It’s too early in the season to say for certain which teams will and won’t make the playoffs, but we can confidently say some teams are still a lock, or they’re going to at least be in the running as the season progresses. One team that’s almost certainly going to miss the playoffs again, and will probably not even contend for a final spot in the Eastern Conference – at least not yet – are the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Kyrie Irving is a revelation at point, and his combination with rookie Dion Waiters has made their backcourt one of the most formidable tandems in the league. But they’re simply not talented enough to stay with a loaded middle-class in the Eastern Conference (Miami being the sole upper tier team; sorry Knicks fans – you’re not there yet). As such, it’s about time Cleveland GM Chris Grant will probably get offers to deal their floppy-haired forward, Anderson Varejao. Even though he looks a lot like Sideshow Bob (complete with clown feet), Varejao has been a force on the glass this season, and he’s shooting over 60 percent from the floor on his way to lofty offensive averages (15.9 points and 13.7 rebounds a game this season).
His value has never been higher for a trade to a playoff-bound team who could use his intriguing skill set, so let’s go through five contenders that should try and swing a deal for Varejao. We know ‘Bron would like him in South Beach, but keep in mind, we’re going through these teams in a vacuum: salary restrictions and matching player contracts can be left to the numbers people. We’d just like to see how intriguing he’d be for these five without letting money cloud the thought process (even if his contract is super friendly – he’s making $8.4 million this year, $9 next year, and then in 2014-2015, it’s a partially guaranteed $9.7 million).
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5. DALLAS MAVERICKS
That’s if they’re a playoff team. Dirk still needs to come back, but O.J. Mayo and Darren Collison have been good enough so that Mark Cuban‘s second tier offseason acquisitions have helped Dallas start a respectable 5-4 on the season. They’re certainly in the running for a No. 7 or 8 seed in this year’s Western Conference once Nowitzki returns to the court, but one thing they do struggle with is defensive rebounding. Or really, rebounding of any sort. They’re in the bottom five for defensive efficiency and defensive rebounding per Hoopdata. In turn, it’s engendered some solid shooting from their opponents as they collect offensive rebounds and go right back up for a high percentage shot in the paint. Varejao is an absolute beast on the defensive glass. He’s second in the league in defensive rebounding rate. If you added Varejao to a lineup that’s already getting Shawn Marion back, that’s an intriguing frontcourt with two guys that can rebound and defend people like LeBron James and Kevin Durant. If Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson were smart, they’d have Chris Grant on speed dial right now.
4. ATLANTA HAWKS
Yes, they’re still deciding what to do with Josh Smith‘s expiring contract this summer, and they’re a little guard heavy with Devin Harris, Lou Williams and Jeff Teague sharing point guard duties, but a frontcourt of Al Horford and Anderson Varejao is intriguing. Also, Atlanta, despite their frontcourt of Smith and Horford, is right below Dallas in defensive rebounding rate, and they’re scoring is in the lower third of the league as well. Varejao’s ability to board on defense will mean more chances on offense, and his vision and passing will help facilitate more open looks for the likes of Korver/Teague/Williams on the perimeter. Varejao has assisted on the most Cavaliers shots from 15-23 feet, so you can be sure Atlanta’s shooters could use his ingenuity on offense. How they play Josh Smith’s impending free agency (or a possible deal for Pau Gasol in L.A.) goes a long way towards making this more or less feasible, but they could certainly use him in the rotation as they look to again make the playoffs as a No. 4 or 5 seed.
3. INDIANA PACERS
The Pacers could use just about anything at this point. Last season they had the eventual champs down 2-1 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, but after losing President Larry Bird to retirement, top scorer Danny Granger to injury, and backup point Darren Collison to Dallas, the Pacers are looking woefully bad on offense. They’re dead last in effective field goal percentage per Hoopdata. Varejao, for all his prowess on the glass, is actually a pretty solid frontcourt player on the offensive end. He can hit the elbow jumper if left open on the pick-n-roll, and he’s so good passing in the paint, it leads to a number of easy looks for his teammates. The Pacers are a mess, with George Hill underperforming as a starter, Roy Hibbert struggling and Paul George still passive in crunch time. They really struggle to score the ball, and Varejao’s passing and rebounding could help alleviate all those issues. They certainly need something, so why not Varejao?
2. SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Messing with Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford‘s recipe for success is hard to do. They’ve competed for a title for more than a decade, so I don’t want to tell these two how to do their jobs… but they are grabbing rebounds at a pretty low rate. They’re second-to-last in offensive rebounds, and they’re currently 23 out of 30 in defensive rebounding rate. Varejao’s 13-plus boards a game will come in handy when they’re getting killed on the glass like they did when the Clippers blew them out and out-rebounded them, 46-29 earlier this year. The Knicks didn’t have more rebounds last night, but against athletic teams like the Clippers, Varejao’s rebounding tenacity would be a big plus in the playoffs. Also, can’t you just imagine Boris Diaw and Anderson Varejao slicing and back-cutting an opposing team’s frontcourt? I’m pretty sure Popovich has dreams of Varejao and Diaw playing interchangeably in his rotation.