As mind-blowing as what I'm about to type may sound, statistically speaking, it's currently a true statement. Anderson Varejao is playing like a top five player in the NBA. I know, small sample size this early in the season, but if you were to rank all players in the NBA by PER (player efficiency rating), you'll see what I mean. Anderson Varejao comes in right at the fifth spot. That's one spot below Kobe Bryant. That's two spots above Kevin Durant. He's shooting the best he's ever shot from the floor (.608) and the line (.714). He's recording career high rebounding (13.7) and assist (3.4) rates. Anderson Varejao is currently playing the best basketball of his life and some of the best basketball in the league.
(all stats valid as of Nov. 17th)
And the Cavs need to trade him. Immediately.
It's hard to watch Anderson Varejao play this season and not want him on the Cavs. He's incredible and the chemistry he shows with Kyrie Irving perfectly illustrates just what Kyrie can bring to the table when paired with an atheltic big man that can run the floor with him. But Kyrie Irving is also part of the problem. So is Dion Waiters. They're just too young. Both are twenty years old. Neither have played a full, 82 game season in the NBA. They're referred to as the Cavaliers "backcourt of the future" for a reason. Both of them, regardless of how amazing Kyrie Irving is right now, have a long way to go before they develop into the players they truly are.
And this is the crux of the Anderson Varejao problem. When Kyrie and Dion turn 25 and begin to enter in to the prime of their careers, Varejao will be 35. Sure, a guy like Tim Duncan, currently second in PER for the year, has remained relevant past that age, but with Andy, that's not a guarantee. Unlike Duncan, a solid fundamental player, Varejao is a difference maker because of his energy and hustle. His "Wild Thing" nickname is well earned, as it's his reckless abandon for his body that makes him such a great player. Can he keep that up into his mid-thirties when the Cavaliers championship window will, hopefully, open up?
Looking to the past doesn't paint a very rosy picture. Since the 2010-2011 season, when LeBron James left Cleveland and Anderson Varejao began into step in a much larger role both offensively and defensively, Varejao has not played more then 31 games. He missed 62% of the 2010-2011 season with a torn tendon in his ankle. Coincidentally enough, he also missed 62% of the lockout shortened 2011-2012 season with a broken wrist. Not a good pattern.
That said, these were both fluke injuries. Varejao isn't walking around with a time-bomb for a knee like Andrew Bynum or a glass ankle like Stephen Curry. He could very well stay healthy. But that brings up another, much larger problem with keeping Anderson Varejao around long-term; his contract.
Right now, Varejao is on one of the best contracts in the NBA. $8.4 million for one of the best big men in the league. Meanwhile, DeAndre Jordan is making $10.5. Elton Brand is making $18.2. Brooke Lopez is making $13.7. Amare Stoudemire is making a whopping $19.9. Guess what? Big men get overpaid in the NBA. And Anderson Varejao's contract will be ending in 2015. If he stays healthy, Andy's value drops immensely. He goes from being one of the best contracts in the NBA, to a 33 year old with a track record of injuries and a near max deal.
This is the thing that I don't think a lot of Cavs fans realize, Anderson Varejao has no place on this team in three years. Kyrie and Dion will be beginning to enter their most productive years of their careers, while Varejao will be entering the twilight of his. And they're all going to be looking for pay-days. Is that the core the Cavaliers should be locking up as their big three? Absolutely not. The Cavaliers need another young guy with super-star upside if they want to compete in an NBA with the Heat, the Thunder and both Los Angeles teams. Kyrie's not enough. Kyrie and Dion are not enough. They need more young talent. They need more draft picks.
This is yet another problem with keeping Varejao around. With another year of development, the Cavaliers should realistically be fighting for a playoff spot and have a very good chance of making it. That puts a tremendous amount of pressure in this year's lottery pick (the Cavs bench is so bad, I'm just going ahead and writing this season off now). In all likeihood, this is the last time that the Cavs will be in the lottery, hopefully for a while. They need to hit on this pick, more than any other they've made in this rebuilding process.
Unless, of course, they can trade Anderson Varejao for some lottery picks. Thankfully, unlike with Ramon Sessions, there are teams that could really use a guy like Andy that have quite a few nice picks that can be offered. The one that stands out the most to me is Oklahoma City. With Kendrick Perkins looking about as bad as a typical Perkins restaurant menu, they could really use a new center. Think about how great Andy and Serge Ibaka would look as a front court. Now look at see the picks that OKC has stashed away. The Dallas Maverick's first round pick. The Toronto Raptors first round pick. The Charlotte Bobcats second round pick. Sure, the Mavericks pick is top 20 protected, but the Raptors pick is only top 3 protected. Even better, it's guaranteed to be a lottery pick because it's also 15-30 protected. That could be pretty useful.
I get it. After being frustrated with Andy early on in his career, I really love watching him finally playing at this level. Him and Kyrie are amazing together. The problem is, it's about three years too late. Andy was never meant to be a foundation piece for this core of the Cavaliers. By the time Kyrie and company enter their championship window, there's a very good chance that Andy won't be playing at this level. Or if he is, he's doing it somewhere else because the Cavs didn't have the money to throw at him. While it sucks to see him go, it has to happen. His value right now will never be higher. And ultimately, this isn't about this season. Or even next season. It's about getting the Cavs in the right place in the long run. And if Andy can be moved for one more shot in the lottery, that's the right call.
Unless, of course, Conrad sees something I'm missing. Guess I'll have to wait for that rebuttal.