Varejao is the longest-tenured Cavalier, arriving via trade back in 2004. Now 31 years of age and having suffered a variety of injuries the past four years, his future with the team is very much up in the air.
Essentially, the Cavs have three options for Varejao in regard to the 2014-15 season.
- Keep him for $9.7 million.
- Cut him for $4 million.
- Trade him.
Arguments could be made for all three options, but which will the Cavs ultimately go with?
Option 1: Keep Varejao
Despite his age and questionable durability, Varejao is still a high-level contributor when healthy.
Last season, his 10th in the NBA, Varejao put up 8.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.1 steals per 27.7 minutes. He began the season as the team's starting center but was later moved to the bench in favor of Andrew Bynum, and later, Spencer Hawes.
Varejao stayed healthy enough to play in 65 games following three straight years of only appearing in 31 or fewer. The Cavs did a better job of monitoring his playing time following his career-high 36 minutes per game the year before.
His impact on the team starts with rebounding, but goes much further than that.
According to 82games.com, Varejao made a big difference on both ends of the floor. The Cavs scored 108.3 points per 100 possessions with Varejao on the court, compared to 103.6 with him off. On defense, Cleveland allowed 106.2 points per 100 possessions with Varejao, a number that inflated to 111.2 without him.
Matt Shantz of HoopsHabit.com points out that Varejao is also making a name for himself in the Cavaliers' record book:
Through all of this, his numbers have remained consistent, and his name can be found all over the Cavaliers’ record books: eighth all-time in steals (496), eighth in blocked shots (376), fourth in total rebounds (4,122), eight in field goal percentage (.512), and an amazing ninth in games played for the franchise (527). All of this considering that he has only played an average of 53.4 games per year during his career.
Without Varejao, the Cavs have just one center under contract for next season in Tyler Zeller. Hawes will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Based off team need, it makes a lot of sense to keep Varejao. Zeller is a fine young player, but he hasn't proven he can carry the minute-load at center. One more year with Varejao on board would help ease Zeller into a starting role later this season or next if Hawes isn't re-signed.
At $9.7 million, Varejao is probably overpaid, but not by much. The Cavaliers could still have roughly $20 million in cap room (via shamsports.com) even with Varejao's contract, should they choose to keep him in Cleveland.
Option No. 2: Cut Varejao
So why would the Cavs consider parting ways with Varejao if it just means saving $5.7 million?
It would all depend on what other moves they were trying to pull off.
Summer is a crazy, fun and weird time in the NBA. Just last season, the Golden State Warriors had to furiously move contracts in order to sign their prize free agent, Andre Iguodala. They eventually pulled off the move by trading Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins and Brandon Rush to the Utah Jazz, but not without a price. The Warriors had to send the Jazz a plethora of draft picks, including their 2014 and 2017 first-rounders, in order for Utah to agree.
Judging by his recent statements, it appears new general manager David Griffin is looking to take more of a "Golden State" approach to the offseason, per Jodie Valade of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
Griffin said he immediately is shifting the Cavaliers from "asset accumulation mode" into "targeted acquisition mode" as the team is expected to have $26 million in salary-cap space this off-season.
Depending on his master plan, Griffin may need more cap space than the Cavs currently stand to have.
This is where cutting ties with Varejao would come in.
Due to the unique structure of Varejao's contract, the Cavaliers can basically choose to have more cap space if they want it.
Say, for example, Griffin wants to sign Trevor Ariza, Greg Monroe and Gordon Hayward in free agency. The combination of three players like that is going to fill up $26 million pretty fast. If Griffin already agreed with two of the free agents and really wanted the third but needed some more cash to convince him to sign, Varejao could be let go.
While keeping him and spending moderately in free agency is more likely, we have seen situations like this happen in the league before.
Option 3: Trade Varejao
Think Andrew Bynum.
Not the clog-the-lane and jack-up-threes-in-practice Bynum, but more so his contract setup.
When the Cavaliers signed Bynum last July, they did so by offering him a heavily protected contract. Even though he could max out at $24 million over two seasons, the Cavs reserved the right to waive Bynum the first year while being on the hook for just $6 million.
This was key because his salary cap number sat at $12 million for the 2013-14 season, making trades for higher-priced players more plausible.
Teams that are on the luxury tax threshold heading into next year or just simply want to free up some cap space could be interested in Varejao from a purely financial standpoint. If Cleveland wanted to make a pitch for, let's say, Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love, Varejao would be an attractive piece to help them shed payroll.
It's also possible that contending teams would be interested in dealing for Varejao because of the skill set he brings to the table. While Cleveland also values his production, Varejao's injury history and expiring contract may be enough for it to pull the trigger on a deal.
Either way, Varejao could be a valuable trade asset this summer.
Most Likely Scenario
Unless there's a blockbuster deal that Griffin has up his sleeve, it would be a good idea to hang on to Varejao this year.
He's one of the few veterans the team possesses and has become a fan favorite for his hustle, hard work and constant motor.
Keeping Varejao for now would also allow the Cavs to use his contract as a trade chip at next year's deadline when they could be pushing for playoff positioning.
Given their current salary-cap situation, there's absolutely no need to cut Varejao now. It's best to hang on to him and let things play out this summer while still listening to offers.
Expect Varejao to return to the Cavaliers in 2014-15, if just for one more year.
All stats via basketball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.