Posted December 04, 2012

Team Defense: Cavaliers have virtually no reason to trade Varejao

Anderson Varejao, Ben Golliver, Cleveland Cavaliers, Rob Mahoney
Anderson Varejao

Anderson Varejao leads the league in rebounding with 15.4 a game. (Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)

By Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney

Team Defense is a recurring feature in which The Point Forward’s Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney push back against a developing school of thought concerning one of the NBA’s hot topics.

THE FLAWED ASSERTION

The Cavaliers, who are currently stuck in the Central Division’s basement with a record of 4-14, should trade center Anderson Varejao. Destined for another trip to the lottery, Cleveland could sell high on Varejao and acquire multiple assets its could use to build around a very young core of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson. Varejao is averaging 15.1 points, 15.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.4 steals so far this season and looks poised to make his first All-Star team. With Varejao missing extensive stretches of the last two seasons due to injury, the time is right to cash in on his value with a deal to a more veteran team that could use his rebounding, defense and energy. Moving Varejao, who will make $8.4 million this season and $9 million in 2013-14, for an expiring contract, a young player and/or multiple draft picks would maximize the Cavaliers’ flexibility and long-term prospects.

THE DEFENSE

Even taking into account many of the popular assumptions listed above, trading away Varejao is functionally nonsensical for the Cavs for all of the following reasons:

1. Varejao’s internal value matches — or exceeds — his external value.

The only way to understand a basketball player’s value is through context. Put a ball-dominant scorer on a team loaded with offensive talent, and his value may wane. Acquire a versatile defender that allows for cross-matching throughout the lineup, and the situational value of other defenders could skyrocket. Deals between teams often capitalize on those discrepancies in context — because a player could be worth more to one team than another, franchises with varied interests are able to swap assets and both feel like they benefited.

In theory, it’s that quirk of player evaluation that could allow the Cavs — who wouldn’t be able to use Varejao’s defensive savvy to the same title-chasing ends as, say, the Spurs — to deal their All-Star-caliber forward away for the sake of picks and prospects deemed more valuable to a rebuilding club. But this is a case in which Varejao’s value to Cleveland is likely even greater than his worth would be to a potential contender. The Cavaliers may not be able to vie for a championship any time soon, but Cleveland nonetheless relies on Varejao’s elite-level defense and rebounding to steady a roster of unschooled talent. Through the Cavs’ limitations, Varejao is able to maximize his on-court impact to the point where he’s been one of the best players in the league through 18 games. He takes full advantage of his per-possession rebounding dominance, thwarts pick-and-rolls consistently over heavy minutes and capitalizes on the Cavs’ lack of competent scorers by expanding his offensive game. Plus, in compensating for his teammates’ weaknesses all over the floor, Varejao makes one of the worst rosters in the NBA look fairly passable at times.

What the Cavs have in Varejao is a massively productive two-way player who is improving through the prime of his career and is signed for less than $10 million a season through 2015. That kind of team-redeeming talent isn’t to be discarded without clear purpose, and on the part of many NBA fans, the pining for a Varejao deal is merely an exercise in wish fulfillment. There are so many interesting teams around the league that are a good defensive big away from challenging the Heat and Thunder, and the idea of one such club elevating itself into the contending ranks with Varejao’s addition is indeed captivating. But that alone is hardly reason for the Cavs to give up one of their best players. There is so little legitimate reason to do so, and most of the teams that could use Varejao are lacking in sufficient trade chips. Late first-round picks and meager role players aren’t going to get the job done; Varejao is simply far too good and far too useful to be liquidated for filler, no matter how much he might help your favorite team.

2. He’s instrumental to the culture the Cavs hope to cultivate.

Assembling a group of similarly aged players is a key for long-term success in the NBA, but there’s no reason to obsess over it. Young teams can bloom perfectly like the Thunder, they can collapse upon themselves like the Wizards or they can fall somewhere in between. Good chemistry in the NBA seems to involve a series of secret ingredients, good timing and a lot of luck, but Varejao’s work ethic, team-first approach and professionalism seem to offer the type of tone-setting veteran leadership that coaches and executives stress in team construction.

What’s more: He’s popular with the local fan base for all the right reasons. While trades shouldn’t be driven or overly influenced by public sentiment, it shouldn’t be wholly ignored either. Just as moving Varejao for pieces would create a roster hole without the proper personnel to fill it, his departure would shift a lot of responsibility toward the team’s young core — particularly Irving. If any player could handle that role at 20 years old, it would seem to be Irving, but if a slower shift into that role is an option, that would have to be considered highly preferable.

There’s also a symbolic value to Varejao’s presence given his link to the LeBron James era in Cleveland. Since the franchise’s fate was turned upside down in 2010 by “The Decision,” Varejao hasn’t taken to the grandstand or made national headlines. Part of that, perhaps, is due to the fact that he played just 56 combined games over the last two seasons. But the bulk of the explanation, it would seem, is that he’s willing to do his job, do it well and leave the NBA’s soap opera subplotting to others. That’s a core value any franchise would prize highly and one the Cavaliers surely hold dear, given their recent history.

Anderson Varejao

Anderson Varejao’s work ethic seems to offer the type of tone-setting leadership that coaches and executives stress in team construction. (David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

3. The supposed financial incentives don’t add up.

We’ve been programmed at this point to associate salary clearing with rebuilding, but take a good look at Cleveland’s cap outlook before shouting that Varejao’s $8.4 million salary is some great burden on the Cavs’ books. Even with every member of its core — including Varejao — under contract, Cleveland has just $28 million in committed salary for the 2013-14 season and only $30 million (provided the Cavs keep Alonzo Gee around in the final season of his deal) guaranteed for the following year. Cap space is not the problem; the expiring deals of Daniel Gibson and Luke Walton are set to give Cleveland enough financial flexibility to do handsprings through free agency, and at this point sacrificing so significant an asset with anything less than a stellar return would be far more damaging than footing the bill for one of the most cost-effective contracts in the league.

This doesn’t at all resemble the typical scenario wherein an aging veteran with a bloated salary clogs up the works for a rebuilding club. Varejao’s play well exceeds his contract value and he still allows the Cavs the room to offer a max deal and then some. If there’s a financial motivation for dealing away a team’s underpaid, second-best player, we know not of it.

4. Cleveland is well-positioned to take advantage of a shift in the Central Division’s competitive landscape.

It can be hard to find hope during a 4-14 start, but the Cavaliers have three good reasons to believe the future will be bright sooner rather than later: Kyrie Irving, an owner willing to spend and a relatively weak division full of question marks.

In Irving, the Cavaliers have a star point guard who makes everyone around him better and helms the offense expertly through pressure-packed endgame situations. He’s a rare breed. Assuming perfect health, he’s the second-best player in the Central Division, trailing only Derrick Rose. Just as Chris Paul began willing his Hornets teams to the playoffs in his third season, it’s reasonable to expect Irving to be capable of the same feat as soon as next year.

In Dan Gilbert, the Cavaliers have one of the quirkiest and most petulant NBA owners, but also one who is fully committed to his franchise. The Cavaliers rank above-average in home attendance this season, even with Irving missing games due to injury. The flexibility facing the organization next summer was laid out above, and Gilbert is willing to open up the checkbook to produce a winner. He was foolish to predict the Cavaliers would win a title before the Heat, but there’s a decent chance he even believed his own delusional proclamation. Gilbert demonstrated his willingness to load up on hefty contracts during James’ last years by taking on Shaquille O’Neal and the like, so the question is not whether he will spend to produce a quality team but whether he can spend more intelligently than he has in the past.

Chances are good that Gilbert will have reason to plunk down some coin over the next two summers. Cleveland is in an excellent position within its division. Its young core is superior to Detroit’s, and the Cavaliers’ don’t have the Pistons’ long-term salary flotsam working against them. The Pacers and Bucks are both at a crossroads; Indiana has committed to a core with a ceiling of “good but not great,” while Milwaukee will have to decide whether it wants to commit to a core whose best-case scenario is along the same lines. The Bulls are the Central’s class act, of course, but their future is totally dependent on Rose’s health and there are all sorts of long-term salary commitments that could present problems down the line. A reasonable goal for the Cavaliers should be to compete for the No. 2 spot in the Central by 2014-15 and thereafter, and keeping Varejao for the duration of his current deal (and perhaps longer) would seem to make that goal more realistic.

Anderson Varejao

Anderson Varejao will make $8.4 million this season and $9 million in 2013-14. (David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

THE COMPROMISE

Seeing as many of the NBA’s rumor mongers will remain sold on Varejao’s imminent departure regardless of the case against trading him, it’s important that we at least frame a potential Varejao trade in the proper terms. Listed below are a handful of vaguely reasonable (and completely legal) trade ideas involving Varejao that would somewhat satisfy both teams involved:

Anderson Varejao and Luke Walton to the 76ers for Thaddeus Young, Dorell Wright and Arnett Moultrie.

Young — a skilled, 24-year-old big who would cushion the Cavs’ defensive drop after Varejao’s departure — is the big get here, but Wright would also allow Byron Scott to phase Alonzo Gee and C.J. Miles into more fitting roles. Moultrie is merely a wild-card addition for Cleveland’s trouble.

Anderson Varejao to the Rockets for Chandler Parsons, Terrence Jones, Patrick Patterson and Daequan Cook.

If the purpose of dealing Varejao is to get the rest of the core on a similar developmental timeline, then the Rockets may be the best trade partner available. Parsons, Jones and Patterson could help fill out the Cavs’ rotation with young talent, while Cook provides the salary filler necessary to match a handful of rookie-scale deals with Varejao’s larger contract.

Anderson Varejao and Jon Leuer to the Jazz for Paul Millsap, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks and Jamaal Tinsley.

Millsap — who will be an unrestricted free agent next summer — is a bit of a risk, but Burks and Kanter give the Cavs two solid prospects to work with, and Tinsley gives Cleveland an alternative to Jeremy Pargo and Donald Sloan in the short term.

Anderson Varejao to the Thunder for Kendrick Perkins, Jeremy Lamb, Reggie Jackson, Perry Jones III and picks.

The Thunder are among the teams most often linked to Varejao in potential trade scenarios, but this underwhelming package is likely the best they could cobble together. Jones could wind up as a great get, but Perkins is dead salary weight and Lamb is a bit redundant with Cleveland’s already existing core. It could be worse, but I don’t suspect the Cavs would find this deal to be all that compelling.

12 comments
jsteppling
jsteppling

as someone said on this thread, the trades are stupid because none of those teams would do anything remotely like those trades. Varejao is good, but he is not THAT valuable. Jesus. You arent trading LeBron. You are trading an active, great rebounding center who is edging toward the downside of his career. Rockets would trade for him though.......because Morey likes to trade...and the Cavs could get T Jones, Patterson maybe (not parsons, no way) and a throw in....MOntejunas maybe.....but thats not a great package. Would the Bulls trade? Yeah.....you could get their lotto pick and say a jimmy butler. Not bad. Maybe dallas would trade...but they have nothing but mid first round pick.  Toronto would, but they have nothing and nobody really wants bargnani. So Id keep andy V. He works well with Zeller.........and cavs will be able to get a nice wing guy.....or combo forward, of which they are several...tony mitchell maybe.....andre roberson.....or even another big...Alex Len. I mean, you can never have too many big men.  And by the way, Jeremy Lamb is hardly redundant. Christ...........Gee is not lamb......Lamb has future all star potential, gee does not. And lamb has far more upside than perry jones 3. One other note.........NOBODY really wants Pau. He has an insane contract and tendenitis in both knees. But why would the JAZZ give up Milsap AND kanter AND burks....lol....what dream world does the author live in?

Cherrie
Cherrie

Why trade Anderson Varejao; he's ONE of VERY FEW PIECES that the Cavaliers could boast of? I thought the Cavs want to become a contender?

JonathanDennis
JonathanDennis

You forget that OKC owns Toronto's first round pick this year. A Toronto team that despite being almost completely healthy is currently 4-14 and tied for the 2nd best chance at the #1 overall pick. I'm a Cleveland fan, I think AV has been by far the best center in the Eastern Conference so far this year, and honestly has been the best C in all of basketball so far. That said, if OKC offered me Perkins (salary dump), PJ3/Lamb (whichever the Cavs want more), and that Toronto pick, I would take that in a heartbeat.

 

And stretch, that CAV-PHI-LAK deal is tuuuuuurrible for the Cavs. Like Imagine said, AV has been much, much better than Pao this year, and the main rationale for moving AV is that he's too old to develop with the young bloods, so why would they trade for someone who's even older?

StretchFourNBA
StretchFourNBA

Those proposed deals for the Rockets and Jazz are nonsense; there's no way either of those teams would accept those deals. The Rockets have something very very similar to Varejao in Omer Asik, so why would they give up a great young prospect in Parsons who is playing a huge role for them? And the Jazz deal?!? Why would they do that, they have enough bigs already!!! If they trade Jefferson or Millsap, they're getting a wing or a point guard back as the main piece.

 

Trading Varejao only makes sense under one circumstance: if they're able to land a marquee superstar to pair with Irving that can turn the Cavs into an instant contender. They would probably have to package him with one or two of the young guys to make that happen. But if they send draft picks, prospects and Varejao out, they might be able to land someone, especially in a three/four team trade. Perhaps someone takes that Cavs package, sends the Lakers some goods, and the Cavs end up with an Irving/Gasol combo?

 

PizzaMan
PizzaMan

@JonathanDennis The Toronto pick is top 4 protected. So #5 is the best we could do. If the keep on the pace they are on currently, we get nothing this year.

StretchFourNBA
StretchFourNBA

 @JonathanDennis  It's true that AV has outperformed Pau so far this seasons by leaps and bounds THIS season, which is only 17 games old by the way, but you have to consider the big picture.

 

The idea is that Pau Gasol could return to being dominant in a system where he was the main post option, paired alongside one of the best young point guards in the league.

 

You have to consider that a player's performance is widely dependent on their surrounding cast, the system they're in, and the role that is expected of them. Just because a player isn't having success in one particular setting doesn't mean he's totally worthless.

 

Consider career statistics:

 

Pau is 18.5 ppg, 9.2 RPG, 3.2 APG. Oh, and 2 rings as the second option next to Kobe.

 

Andy is 7.6 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.1 APG. And he wasn't good enough to help LeBron win a title.

 

This season has been an anomaly for both players in comparison with their stats even just last season.

 

Varejao has a couple things on Pau: he's two years younger, he's playing better right now, and is healthier than Pau at the moment. Although to be fair, Varejao has only played 56 games over the past two seasons. I'm not saying it's a great deal for the Cavs or even a sure thing; Pau's knees might be a serious issue going forward and his better days might be behind him.

 

That said: Pau gives the Cavs a better chance at becoming a contender than keeping Varejao does, which makes it a plausible deal to me.

 

One thing is for certain: Pau has shown the ability to perform a superstar level for entire seasons and help a team win rings as a second option. Varejao has never done that, and he never will.

 

 

 

Imagine12
Imagine12

 @StretchFourNBA I agree the Rockets and Jazz trades are ridiculous. However how is your Gasol trade any less ridiculous? Gasol his having his worse year in his career, he is at the end of his career and he makes twice as much salary as VJ does. So the Cavs would have to include more pieces to make this trade work. Besides the fact that VJ is having a better season than Gasol. Are you a Laker fan?

JonathanDennis
JonathanDennis

 @StretchFourNBA  @JonathanDennis 

 

You're looking at career numbers that are skewed by the fact that Andy was a 10-15 minute bench guy for the first 3-4 years of his career and that he has always had extremely low offensive usage rates. But let's disregard that, let's assume that Pau is a superior player to Andy, that is still a terrible, terrible trade for Cleveland for two reasons.

 

#1 - They aren't ready to win a title. Even if they got Pau, you have them giving up Andy and TT, so their third best player would be... Dion Waiters? Alonzo Gee? Boobie Gibson? I don't care who you throw on that team, if his name isn't Lebron it's not a title contender right now.

 

#2 - You have them blowing up their young core (TT) in order to pick up a 32 year old who is having his worst season in a long time. The Cav's GM has stated multiple times that the goal now is to build a young team through the draft that is able to compete in the long term, Pau does absolutely nothing to help that aim.

 

Final thought: I'm so glad that you're a psychic and can predict the career arcs of every NBA player. 

StretchFourNBA
StretchFourNBA

 @JonathanDennis Not really sure where I made a prediction about anyone's career arc. I said both players' performances thus far this season have been anomalies (i.e. an irregularity or a deviation, per the dictionary) compared to both last season and their overall career averages. That is a fact.

 

And I also said it's not a sure thing or a slam dunk; Pau could very well be washed up at this point. Or he could turn it around; again, he's only been playing badly for 17 games now, and there's been a story on this very website explaining how the Lakers current offense is forcing him to play further away from the basket, which historically hasn't been his strong suit.

 

I honestly could see it going either way. I'm not trying to "predict" anyone's future play, I'm just looking at the facts and running through realistic possible scenarios.

 

Here's the deal, if Pau Gasol gets back on track, and Kyrie Irving continue to emerge into a superstar, then you have two All-Stars on your team. You also have some cap room and some promising young guys as well. That would a good team. And if Pau did get back on track with the Cavs, history shows that there's a good chance he would resign with them at a more reasonable salary.

 

Is it better than keeping all the young guys and letting them develop? Who knows, depends on how the young guys work out and depends on if Pau gets back on track. Historically speaking, they would be lucky if any of them ended up having as good of a career as Pau, but that wouldn't matter if Pau continued to suck. It's a risk either way.

 

 

 

 

StretchFourNBA
StretchFourNBA

 @PizzaMan  Those win/loss calculations are based on Pau's PER for this season. The idea behind this is that Pau could put up better numbers if he was the main post option, where he has historically had success. In D'Antoni's system, he is is forced to play further away from the basket with most of the post touches going to Howard.

PizzaMan
PizzaMan

@StretchFourNBA @Imagine12 Great. Hollinger says that trade causes us (Cavs) to lose 10 more games. Andy for Pau is not happening. No possible way.