Revisiting the Anderson Varejao Trade Discussion

Anderson Varejao's Value Shining Through This Season

In the midst of watching the Cavaliers’ incredible comeback against the Celtics, I was also keeping one eye on Twitter. (On a side note, I don’t know how those of you who tweet during games do it…I always feel like anytime I try to tweet during games, I feel less connected and distracted from the game. So kudos to those more adept to multi-tasking that I am). I noticed something interesting happening on Twitter during this game.

As Anderson Varejao kept pouring his heart and soul into that game, giving every last ounce of effort and want-to he could possibly find inside his seemingly tireless body, Cavs fans on Twitter were making arguments as to why this should be the showcase for trading Varejao.

The irony of people asking for the Cavaliers to trade Varejao as we were all watching the man give the type of effort without which the Cavs certainly would have lost was absolutely not lost on me. Nor was the fact that Varejao, always considered a fan favorite, seems to be the guy many Cavs fans are most eager to have the team trade away.

And I get it. There’s no question he’s the most valuable trade piece the Cavaliers have. He’s at a weird age where he’s probably going to be trailing out of his prime when the Cavaliers hopefully contend again, but yet he’s not so old that contending teams wouldn’t like to have him for a couple years. It’s not that Cavalier fans want to see Varejao go, but at the end of the day, we all just want what is ultimately best for the Cavaliers. If trading Varejao makes the Cavaliers a better team, they probably have to do it.

We’ve touched on this already this season, but it’s worth mentioning again, trading Anderson Varejao is not necessarily the best thing for this franchise, and it’s that lack of absolute clarity that makes this topic such a tough concept to completely wrap one’s mind around. In fact, it’s precisely why fans on each side of the argument are able to make such well-grounded and impassioned arguments for their case. To a certain degree, both sides are equally right.

Of course, then there’s also the issue of fans not really knowing what the reality of Varejao’s price tag is. In theory the NBA trade market is a pure free market system where a player’s worth is established by the market. In theory that’s an absolute truth. You’re always worth whatever the GM willing to give up the most for you says you are. But sometimes GMs have a funny way of moving the market in an upward direction for a player. So while it’s easy to sit here and predict what the market value for Anderson Varejao truly is, none of that matters because it only takes one crazy GM to offer too much for Varejao for this discussion of worth and merit shifts in a very different direction.

But I’m not here to sit on any fences and hem and haw my way through this. No, it is my most earnest opinion that trading Anderson Varejao is just about the worst thing the Cavaliers can do (short of trading Tristan Thompson for Chris Kaman, as Terry Pluto seemed to lightly infer as a remote possibility in his weekend column).

This statement of opinion should be taken with one small grain of salt, or caveat. If a first round pick and/or Tristan Thompson can be discussed even as an implausible trade situation for Chris Kaman, then if the Cavs did indeed get an offer of a first round pick and an under-22 player better than Tristan Thompson, then maybe my opinion shifts. Otherwise, I stand firm that trading Varejao is a mistake.

When thinking about backing up this argument, I considered a lot of methods. I looked a bunch of stats and metrics that show just how valuable Varejao really is to this team. But taking such a rigid approach to defending such an intangible player like Varejao just didn’t feel right. It would be like using math to prove the value of punk rock.

In many ways, punk music truly is like Anderson Varejao’s game. On the surface, it’s not always pretty. It can be visceral and guttural. But in the counter culture of doing things differently and by their own book, punk bands have a certain internal resolute beauty. A purity, if you will, where integrity and standards still mean something. So, too, does Anderson Varejao’s game always find ways to be more than what immediately meets the eyes. There’s a purity in the hustle and energy that he gives, there’s an integrity to the way he plays the game with enthusiasm of a child filtered through the toughness of a grown man.

Dig even deeper, though, and there are certain likely truths that make the thought of giving away Anderson Varejao a chilling prospect. Above all else, the Cavaliers will almost certainly never find a player quite like Varejao again. I can’t say as that I have ever seen an NBA player like him, and I doubt I ever will. Oh, there are better players, but I have never seen a player give so much effort and play the game so damn hard all while existing on a middling team hanging around the #8 spot in the weak Eastern Conference.

That might be the funniest joke of them all. That while LeBron James, Derrick Rose, and Carlos Boozer were all doing their best to give away a huge game between the East’s two best teams, there was Anderson Varejao playing like a madman scrapping and fighting and willing his team to have every last opportunity to comeback and stun the Boston Celtics in Boston. It was a level of inspiration that words just don’t seem to do justice.

That’s what the Cavaliers stand to lose by trading Varejao. And for what? The #26 pick in the draft? Maybe some promising young player who flashes skill but lacks consistency and/or effort? Forget about the fact (and yes, this is a fact) that Varejao will never bring back more value in a trade than he will right now. That’s not an argument for trading him, that’s an argument for how well he’s playing. The truth is that even at his highest value he’s probably not going to offer the return that gives the Cavaliers what they are losing.

Last night, WFNY’s Rick said on Twitter “I can’t think of a legit trade offer from a contender I would take for [Andy].” He’s right. I challenge you to find me a realistic trade offer that a team would actually make for Varejao that the Cavaliers would feel great about accepting. Trading a guy just because his value is peaking is foolish. The words “just because” should never enter the equation. I’m already long on hyperbole here, but Varejao is such a unique and special player to this city, this franchise, and this fan base (not that the fans’ desires should be a consideration…sorry fans), that his value is virtually irreplaceable.

So ok, maybe Varejao will be past his prime when the Cavaliers are back in contention. Who cares? You think he’s going to give any less effort or desire? You think his energy and commitment to the team will be any less? If you do, then you haven’t been paying attention.

I don’t know what Varejao wants. If he wants to leave Cleveland, this whole discussion is moot and the Cavaliers should honor his desires. But I’ve never heard even the slightest rumblings that he’s unhappy being here. He seems to have fantastic on court chemistry with Kyrie Irving and he’s a true leader who can bridge the experience gap between the rookies and the Cavaliers’ last era of contention. What he can offer in leadership, experience, and as a calming presence are almost enough on their own to warrant keeping him. When you add in the heart and soul of this team, trading him makes that much less to me.

In the end, the long term success of the Cleveland Cavaliers is more important to me than anything else in this discussion. I’m sure some will take exception to this article and say I’m playing on emotions to cloud judgment in a business transaction. That’s not the case, though. I’m just trying to find the right words to point out that Anderson Varejao means an awful lot to the Cavaliers, both now and in the immediate future. And if you think some long term prospect drafted at the end of the first round is going to replace Varejao, that’s where I disagree.

Lightning struck once for the Cavaliers when Varejao defied the odds developed into a player who is actually putting up numbers that put him in the All-Star discussion. The odds of lightning striking twice and it happening again are so remote. You have your lightning in the bottle in Varejao, so why not just keep him?


Image Credit: Steve Babineau/NBAE/GettyImages