As the 30th overall pick of the 2004 NBA draft, Anderson Varejao was not expected by many people to develop into a starting-caliber NBA player.
Throughout the LeBron era in Cleveland, he was primarily a screen setter and rebounder. LeBron's departure inevitably led to a greater need for each Cavalier to carry additional weight on offense, and Varejao was no exception.
An increasingly larger offensive usage rate had caused his shots, points, and rebounds per game to modestly increase over the previous two seasons; however, the strides in Varejao's game this season could hardly have been projected by a majority of the league's followers.
With that said, before this season, Varejao's development as a player had been shrouded by his ordinary stat lines. For the advanced statisticians, however, his efficiency rating has evinced remarkable progression throughout much of his career.
Since his second season, in 2005-2006, his efficiency rating has only had an upward trajectory (from 7.6 that season to 27.2 now, according to NBA.com).
Simply, to a large degree, this has to be attributed to the Brazilian center's work ethic. For five of those seven seasons, excluding his first season, his total rebounding rate improved.
The two other seasons, 2009-2010 and 2010-2011, he enjoyed the two best shooting percentages of his career. His free-throw shooting and assists per game have also improved in six of those seven seasons.
The conclusion to these figures is that this season is not merely a statistical outlier for the longest tenured Cavalier, but rather a culmination of his improvements as a player. That's why Varejao is not only the statistical revelation of the season, but also the league's most pleasant surprise.
He has been the team's MVP, particularly with Kyrie Irving's prolonged absence, and one of the few positives for a rebuilding team (along with Dion Waiters' promise and periodic flashes from Tyler Zeller, Tristan Thompson, and Alonzo Gee).
While this is undoubtedly a polarizing issue for Cavaliers' fans, it's for that same reason that Cleveland's front office must trade Varejao before the season's trade deadline in February. At age 30, he in the typical peak period for an NBA big man, but he is an aberration on an otherwise fledgling roster (unless you count the ageless Luke Walton).
This seems like one of the most clear-cut cases of common sense and economic principle: sell when an asset reaches maximum value; however, what complicates matters is the prospective market and, just as importantly, Cleveland's likely asking price for the center.
Surprisingly, at a time when quality centers have reached an all-time high in market price, few teams that are currently positioned to make the playoffs or, more importantly, make more than a whimper in the postseason landscape need a center with Varejao's skill set.
Both Los Angeles teams are set at the five position. Miami's current configuration does not need a 'true' center (and, even if Miami had pieces of interest to Cleveland, would Gilbert trade his best player to LeBron's current stomping grounds in five years' time, let alone now?). Memphis is set with Marc Gasol and Maureese Speights.
Golden State and Philadelphia both made hefty investments for very talented, yet equally injury-prone, centers in Andrew Bogut and Andrew Bynum; neither team will be willing to made further compromises to their respective rosters this early in the game.
Neither New York team needs a center. Houston has depth in Omer Asik and Cole Aldrich. While GM Daryl Morey is likely all-too-aware of Varejao's excellent advanced statistics, he is also aware of the team's ballooning payroll; Varejao's fit with Asik would also be questionable, albeit fascinating.
While it's not out of the question for my Timberwolves to make an inquiry and offer a proposal (Nikola Pekovic, Derrick Williams, a 2013 or 2014 first-round pick, and future second-round pick), I believe that GM David Kahn will want to see what he has with his current roster once rotational players cease to drop like flies.
Utah's main problem rests with its rotations and inconsistent point guard play, Spurs and Nuggets also both have big man depth. Atlanta wants to keep cap space open to pursue future big-name free agents.
Pacers are stuck with Roy Hibbert, the Thunder genuinely like Kendrick Perkins as a former championship winner and locker room leader (and especially now since Dwight Howard is in the Western Conference), and the Mavericks have next to nothing that would incentivize Cleveland to enter serious trade discussions.
Milwaukee is a team with a dynamic backcourt and a wild assortment of overpaid veterans and athletic, yet offensively limited, young players in the frontcourt. Coach Scott Skiles seemingly sends out a different starting five every other game, yet the team has hovered around and just above the .500 mark so far.
While nothing is a certainty with Skiles at the controls, acquiring Varejao would provide stability at the center position for the first time since 2010-2011, when Andrew Bogut last enjoyed a relatively healthy campaign.
The move would likely propel Milwaukee from a team that ranks in the middle of the rebounding table into the top-ten, while also giving the team a much-needed interior player who can score 12-14 points on a given night.
Less importantly, second-year pro Larry Sanders would be allowed to remain in his preferred bench role through the move.
The move, in the process, would alleviate the tremendous logjam that the Bucks currently have at the power forward position. While Cleveland would ideally want to receive a talented young wing player in return for Varejao, Milwaukee does not possess such a player.
Instead, it obtains Tobias Harris, a talented second-year player who has fallen out of Skiles' rotation; John Henson, a much-needed shot blocker who finds more opportunity (and a fellow former Tar Heel teammate in Tyler Zeller); and Samuel Dalembert, another shot blocker whose arrival also signals more playing time for rookie Zeller. Milwaukee would also likely have to include a future first-round pick, either in next year's draft or 2014.
The Celtics, on the other hand, have a greater need for Varejao: the team currently ranks last in the league in rebounds per game, last in offensive rebounds per game, and second-to-last in rebounding differential per game.
Brandon Bass has never been a great rebounder, in part because of he is undersized at the power forward position. The team hoped that rookie Jared Sullinger would help the team's rebounding deficiencies, yet he, another undersized power forward, has also struggled in this department.
While Garnett's minutes limit has exacerbated the team rebounding problems, the team's focus on getting back on defense and its low scoring percentage in the paint are also likely factors in its struggles to create second-chance scoring opportunities (both ranked 23rd).
The Celtics made extensive roster changes in the interest of extending its limited championship window; Danny Ainge and rest of the Celtics' front office would not hesitate to make small sacrifices of the future in order in give the current team a better chance to win.
So far this season, Varejao's number of offensive rebounds per game (6.0) is not far removed from the entire Celtics team's offensive rebounds per game (7.4). He would inarguably give the team an enormous boost in its arguably weakest area, collecting multiple missed shots on the offensive end each game and, thus, providing more second-chance opportunities.
While his usage would go down in Boston, he would still serve as a viable pick-and-pop option off screens set for Pierce and Rondo, while being a more successful interior scoring option to Sullinger or Bass, who both regularly get their shots blocked.
Most importantly, he would give Doc Rivers another option at the center position besides Kevin Garnett (and Jason Collins), allowing the 36-year old to rest without significantly compromising team performance in the meantime.
What would make the trade particularly tricky for Boston is formulating an acceptable trade proposal that will not strap the team's future. The team would probably have to surrender one of its first-round picks from last June's draft, as well as at least one future first-round draft pick.
It would also have to trade one of the free agents that it signed/re-signed in the summer, a move that becomes viable after Dec. 15.
I believe that, if a deal were to transpire between the two teams, Cleveland would obtain Fab Melo, Kris Joseph, Brandon Bass, and 2013 and 2015 first-round picks. Like John Henson in the aforementioned Bucks/Cavs trade, Fab Melo, as ineffective as he currently is as an offensive player, is a very good shot-blocker.
Joseph would immediately compete with Omri Casspi and Alonzo Gee for playing time, while Bass would compete with Tristan Thompson for minutes at the power forward position.
While Cleveland would not receive a potential star in the return, it would significantly improve its depth, a necessary measure, and hopefully establish a set of young role players to build around Irving, Waiters, and next year's high draft pick.
In conclusion, trading Varejao will be a painful move for a franchise and fanbase that has seen him develop from a fringe rotation player to a fringe All-Star throughout his seven-and-a-half NBA seasons. His relentless effort, craftiness, and on-court leadership would be sorely missed on a nightly basis, and his departure would only leave Daniel Gibson as the only player from the Cavaliers team that reached the (very forgettable) 2007 Finals.
In the end, however, moving Varejao will be the best decision for both parties. Trading the Brazilian to a team that can at least aspire to reach the postseason in the immediate future will be a sign of gratitude and respect, as it will allow the player who has spent his entire career with the franchise to help his new team while he's still at the top of his game.
Even though such a trade will only further weaken the current roster, Cleveland's front office understands that greater struggles in the present will potentially lead to greater success in the future.
Only by establishing more depth and collecting more talent, while developing their high draft picks, will the Cleveland Cavaliers make a return to the postseason in the foreseeable future.