Can Cleveland Cavaliers Really Trust Anderson Varejao as Their Starting Center?

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Can Cleveland Cavaliers Really Trust Anderson Varejao as Their Starting Center?
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Despite an offseason of changes, trades, signings and a plethora of new faces for the Cleveland Cavaliers, one curly-topped veteran remains.

Anderson Varejao will be entering into his 11th season with the Cavs, a journey that began following a 2004 trade to Cleveland as a throw-in with Drew Gooden.

Varejao has witnessed the Cavaliers' rise to power, played in the NBA Finals, been part of a complete rebuild and now faces serious championship pressure once again.

Now approaching age 32 with a checkered injury past, is Varejao ready for the challenge? Better yet, can the Cavs still rely on him as their starting center, especially with such lofty goals?

As skilled and beloved as Varejao is, unfortunately not.

The Cavs should definitely begin the season with Varejao as their starter, but they better have a solid backup plan for their Brazilian big man, just in case.

 

The Good Andy

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

The great part about Varejao is he should fit perfectly with the Cavs' current group.

With LeBron James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and company, shots may be hard to come by. That should be just fine for Varejao, who's never really cared about his own offensive production.

Varejao's game has always been built on rebounding, hustle and defense (with some flops thrown in for good measure). The past four seasons, Varejao has averaged at least 9.7 rebounds per game, and was the ninth-best per-minute rebounder in the NBA this year (via ESPN.com).

Although he won't be relied upon to score, it's worth noting that Varejao has made nice strides in both his range and efficiency on offense. Last season, he knocked down 47.2 percent of his mid-range jumpers, via NBA.com/Stats. This followed seasons of 41.7 percent in 2012-13 and 35.9 percent in 2011-12.

If the Cavs need him to score 10-15 points on a given night, Varejao is certainly capable. With this roster he shouldn't have to, and instead he can relax while sticking to his strengths.

Whether it was with James competing for titles or next to Irving simply trying to make the playoffs, Varejao has been just fine doing the dirty work and little things that all add up to wins. His role with the 2014-15 squad will be no different, as Varejao should blend in beautifully with the Cavs' core.

 

The Bad Andy

Not to mean he's a bad guy or anything, but Varejao can't be trusted anymore to play a complete, healthy season.

The last time Varejao even sniffed 70 games was in 2009-10, before James had even taken off a Cavaliers jersey.

The past four years, Varejao has totaled 146 games, or not even two full NBA seasons. His on-court time has been great, but it's only lasted an average of 36.5 games since 2010.

Reinhold Matay/Associated Press

As previously mentioned, Varejao will turn 32 next month and can't handle heavy minutes anymore. Former coach Byron Scott made the foolish decision to run Varejao out for 36 minutes a night in 2012-13. The result: Varejao split a muscle in his leg and Scott was fired the following offseason.

Mike Brown did a better job last year of keeping Varejao's minutes at around 27 a night. If the Cavs want to preserve him for a potential long playoff run, new head coach David Blatt may be forced to decrease that total even more.

 

Backup Plan

Right now, it's unclear if there even is one.

The Cavs traded for Brendan Haywood this summer, a 12-year veteran and former champion with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011. Unfortunately, Haywood is coming off foot surgery that caused him to miss the entire 2013-14 season. His availability for this season is unclear.

After that, Tristan Thompson appears to be next in line. Although a natural power forward at 6'9", Thompson played a significant amount of center during his rookie year. Love can also play the 5 in smaller lineups when Blatt wants to put James or Shawn Marion at power forward.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Although undersized, Thompson is Varejao's best backup.

This means the Cavs are one injury away from putting Thompson into the starting unit with no reliable reserve whatsoever.

This just can't be an option.

While there's no center savior on the free-agent wire, the Cavs can find some decent help if they look hard enough.

Cleveland is reportedly interested in Emeka Okafor, according to ESPN's Marc Stein. Okafor, like Haywood, also missed last season while recovering from injury. Stein reports that Okafor may not even be ready until around midseason, at which point he'll be "in high demand."

Players like Kenyon Martin, Elton Brand and Andray Blatche are still available, and they could possibly sign for the veteran's minimum for a chance at a ring.

The other option for Cleveland is a trade.

Their current target? Denver Nuggets big man Timofey Mozgov. ESPN's Brian Windhorst said on ESPN Cleveland 850's The Really Big Show that the Cavs have "been trying to trade for him for the last six to eight weeks and they just haven’t been able to get it done.”

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Nicki Jhabvala of The Denver Post gives us more insight on Mozgov:

The Nuggets’ 7-foot-1 center, who was acquired from New York in the Carmelo Anthony trade in 2011, had a bit of a breakout season last year with starter JaVale McGee out all year because of a leg injury. Mozgov, 28, had never played more than 45 games in a season his previous three years in the league but played in all 82 last season while starting 30 of them. With the added playing time, he posted career-highs of 9.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game.

Mozgov would be a solid backup who can do something no other Cavs player can: protect the rim. His 1.2 blocks would have been enough to lead Cleveland last season, and they extrapolate to 2.0 per 36 minutes of play.

 

Conclusion

Should the Cavs use Varejao as their starting center? Absolutely.

Should they blindly trust him there without a Plan B? Nada.

What should Cavs do behind Varejao?

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Varejao's skill set, experience and fit make him an ideal starter for the Cavs at center. Unfortunately, his age, injury history and preferably low minute total also say that Cleveland's going to need a nice backup behind him.

With so much that's gone right for the Cavaliers this offseason, failing to provide insurance at one of the game's most crucial positions would be unacceptable.

Varejao should be the Cavs' starting center, but he can no longer be completely trusted.

 

-GS

All stats provided by Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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