Kyrie Irving is looking like he could return as early as Wednesday against the Pacers. It’ll be interesting to see how this young Cavs team responds to adversity. This lockout shortened season just got that much harder and it’ll be up to coach Byron Scott to keep his team focused and to steady this injury riddled ship.
Photo courtesy of AP Photo/Alan Diaz