During the 2009-2010 season, Anderson Varejao played in 76 regular season games. He averaged 28.5 minutes, 8.6 points, and 7.6 rebounds per game. That was, of course, the final season before LeBron James left for the Heat. It was also the last time that Varejao came even close to playing a full, healthy season.
In the post-LeBron era, Varejao saw his minutes and production increase, but he was consistently plagued by injuries. In 2010-2011, he averaged 32.1 minutes per game, and missed 51 games. In 2011-2012, he averaged 31.4 minutes per game, and missed 41 games. In 2012-2013, he averaged a career-high 36 minutes per game, and missed 57 games.
But last season, reunited with his old coach Mike Brown, Varejao quietly played in 65 games. He missed a little bit of time due to knee and back issues, but he still came closer to playing a full season than he had at any time since that 2009-2010 season. One likely factor in Varejao's increased durability was Brown's decision to cut back his minutes: Varejao averaged just 27.7 minutes per game last season, his lowest per game average since 2007-2008.
Therein lies the challenge for David Blatt. Can he keep Varejao healthy enough to get the most out of him? It will be an even tougher task now that the goal is not just to have him available for most of the regular season, but also for a (hopefully) long playoff run. It should be noted that despite his injury history, he's never missed a playoff game.
Last season, Varejao continued to show that he is one of the game's best defensive rebounders; he was 10th in the league in defensive rebound rate and 18th in defensive rebound percentage (one spot ahead of Dwight Howard). With Kevin Love now on the team, it is likely that Varejao's rebounding numbers will go down. But being able to keep some combination of Love, Varejao, or Tristan Thompson on the floor at pretty much all times should make the Cavs one of the NBA's best rebounding teams.
Offensively, Varejao could end up being the beneficiary of a lot of open looks at the top of the lane, which is a shot that he's become very good at knocking down:
Look at all that green inside the arc. Varejao has worked really hard over the course of his career to transform from an energy guy to a really good all-around NBA big man. We saw a bit of his ability to fill it up during the preseason game against the Bulls, when he scored 22 points in 23 minutes on 10-13 shooting. Games like that obviously won't be the norm, but Varejao is skilled enough that defenses won't just be able to ignore him while they worry about the Cavs' plethora of other offensive weapons.
Defensively, in addition to being a very good rebounder, he is incredibly active and usually very good against the pick and roll. Trevor took a pretty in-depth look at Varejao's defense a couple of months ago, if you're into that sort of thing. The bottom line is that while he's not much of a rim protector, he's still a solid defensive center who will help make the Cavs better when he is on the floor.
Finally, on a personal note, I think that I speak for many Cavs fans when I say that it would be incredibly rewarding to see Varejao win a title in Cleveland. This will be his 11th NBA season, all of which have been spent with the Cavs. For many of those seasons, he's been underpaid, but he's never complained or asked to leave. He's suffered a variety of injuries (including one that could have been life-threatening), but he's always battled back. He came here in 2004 unable to speak English. Over the span of more than a decade, Cleveland has become his adoptive home. He's done everything the right way and played his heart out at every opportunity. I can't think of anybody on this team who deserves to win a ring more.