In some of the more frightening news of the 2012-13 NBA season, Cleveland Cavaliers forward/center Anderson Varejao has developed a blood clot in his lung. He has been in a Cleveland-area hospital since Thursday, will remain in care for a few more days, and will be on blood thinners for the next three months. As a result, Anderson will miss the rest of the season.
Overall, it’s great news that his condition was discovered in time to accurately diagnose the blood clot, and send him on the road to better health. And with Anderson already out for another five to seven weeks following knee surgery, it’s not as if this is a crushing blow to a Cavs team that is on pace for a 20-62 season.
It’s only a blow to those of us that love watching Varejao play, and both the Cavs fans that loved his work in Cleveland and also the ones that wanted him to play for another team. Because even though Cleveland fans adore Anderson and what he brings to the court, there are a great many that were hoping to move him and his All-Star level play to a contender before the Feb. 21 trade deadline, securing more assets and potentially younger talent in return. While letting Varejao play in the postseason.
Not all Cleveland fans felt this way, it should be noted, and possibly far from a majority wanted to see a deal. More than a few Cavs backers, though, understood that this was a rebuilding year from the start. For the second straight year in 2012 Cleveland had two selections in the draft lottery, and with no veteran upgrades made during the offseason it was clear the team was planning on biding its time and smartly building slowly from the ground up.
Varejao roared out of the gate, averaging a combined 30 points/rebounds a contest in October and November with over three assists a night. His high/low play and ability to weave around defenders that weren’t worried about Cleveland’s crummy spacing or iffy offensive options was masterful. Right away, it was certain that even if Varejao’s play declined a little from then on he would be a lock for the All-Star team.
A lock for trade rumors, as well. His name was linked with several teams, most notably the Los Angeles Clippers, though the Cavs seemed intent on holding onto their big man. It made sense to show patience on the trading front, considering Kyrie Irving’s late-fall trip to the shelf with a broken jaw and the fact that Anderson had played in Cleveland dating all the way back to 2004. Trading the popular All-Star big man with Irving either on or off the injured reserve is a tough sell even to the sort of Cavs fan who knows how good, say, Clipper guard Eric Bledsoe is.
Obvious accessibility and box office concerns weren’t completely clouding the situation for Cleveland GM Chris Grant, we’d guess. Varajao proved early in 2012-13 that he was using footwork, length, touch and smarts to pile up his big numbers. He wasn’t merely flying in to dunk over people or relying on athleticism. This was good news to anyone who wondered how he’d hold up after moving deeper into a contract that could potentially pay him (including this season) $27 million between now and when his contract expires in 2015. A contract that will pay him until he’s 33 years of age.
Even after the knee surgery, it appears likely that Varejao will be worth the rest of his contract, which means the trade market could be huge for the guy on both draft night, and during this offseason. Even if other GMs regard Varejao’s 2012-13 numbers (14.1 points, 14.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.1 combined steals/blocks in 36 minutes a game) as a fluke, they can still be more than persuaded into dealing for a player in his prime that works at a position that is hard to fill.
Especially when you consider the fact that less than half of the money owed Varejao in 2014-15 is guaranteed. Teams wary of the luxury tax can deal for him as a one-year rental for 2013-14, and then waive Anderson and only have $4 million go against their payroll. Or deal him to a team attempting to cut just enough salary to get below the luxury tax line.
This means he’s still a fantastic commodity on the NBA’s trading block. Maybe not for Eric Bledsoe (unless the Clippers badly screw up and deal away a sure star in the second year guard), but for all manner of enviable assets.
Of course, all this language (“commodity,” “assets”) is borderline inappropriate when talking about human beings, much less ones that are currently hospitalized. Whatever plan of action, if Varejao is shipped tomorrow or if he retires a Cleveland Cavalier, his work in 2012-13 was a league-wide highlight. Even if for only 25 games, Varejao was an out and out star this season. Both Cleveland and the NBA will miss his work.
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