Silver lining on the Varejao injury, the rebuild moves forward

Anderson Varejao

Anderson VarejaoIt’s hard not to feel some pain for Anderson Varejao after hearing the news that his knee contusion was in fact a torn muscle in his leg. Memories of Andy winning the game with a buzzer beating 3-pointer against Atlanta, and giving Ray Allen the business during a national televised game against the Celtics are two of my favorite moments I’ve enjoyed at the Q. I’ve really never enjoyed watching basketball more than watching Andy and LeBron fly around the court together.

That being said, Andy’s injury increases the Cavs’ chances of completing a successful rebuild.

The longer Andy is off the court, the worse this team is.

The worse this team is, the more ping pong balls they have in the lottery.1

The more ping pong balls in the lottery, the better chance of landing a superstar.

The father of fictional NASCAR great, Ricky Bobby, once said, “If you aint first, you’re last.” And in the NBA if you aint anywhere close to being first, you damn well better be getting close to last. The truth of it is that no matter how frustrating and hard these Cavs’ games are to watch, especially without Varejao, each loss ups the team’s chances of a successful rebuild.

The conversation around rebuilding in the NBA starts and ends with Oklahoma City. Dan Gilbert even referenced the Thunder’s team building philosophy during last night’s Fox Sports Ohio broadcast. The Thunder went through four straight seasons with 50 plus losses, and then in 2009-10 shot up to win 50 games, 27 more than the year before.

2009-10 Oklahoma City Thunder

Rk              Player Age  G GS   MP TRB AST STL BLK TOV  PTS
1         Kevin Durant  21 82 82 39.5 7.6 2.8 1.4 1.0 3.3 30.1
2    Russell Westbrook  21 82 82 34.3 4.9 8.0 1.3 0.4 3.3 16.1
3           Jeff Green  23 82 82 37.1 6.0 1.6 1.3 0.9 1.6 15.1
4         James Harden  20 76  0 22.9 3.2 1.8 1.1 0.3 1.4  9.9
5         Nenad Krstic  26 76 76 22.9 5.0 0.7 0.4 0.6 0.8  8.4
6          Serge Ibaka  20 73  0 18.1 5.4 0.1 0.3 1.3 0.9  6.3
7      Thabo Sefolosha  25 82 82 28.6 4.7 1.8 1.2 0.6 1.1  6.0
8        Nick Collison  29 75  5 20.8 5.1 0.5 0.5 0.6 0.8  5.9

There is no question the Cavs’ front office are trying to emulate what Sam Presti has built out in OKC, but when night in and night out you watch a very winnable game slip away from the Wine and Gold it’s especially tough to remember that “patience is a virtue”. Let’s be honest, patience is a virtue because it sucks,  and it’s really hard to be patient at times. I want to be good and I want to be good yesterday, but we all know it just doesn’t work like that. As Cleveland fans, we are stuck rooting for a small market, and in a small market, unfortunately you must be patient.

The 09-10 Thunder eight man rotation consisted of Durant (3rd year, 2nd pick), Green (3rd year, 5th pick), Westbrook (2nd year, 4th pick),  Kristic (6th year, free agency), Harden (Rookie, 3rd pick), Ibaka (Rookie, 24th pick), Sefolosha (3rd Season, trade), Collison (6th year, 12th pick).

If we are following the OKC model, the Cavs are in year three of their rebuild. In year one they were bad enough, and lucky enough to land two top 5 picks, a position Oklahoma City also found themselves in during year one of their rebuild. They took their franchise player, Kevin Durant, with their first pick, and the Cavs also took their franchise player with their first pick, Kyrie Irving. Kyrie is without a doubt a top 20 player in the league, which is backed up by his Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 21.1 which is good for 19th in the league. In Durant’s second season, his PER was 20.8 which was also 19th in the league.

The Cavaliers’ point guard is well on his way to being a star, and finding a star is the the hardest part of  building a small market team. With the star in place, it’s a must to hit on other top draft picks and lay the foundation for success going forward. Jeff Green and Tristan Thompson were each selected three picks after the Thunder and Cavs drafted their respective superstars, and through two seasons their numbers are eerily similar. Green had a PER of 13.8 in his second season in the league, while  Thompson is currently posting a PER of 14 in his sophomore season. Although some may be doubting how high the 21 year old Thompson’s ceiling is, there’s no denying where his game is right now. Tristan is far from polished, but has recorded 8 double-doubles in his last 11 games, and is playing with a confidence we’ve never seen before. A common way to judge a player is to think if he is good enough to have played on either of the teams in last year’s NBA Finals. Tristan passes that test. He could easily have met or exceeded the production of Nick Collison, Udonis Haslam, or Joel Anthony. Although Tristan is probably just a 7th best guy on contender right now, he is only 21, and has already shown significant growth.

It’s at the next step of the rebuild, where the jury is still out for the Cavaliers. After drafting Durant and Green, the Thunder2 lost  121 games landing them high lottery picks, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. This means Dion Waiters would need to evolve into something that resembles either of these two elite guards if we’re trying to match the Cavs to OKC.  Westbrook and Harden each had PER’s over 14 during their rookie seasons, while Dion is slightly above 11. The hope for Waiters is that he’ll turn into a Harden or Wade. Someone who can be another primary ball handler, draw fouls, finish at the rim and do all of this efficiently. We’ve seen that Dion has the talent to do all of those things, except wreckless is more fitting for his game than efficient.

Since Waiters has yet to convince anyone he can be in the ballpark of a Westbrook or a Harden, the next draft has even less room for error than last year. Chris Grant and Dan Gilbert need to hit a home run, or at least freaking double this June with their first selection. The higher you pick, the higher chance you have at landing a good player. To pick high, you need to get lucky in the lottery, and the more you lose this season, the better chance you have of getting lucky in the lottery. Which brings us back to the Vareajo injury…

Although the games are less entertaining with Andy on the sidelines, the games are much more “losable”. And the more losses, the more ping pong balls. The more ping pong balls, the better chance of getting a Robin for Kyrie’s Batman or if we’re really lucky a Batman to Kyrie’s Robin.  Varejao’s injury may cost the Cavs the opportunity to trade him at the deadline, but they are better off having him on the sidelines and slightly increasing their chances at the number one pick, than showcasing him, increasing the chance of winning meaningless games, and “maybe” getting something of value in return for him. There is only limited list of legitimate suitors who “might” trade for him, and a deal would most likely only land the Cavs a low first round pick in return.

The Thunder were bad enough and lucky enough to successfully turn their small market team into a contender. The Cavs have been bad enough, and had a little luck with getting Irving3 but still need all the luck they can get. Despite the Varejao injury being tough from a fan standpoint, it increases the likelihood of losing, and losing increases the chance of getting lucky in the lotto.

Some of us around WFNY have enjoyed sarcastically using the phrase #TankStrong to describe the Cavs season so far. As the season heads into the second half and the losses pile up, #TankStrong should really hit it’s stride.  There’s no doubt in my mind the Cavs will take any excuse they can get sit Varejao or Irving down the stretch.

The worse this team is, the more losses they’re likely to have.

The more losses they have, the more ping pong balls they have in the lottery.

The more ping pong balls in the lottery, the better chance of landing a superstar.

I guess it’s time to start learning names like Shabazz Muhammad, Narlens Noel, Cody Zeller, Alex Lens, and Ben McLemore.

[Related: On the Cavaliers and the Prospect of Failed Rebuilding]


  1. The lottery is won with a winning four ball combination. For simplicity’s sake let’s use ping pong balls as the example instead of how many four ball combinations a team has. []
  2. Still in Seattle during 2007-08 []
  3. The Cavs still deserve credit for choosing Irving, but with any pick, luck is a factor []
  • boomhauertjs

    Is “Ryan Jones” a pseudonym for Dan Gilbert or Chris Grant?

  • Woods

    It seems like Varejao will most likely not be traded this year.

    However, if he is still with the Cavs next year and they draft another big man like Noel, Len, or Zeller, at least he will be around to teach them how to hustle and play professionally.


  • sway

    I’m not sure 2010-2011 counts in the rebuild effort. No lottery pick or draft picks in 2010. I see the Cavs in year two, not that it feels any better.

  • Yup

    “Since Waiters has yet to convince anyone he can be in the ballpark of a Westbrook or a Harden…” What?? He is absolutely in the ballpark of Harden and still has half a season to improve!! These kind of plainly asinine sentences make your Cavs coverage the worst of any of the blogs…

  • Jaker

    Waiters needs more than two solid games to show he can be in their discussion. To be a Wade or Harden, you need to show the ability to be a dynamite scorer over a seasons length. Ryan is right when he says the jury is still out on him, meaning its too early to judge him, good or bad

  • Jack

    Have you ever watched James Harden play? Have you ever watched Dion Waiters play?

    Can you provide evidence that Dion is in this ballpark? If so, please proffer.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Good post Ryan and generally I agree… you should probably look to the spelling of those players’ names in your last sentence if we’re going to have to learn them though :)

  • Jaker

    Ryan, so what is your take on Andy moving forward? Do you want him traded for picks and young pieces (Ironically to OKC is a possibility)? Is he part of a bigger trade for the Batman (I dream a dream of Kevin Love)? Or is he part of this rotation when we are supposed to win 50 games next season (according to the OKC model, next year we make the playoffs)? Because the way you made the title sound, it seems as though you’re happy we won’t get to showcase him and trade him.

    Your thoughts?

  • Jack

    I remain unclear on the nature of the relationship between losses, ping pong balls, and superstars…

  • Jack

    Are you familiar with the idiom “silver lining?”

  • ThatAlex

    The only problem is, I’m fairly sure that 2013 is a superstar-less draft. There isn’t even close to a consensus #1 pick.

  • JNeids

    Great article, it’s something I have been telling myself a lot lately. Unfortunately this is a throw away season from a fan’s perspective. But IF we can hit on our draft pick which should be top-5 (I’d say top-3 but I don’t want my dreams crushed again), the rebuild would be right back on track. I would personally like to see us sign a 2nd-tier free agent this offseason, and combined with the draft pick take us to the playoffs next year. Then in the summer of ’14 we sign us a max free agent and make a run at the title in 14-15. Please dont wake me up…

    seriously though, I know a lot of people are down on Dion and TT but if we add two more guys that knock them down the food chain, the expectations of them would be a lot less which would allow them to satisfy some of their critics.

  • mgbode

    i don’t care about consensus. shabazz is going to be a star.

  • Jaker

    Yes, meaning he’s looking at the bright side. But he put up a bunch of good points and obviously did his homework. I just wanna see what he thinks on what will happen to Andy moving forward

  • Matt

    Great article. I pretty much agree with what was written.

    I just don’t see us getting true value for Varejao in a trade right this second. I don’t understand the backlash against the Cavs for not trading him before this injury when we don’t even know what trades could be made (I haven’t seen any realistic scenarios I would take). This injury is just plain old bad luck.

    And, as has been written on this site before, no team would have sent us a 1st rounder and young talent (or an All-Star for that matter) for an injury-prone Varejao this far before the deadline.

  • architrance

    I agree with 50% of Ryan’s comments. Yes, Cavs losses can be viewed as a net positive because it increases our chances of winning the lottery. Agreed. However, I hardly see any silver lining to Andy’s injury. The Cavs just lost a HUGE trade chip that could have gone a long way to speed along the rebuild. On a team with little to no valued trade assets we just watched AV’s value SKYROCKET and then crash and burn, with nothing to show for it. He will NEVER be as valuable to another team as he was in the first third of this season. He’s untradable now, with the injury. I don’t see anyone willing to give up anything of any value for him ever again. He’s a proven giant injury risk, he’s over 30, he’s only ever played a full season three times and he was only able to shine on a bad team without any other offensive options. He’s worthless as far as trade value goes now, and we have no other good trade pieces left on this team to try and improve, which leaves us with two sources: draft and free agency.

    So yes, I think the AV injury is a HUGE step back in the rebuilding process, in the sense that we could have traded him for legitimate high potential young players or decent draft picks. I’m assuming the Cavs would have been smart enough to sell high on him, and continue tanking this season away.

    (I know, I know, who knows what teams would have been willing to part with for him? But we could have got SOMETHING. A highly efficient, scoring, lead leader in rebounding, hustling player on a modest contract would definitely be attractive to almost every team in the league. Everyone brings up OKC. Getting Toronto’s #1 pick from them and anything else would have been HUGE. They could have included Collison and Sefolosha to even out the salaries. Maybe even Lamb or Jones. (Who knows if this deal was ever even discussed?)But now we can forget all of that, we have no trade chips.)

  • architrance

    On a side note, has anyone else realized the Cavs are still paying Baron Davis $14.8M to not play for them this year?!

    Thank you Mr.G!

  • Primo

    This is an excuse to feel good about being horrible. We seem to see the rebuild as a math problem: Suck for 4 years = high draft picks = NBA Finals. Why? Because OKC did it? But there are a TON more examples of teams sucking for long stretches of time than there are OKC stories.

  • Patrick Michalek

    14 Mil for Big Beard? Google says he only makes 1.3 this year. Watt gives…?

  • Nathaniel Wade Smith

    Yup is right, Jack is wrong. Why? You have to compare Dion to Harden or Westbrook as rookies, not now.

    What were their stats as rookies compared to Dion’s?
    Westbrook as a rookie=15ppg @ 39%FG
    Harden as a rookie=10ppg@40%FG
    Dion as a rookie 14ppg@37%FG.

    Somebody try and argue against those facts.

    Anybody? The facts are the facts, you can’t argue them.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    To bad there aren;t more Kevin Durant’s in these drafts huh?

  • John Clifford

    and with that trade, the cavaliers landed Kyrie Irving… Mr. G says you’re welcome.