July 25, 2014

Trading Anderson Varejao Still Doesn’t Make Sense for the Cavaliers

So here we are again. Another season, another never ending stream of talk about the Cleveland Cavaliers trading Anderson Varejao.

It’s not surprising. Exhausting? Sure. But not surprising. Any time you’re a young, rebuilding team and you have a top level player in his prime, it’s only natural that there will be speculation about trading him. To many, Anderson Varejao is nothing more than an asset. That’s an unfortunate way of looking at one of the most valuable players in the NBA.

Look, I get it. We all know top free agents don’t sign in Cleveland. The Cavaliers can’t keep drafting in the top 5. Eventually they have to start getting better. And when that happens, the draft will become much more difficult to add difference making talent to the team. That will leave trades as the primary way of improving the roster. So the thought is, why not trade Anderson Varejao while he’s still in his prime. He’ll never get more on the market than he will today.

That’s true. All of it. Good, sound reasons for trading Varejao. The problem is, there’s absolutely no return on investment in trading Varejao now. The Cavaliers will never, ever replace Varejao’s value to the team because players like Varejao are extraordinarily rare.

Lets start there, by talking about Varejao’s value to the Cavaliers. Anderson turned 30 years old in late September. This is his 9th season in the NBA. He’s not exactly a young player by any means, but he’s also not exactly Rasheed Wallace at this point.

Basketball-reference.com does a comparison metric where they evaluate a player’s win shares from best to worst for however many complete seasons he has, and then finds comparable players. The most comparable player to Varejao through 8 seasons is Metta World Peace. Metta is 33 years old, in his 14th year in the NBA, and is starting for the Los Angeles Lakers, a team competing for contention in the Western Conference. Is it too much to think Varejao could be filling that role in Cleveland in a couple years?

Remember, Varejao didn’t play his first season until he was 22 years old. In a time when many players enter the league at 19-20 years old, they accumulate more years of wear and tear on their bodies. With 8 seasons (only 3 of which saw him play 55 or more games) under his belt, Varejao conceivably could have a decent amount of mileage left in his tank.

Of course, some would argue the fact that he’s only played 55 or more games 3 times in his career is another red flag and another reason to trade him. That could be true, but predicting future injuries is pretty tough. Many of Varejao’s injuries have been fluke injuries. It’s not like he has the same recurring injury every season. If that were the case, I would worry about it more.

Another factor for keeping Varejao is his obvious on-court chemistry with Kyrie Irving. In limited time together, these two have already developed an innate sense of understanding on how each other plays and where they will be on the court. Austin Carr has begun referring to them as the best pick and roll combo in the game. I’m not quite ready to go that far, but the point is, these two have “it” on the court.

This speaks not only to Irving’s talent and ability to quickly adapt to teammates, but it also speaks to Varejao’s unique skills. He is an incredibly gifted passer from any spot on the court, whether it be the high post or in the paint. He also has some of the best hands for a big man we’ve ever seen in Cleveland. He rarely bobbles or fumbles passes. And when he catches the ball, he knows immediately what he’s going to do with the ball. There’s no gathering himself, no hesitation. Just instant decisiveness. And the decision he makes is usually the right one.

And then there’s his ability to finish around the rim. We’ve grown accustomed to the various ways he can score. It seems like no matter what position he catches the ball, he’s going to finish. Sometimes it’s a circus behind the head layup, sometimes it’s a catch and a quick dribble or two, sometimes it’s an awkward looking spin move. It doesn’t matter. He usually makes it. People who don’t watch him play every game often roll their eyes when he makes them as if it’s just dumb luck. We know better. For all his awkward style and flopping hair, and persistent pestering of opponents, Anderson Varejao is a tremendously skilled basketball player.

I haven’t even mentioned the things Varejao is most well known for, his defense and rebounding. I won’t expand too much on this, because everyone is aware of his tenacity on the boards and the way he refuses to ever give up on a ball. Varejao is currently 6th in offensive rebounding pct, 1st in defensive rebounding pct, and 1st overall in total rebound pct. He tries to hold the opponents to 1 shot per possession, and he is constantly giving the Cavaliers 2nd chance opportunities.

So just from a pure on-court play standpoint, there’s no reason to trade Anderson Varejao. It will make the Cavaliers demonstrably worse. And for what? The 1 rumor you hear the most is Oklahoma City, who holds Toronto’s 1st round pick. A pick that is top 3 protected, and then 15-30 protected. The Raptors are off to a slow start, but with a roster of Kyle Lowry, Amir Johnson, Jose Calderon, Andrea Bargnani, DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis, and Jonas Valanciunas, they could make the playoffs in the East. If the Raptors keep making the playoffs, the Cavaliers could be stuck without that pick until 2018.

Who knows what will happen with the Raptors. That’s not the point. It’s just one example, but it goes to the overall point of just how unpredictable draft picks can be. The odds of the Cavaliers ever getting even remotely close to equal value for Varejao are so miniscule. It’s possible things could happen just right and the Cavaliers could hit a home run on a 4-14 draft pick. But why trade Varejao just to take that chance?

And that’s perhaps my biggest issue with the Varejao trade talk. This notion that the Cavaliers have some kind of obligation to trade him. That they must take a shot and just take whatever they can get for him. But why? Whether we want to admit it or not, the clock is ticking on the Kyrie Irving era. Trading Varejao would be an enormous step backwards for this team. Without Andy, the Cavaliers might be one of the 3 worst teams in the NBA.

We all hope Kyrie is patient and understands the rebuilding process. Part of why the Cavaliers panicked and put themselves into salary cap hell in the LeBron era was because LeBron was impatient with the rebuilding process. The Cavaliers want to avoid those mistakes this time around. But just how patient should we demand Kyrie be? How many steps backwards can this team take before they start moving forward? At some point the Cavaliers have to flip the switch and stop “rebuilding” and start “building”.

We all want to use the Thunder model. Well, in Kevin Durant’s 4th year the Thunder were in the Western Conference Finals. Derrick Rose had the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals in his 3rd season. LeBron James had the Cavaliers in the conference semifinals in his 3rd year. If Kyrie Irving is a superstar on that kind of level1, how many seasons must he wait while the Cavaliers dismantle the roster around him?

This is Kyrie’s 2nd season. Lets say we want the Cavaliers to be a solid playoff team by year 4 (it could very well be year 3, but lets play it safe). That would put Anderson Varejao at age 32, still arguably in end part of his prime, but even if not, he won’t be far removed from it. You mean to tell me a 32 year old Anderson Varejao can’t help this team in the playoffs? Please.

If you watched the Miami Heat win the title last season2 you might have noticed a 33 year old Shane Battier making huge plays in the finals and playing a integral role in the team’s success. Battier averaged 11.6 ppg in the Finals and shot 15 of 26 from three point range. He was an enormous factor. Almost every NBA Champion has that kind of veteran glue guy. The guys who provide leadership and inspiration outside of the superstars.

The Cavaliers will need that guy eventually, and why not make it be Anderson Varejao? GMs can’t think about this from this sort of emotional plea, but I’m going to make this argument for him anyway. Anderson Varejao has built up a legacy in Cleveland. He is beloved, and with good reason. When everyone else in the NBA was scared to sign in Cleveland without assurances from LeBron, Varejao still signed a long term deal in Cleveland. He signed with Cleveland, not with LeBron.

And when everything collapsed around him, Varejao has never complained, never sulked, never demanded a trade3, and never given up on the court. He has continued to be the same guy, and he has even grown and gotten better with age. Why not root for this guy to end his career in Cleveland?

Fans talk about loyalty all the time. They get angry, justifiably so, when talking about LeBron’s betrayal. So it bothers me a little bit to see fans openly rooting for and hoping for Anderson Varejao to be traded. If he wants to stay in Cleveland, the Cavaliers might as well return the loyalty and let him stick around and see this thing out. Again, this is the fan side of me speaking. Chris Grant must take emotions out of it. But seeing fans hoping to trade Varejao makes no sense to me.

I wrote about this very topic last season, and my feelings haven’t changed. You’re not going to get great value in trading Varejao because the only teams who will trade much to get him are playoff teams. And playoff teams don’t yield quality lottery picks. Almost all picks are at least top 3 protected now4 and a lot of them are even top 10 protected.

So let me take off my fan hat and put my basketball analyst hat back on. Would I rather have 5 more years of Anderson Varejao or the #10 pick in next year’s draft? I’ll take Varejao. I think the Cavaliers are on the right track. I think we’ll be seeing the playoffs again next season. The Cavaliers will add a lottery pick this year, and they will have a mountain of cap space to use however they want to start filling in the holes. In the next 5 seasons, I think we’ll see quality basketball in Cleveland again. And Anderson Varejao absolutely can, and should, be a part of it.

As long as Anderson Varejao is happy here and wants to remain a Cavalier, I think he should be here. Someday, I hope to see a #17 jersey hanging from the rafters in the Q. And maybe a Varejao wig pinned to it just for good measure.

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Image Source: Steve Babineau/NBAE/GettyImages

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Footnotes:

  1. if you look at his metrics and his age, there’s no reason he can’t be an elite player in the NBA []
  2. I know, I know…most of you did not []
  3. that we know of []
  4. thanks to Kyrie Irving, or should I say, thanks to the Clippers []
  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    I guess I’m not assuming Varejao doesn’t stay more than two years after this season. I look at the way teams like the Thunder and Bulls were 8 seeds, and they continued to get better and within 3 years of making the playoffs, they were both in the Conference Finals. If the Cavaliers are a playoff team and still growing and developing, I think Andy would stay on a reasonable contract. Pure speculation there on my part, though.

  • architrance

    So if our starting lineup outscores their opponents by 55 points why are we 2-6? Our average point differential is one of the worst in the league at -6.9.

  • Steve

    That opens up a completely different discussion then. Should we be looking to give Varejao a contract for his mid to late 30s? Obviously depends on the contract, but mid to late 30s is not an ideal age to pass out big bucks, especially to a guy who hasn’t made an all-star game yet. The injuries may continue to pile up, making the eventual decline a very dangerous line to walk. Also, there is a good possibility that if we trade him away, we’ll still have the cap space to sign him back in a couple years.

    Which opens another discussion, how should the Cavs use their cap room. If Varejao was traded for a guy who expired this year, and the Cavs only kept on to the five guys who are actually contributing (Irving, Waiters, Gee, Thompson, Zeller), they could very possibly get enough under the cap to sign two max FAs. Now, I don’t expect them to be able to convince two max guys to come here, but I think it is imperative that the Cavs use their cap space sooner rather than later, as our rookie contracts are going to really start eating up that space soon. Trading Varejao gives you the opportunity to get a young player and use more cap space.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lnicholas2 Lee Nicholas

    What can’t get lost in this is that we already have several young players. We have four top 17 draft picks from the past two drafts on the team. We have another young player in Gee who fits that same bill. We have the young pieces in place right now to be building with and chances are we will be able to add more already in next years draft. We have our own pick, Miami’s first rounder which will be come the Lakers, our second rounder, and Orlando’s second rounder, plus the Sacramento pick if that ever comes to fruition. We also have Luke Walton’s expiring contract which could net us some gains.

    The point is, even without trading Andy, at the start of the following season we will likely have six first round draft picks on this team that are all under the age of 23. That’s a significant portion of the rotation. You toss Andy, Gee, Boobie in that mix and that’s an entire team. People who are saying that Dion is a wasted pick right now are absurd. Worst case scenario he’s good and a solid starter at SG – better than anyone we’ve seen play that position since goodness knows when. Best case scenario he could be a perennial all-star with Kyrie.

    We don’t need what trading Andy would give us as we already have plenty of it. We need Andy to be Andy much more.

  • Dave

    Trading Andy would be insane. Check this out:
    http://www.thenbageek.com/players

    According to that statistical calculation, Andy is the #2 most valuable player and #1 center in the entire NBA this season. If he manages to keep that up, he’ll be approaching MJ-level skills. Even if he sinks to his usual level, he’ll still be worth way more than we can get in a trade, and worth more than we’re paying him.

  • DontbringLBJback

    I don’t know why you think he never would have stayed. He mentioned Cleveland as a potential spot, did he not? Maybe he likes the idea of playing with a dynamic yet unselfish point guard that would dish him the ball 20 times a game. Just a thought.

  • Steve

    Maybe Kirilenko can keep that up too. Maybe neither can.

  • architrance

    No guarantee. It would have been a big risk, plus he’s proven to be unhealthy. Maybe we’ll still sign him in free agency.

    #dreaming

  • Louis

    Great article we shouldn’t rush to trade Andy. Our frontcourt is not that good to trade Varejao. We need to explore other ways to get assets not sure what they are right now. You are right Vaejao’s value can’t be replaced on this team.

  • Kildawg

    The Cavs need to add salary to meet the floor right? Why cant Varejao get more money to help out with that and overpay a decent SF? Kyrie Irving will get a max deal when his rookie contract expires anyway.

  • Cjj

    Something we probably can’t get. High lottery pick and or some young talent.

  • http://twitter.com/tompestak Thomas Pestak

    I put up a chart in my blog post at CavsTheBlog that shows how his efficiency has increased as his usage has increased. During the LeBron years he was a bench player and giving up minutes to Drew Gooden, Donyell Marshall, Ben Wallace and Shaq. He was always the odd man out that found himself playing at the end of games because he was better than everyone else defensively and the offense ran through LeBron near the end of games. Now we are getting a chance to see what he can do when he’s critical to the team on both ends of the floor. early returns are off the enthusiasm chart!

  • saggy

    i like him and don’t think we can get fair value in a trade. but your last point is, to me, the most telling:

    “he’s exactly the guy we’ll be looking to acquire in a few years, the experienced hustle glue guy”

    Um, OK. so let’s deal him and then get that guy in a few years instead of now. It is my opinion that there are just a few more “glue-type” guys in the NBA than there is glue. (i’m not sure that statement works but it was fun to say.)

    I am just trying to say that I am willing to trade Andy if we get value, and I am not worried that we won’t be able to acquire a hustle-guy in 2 years somehow.

  • saggy

    if the Cavs are that bad WITH andy, then why the heck is everyone clamoring to keep the guy?

  • pahniti

    The only reason you trade him, is if you think his style of play is one that quickly falls off a cliff as opposed to a slow decline…

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    The Cavs are not bad because of Andy. That’s a flawed line of thinking. Although 1 player makes a bigger difference in basketball than any other sport, it’s still a team sport and you need guys like Andy to be a contender. The Cavs are being pulled down by their bench. Trading Andy literally accomplishes nothing. It makes the team worse (they don’t need to be worse, they need to be getting better), it will likely return mid-to-late 1st round picks (hard to get value there), and it takes away a key piece when this team should be contending in 2 years.

  • Kresh

    would they accept bass + lee or just bass + melo + picks? or bass + picks?

  • Kresh

    BOSTON NEEDS A REBOUNDER

  • Kresh

    i like andy’s talent but not in cleveland, he is defensive type of player, i could see him playing in a team like celtics, if you agree with me

  • Kresh

    i can see his talent at celtics doc rivers coaching this guy

  • MissouriCavsFan

    I will quit watching the CAVS if they trade Anderson. I do not agree that most of the fans want him to be traded. We would not get anyone who works as hard and produces as much as he does night after night. Cleveland (all sports) keeps getting rid of star players and replaces them with players who they are “hoping” will become the answer. Most of the time we just lose great players for forgettable, disappointing ones.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kresh.mizer Kresh Mizer

    boston really fits varejao on how he plays the game…but i dont know if what celtics could offer him…. OKC? i dont know if perkins fits the team

  • http://www.facebook.com/kresh.mizer Kresh Mizer

    boston really fits varejao on how he plays the game…but i dont know
    if what celtics could offer him…. OKC? i dont know if perkins fits
    the team.. and those unknown names

  • http://www.facebook.com/kresh.mizer Kresh Mizer

    do think cleveland with andy, the makes it to playoffs and maybe win, even in 3 years its not happening, if ever varejao got injured because of how he plays, its a tough lost for the team…while he is valuable ill trade him rather than keep him. and if the value is gone maybe a trade for a low profile player would seal the deal… i know without varejao the team would not somehow win..but we got zeller that we need to developed…with andy or without andy. i think the team will still win win… the only problem is on the picks.. you can never tell… but did you see OKC’s PLAYER?… you can never tell even its a no.20 pick.. so i’ll trade andy while his valuable

  • http://www.facebook.com/kresh.mizer Kresh Mizer

    andy is in a loosing cleveland team… so why trade him if you put him to another loosing team.. he must be in a contender team

  • http://www.facebook.com/kresh.mizer Kresh Mizer

    yup… he only got 2 injuries but…we can never tell.. while his valuable i’ll trade andy in a heartbeat…its just an insult if you trade him again to a loosing team.. the teams that can get him is BOSTON or OKC… but i dont think if perkins fits the cleveland systems of playing games… while brandon bass can give points and rebounds… someone says he is the same with thompson… but bass has the experienced…also perkins..but watching perkins play…i dont know if he fits that team…while bass is somewhat of jumpshooter rebounder

  • http://www.facebook.com/kresh.mizer Kresh Mizer

    you dont say why trade varejao to a winning team? yes you are right but… garnett and pierce will retire soon and varejao will be the main player next to kg… rather than this young players of okc

  • http://www.facebook.com/kresh.mizer Kresh Mizer

    its like saying without varejao we cant make it to playoffs..dont just rely to andy even if he is a fan favorate..remember you got zeller who is a promising player…thompson..irving..waiters….so why think you cant make it…have you seen DENVER? they made the playoffs

  • http://www.facebook.com/kresh.mizer Kresh Mizer

    its like no durant = no okc, no lebron = miami, no peirce = no celtics no kobe = no lakers…remember
    the spurs bench almost beat the miami heat

  • http://www.facebook.com/kresh.mizer Kresh Mizer

    if andy is an all star..why is the team keep on loosing?

  • http://www.facebook.com/kresh.mizer Kresh Mizer

    just be patient..did you see brooklyn now? former new jersey? did
    you see bobcats?

  • http://www.facebook.com/kresh.mizer Kresh Mizer

    if varejao is an all star why the team keep on loosing?