As Cleveland Cavaliers fans and the rest of the NBA await LeBron James’ next decision, the future of one of his former teammates could be directly tied to that decision as well.
Current Cleveland Cavaliers big man—and fan favorite—Anderson Varejao could very well be the second most popular player, aside from James, to wear a Cavaliers jersey since he was acquired during the 2004 NBA Draft from the Orlando Magic. Known for his hustle and energy off the bench, the man dubbed “Wild Thing” by the fans has seemingly spent less and less time on the court since James departed for Miami in 2010.
Despite being a fan-favorite, Varejao’s future with the Cavaliers organization could depend on whether or not James chooses to return to the team he started his career with in the NBA. Missing 166 games in the four seasons since James left out of a possible 312, Varejao’s importance to the Cavaliers’ roster has steadily declined since the team’s playoff days with James.
With career averages of 7.8 points and 7.8 rebounds in 25.9 minutes per night, Varejao is better suited for coming off the bench now thanks to his injury history and lack of starter production. He did vault those numbers to 10.8 points and 11.5 rebounds per game in 2011-2012 and 14.1 points and 14.4 rebounds per game in 2012-2013 as a key cog on a young Cavaliers team, though he played just 25 games each season.
Add in the fact that he is scheduled to make $9.8 million this coming season, and the writing could be on the wall for Varejao in Cleveland—unless James comes back.
A long favorite of James, Varejao’s energy and hustle are something the “King” has always admired in his former running mate. To top things off, the two reportedly spoke about a possible return to Cleveland during the season—as reported in an article on Cleveland.com back in June.
This in turn brings about a major decision for the Cavaliers organization. If the price to land James is keeping Varejao for the final season of his contract (2014-2015 season), then it may be an easy $9.8 million price to swallow for one season. However, Varejao’s contract is a valuable trade asset that could help land additional impact pieces around James—and that is something that cannot be ignored.
Set to make $9.8 million, only $4 million of that is actually guaranteed. This means the Cavaliers could work out a deal like they did last season with Andrew Bynum’s contract with a team looking to get under the luxury tax mark. As you remember, the team dealt Bynum and future draft picks to the Bulls for Luol Deng, and the Bulls promptly cut him to only pay $6 million of his $12 million for last season—saving the Bulls roughly $8 million or more in the process.
The same type of deal could be performed with Varejao’s contract, as the Cavaliers could roughly save a team at a minimum $5.8 million off their books and potentially even more in luxury tax payments. But would James be okay with the organization moving Varejao?
This is the question general manager David Griffin would have to ask himself. On one hand, you cannot allow a player to dictate potential moves for your franchise, but on another hand you really do not want to anger the best player in the game in the first season you would have reacquired him.
It is a tough decision, but team building has to be more important to the future of the franchise than friendships. The organization did it back in 2009-2010 when they shipped Zydrunas Ilgauskas—one of James’ close friends—to the Washington Wizards in a deal that returned them Antawn Jamison. The Cavaliers then signed Ilgauskas for the remainder of the season after a 30-day waiting period when he was cut by Washington, so something of that nature could occur if the team acquiring Varejao cut him immediately after the acquisition.
Moving Varejao will be a tough topic for most Cavaliers fans, but he is past his effectiveness at his current pay level. If the team can add an impact player, the deal must be made and then the Cavaliers can roll the dice in hopes of bringing him back as a free agent.