Anderson Varejao has been a pretty good player for the Cleveland Cavaliers for a very long time. One of the great storylines of the Cavs adding LeBron James and Kevin Love this summer was the idea that Andy would be around as the team tried to bring home a championship to Cleveland.
Mind you, Varejao's presence on the Cavaliers in James' second go-round in the Wine & Gold wasn't just envisioned as a nice bridge between the two James eras. No, Varejao was to be an essential presence, the starting center, a rebounding and activity machine. Many of us hoped that even if Andy couldn't provide mythical (at least, in these parts) rim protection, his quirky brand of defense could help bring the Cavs to a near league-average defense, or perhaps even better.
Well, early on in the season that wasn't really how it was working out. Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao seemed to have some trouble coexisting on both ends. Defensively, neither of them had the lateral quickness to stay with guards or even a few power forwards once they got moving towards the basket. Offensively, Varejao seemed to be a crutch for LeBron James and Kyrie Irving to focus on at the expense of Kevin Love. Varejao has become an offensively skilled player, but he isn't in Love's class.
At the same time, Tristan Thompson has emerged. He has the best net efficiency rating on the team, and lineups in which he has been featured with Kevin Love have been very good.
Updated through last night's game. Yes, Cavs have been better with Tristan. This is still a big loss. pic.twitter.com/t3Lxp21ZJf
— Jacob Rosen (@WFNYJacob) December 24, 2014
Two weeks ago, William Bohl examined whether Tristan Thompson should start at center over Varejao:
Varejao simply doesn't have the foot speed or athleticism anymore to duplicate what Thompson can do. Tristan is able to hedge all the way out near center court sometimes, yet recover to his man without much of a problem. He could probably gain just a little bit more weight to help him out when he's getting backed down in the post, but that might be nitpicking.
It also might be nitpicking to point out that even with Thompson's emergence, Cleveland could still use a true rim-protecting big man, which is probably why those Kosta Koufos rumors are flaring up again.
So, a few things worth noting. Things weren't totally working out in the early going with Varejao and Love sharing the court. The Cavs were playing pretty well with Thompson and Varejao on the court. Getting that mobility out there makes a difference. It's a small sample size, but I think it's clear Andy wasn't simply washed up or anything. What does it mean? Well, Thompson slides into the starting lineup and is probably a better fit there.
At this point in Thompson's career, you probably want him playing closer to 30 minutes a game than 36. He's averaged about 26 so far this season, and it's working for him. He will now be having to guard starting centers on a nightly basis. He'll take more of a beating, so it's possible his energy on the offensive glass will go down. He's still 23 years old, and while his mobility helps him defensively, he still has a long ways to go. He might get exposed at times.
And outside of Kevin Love and Thompson, the Cavs just don't have a lot going on in the frontcourt. Lou Amundson has played, Brendan Haywood has played, neither of them appear to be the answer. The Cavs were already looking to acquire a competent defensive big. Those efforts might increase. They might now be more willing to deal the protected lotto pick from Memphis they are owed. They might now be more willing to include Dion Waiters in potential deals. Quite simply, the team has no depth in the frontcourt. A team with a weak bench just lost a key contributor. It hurts.
The sky isn't falling, of course. David Blatt has shown a willingness to be creative and tinker with lineups. The Cavs might play small more often. Shawn Marion has already been moved from shooting guard and is freed up to play more power forward while backing up Lebron James. You might see bench units involving Dion Waiters, Matthew Dellavedova, LeBron James, Shawn Marion, and Tristan Thompson. Those could be fun, and you get to rest Kyrie Irving and Love.
In the coming days we will get you more analysis and potential trades the Cavs can explore. Don't let this ruin your Christmas. We will see you tomorrow for the Heat game.