The season ending injury to Anderson Varejao isn’t a surprise, but it still calls for the Cleveland Cavaliers to try and find a replacement. There are options from the outside, including Timofey Mozgov, Kostas Koufos, Brandan Wright and even Samuel Dalembert, but maybe the answer to their problem is on the inside.
While a torn Achilles seems to be a random injury which has nothing to do with work load and injury proness, just looking at the number of games the Brazilian center has played over the years brings you to the conclusion that counting on him staying healthy wasn’t a great plan. His 65 games last season were his most in four years, playing a combined 81 games in the three seasons before that. Varejao just isn’t the durable type.
Being a three All-Star team, the Cavaliers are short on depth, but have internal options to handle this situation. No, it’s probably not Brandon Haywood, Alex Kirk and Lou Admondson who usually get garbage time minutes and even when it’s more important, the Cavaliers are losing by more than 20 points per 100 possessions. There are other options, including small, and making the most of players ability to be in two positions.
Shawn Marion can be a power forward. So can LeBron James, calling for small ball. Tristan Thompson can play center, and Kevin Love as well. The most effective pairing for the Cavaliers this season in the frontcourt has been the one with Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love, playing 425 minutes and having a net rating of +12.7. Small ball lineups have been less effective both offensive and defensively, playing about a third of the minutes, but are also in the positive (1.8 net rating). Varejao, for his usefulness, usually wasn’t their best option at center.
And still, fearing another injury, the Cavaliers are going to try and use their trade exception and a draft pick (they can’t afford to give up on Dion Waiters or Thompson now) to add another big man. The hottest names right now are Timofey Mozgov and Kostas Koufos, who seemed like trade options even before Varejao went down. Both are better rim protectors than Varejao, allowing 47.6% and 45.1% respectively near the rim.
The Cavaliers don’t have a lot to offer, but a protected first round draft pick from the Grizzlies might help them sway either Memphis or Denver to be a bit more willing to negotiate. Brandan Wright isn’t your classic big man or defender, but he is very useful offensively, and the Cavaliers might get a disabled player exception for Varejao which they can use to add players on the last year of their contract, like Wright. Wright was recently traded from the Dallas Mavericks to the Boston Celtics. Koufos is also on an expiring contract.
The fourth option and least likely is Samuel Dalembert from the New York Knicks. A solid rim protector (43.9%) but he is close to useless offensively, not to mention far from being a long term solution for further years if that’s something the Cavaliers are considering.
If not via trade, there’s always Jermaine O’Neal considering coming back into the league, but the Cavaliers will be facing stiff competition from at least four or five teams including the Clippers, Mavericks and Miami Heat.
Playing with Love and Thompson is a good option but they still need backups better than what they have now. Small is a good option, and will probably be the course of action until a trade happens. But for a team that wants to win a championship and contend not just now but in years to come, it’ll be very surprising not to see them making a move and add a player.