Cavs: The Duel #2: Keep Andy?

December 7th, 2012 by John Krolik

The question is simple: should Anderson Varejao be traded? Mallory and Nate tagged teamed against me (Dani). Mallory was first into the square circle.

Note: All pictures correspond to argument previous.

Mallory: The argument for today, folks, is whether or not we should trade Andy.  Quite frankly, I think this is an absurd question.  Lets put it this way — what happens during that Detroit/Cleveland game on Monday without Andy? For the short term, trading Andy would be a disaster.  We’d win MAYBE 10 more games all season.  He’s one of two guys on this team who performs above average on offense, and gives two stinkies about defense.  Losing him would mean chaos for this year.  For the long term…You think next year is the year we kick it into full gear?  Without Andy, forget about it.  We’d have next to no front court presence.  (If you think TT qualifies you’re crazy.  He’s still a work in progress.)  We’d also be scrambling to find someone above the age of 25.  While that might not seem like an issue when thinking into the future, it is.  You need some steady leadership on a young team.  Don’t believe me?  Look at SAC for the last few years.

Trust me, guys. Andy has to stay.

Dani: I’ll start with the Detroit/Cleveland game. What happens, is we lose big. By 20. 25, maybe. 30? The point is, we lost anyways. A loss is a loss. The rest of the season would be a disaster, no question. But is that a bad thing? The Cavs weren’t looking so hot with Kyrie and Andy playing together, if you recall. Sure, it was a hell of a lot more fun. But we were still losing, and losing a lot. I think we’re a lottery team either way- the difference is between getting the 8th pick or the 2nd. That’s an immense difference in value. Yes the team would become slightly uglier chaos. But for the long term, that’s a price I’m willing to pay. First of all, I DON’T think we kick it into gear next year. Kyrie’s defense needs some serious work before the Cavs are an eight-seed, let alone a contender. And don’t tell me you think Dion is a star already- if he’s on a James Harden trajectory, which is something I personally believe, he’s three years away at least. If the Cavs could pick up Toronto’s pick and a later first-rounder for Andy, we could be looking at Rudy Gobert (7’1″, 7’9″ wingspan) and Shabazz Muhammad, along with Mason Plumlee or Kyle Anderson and the end of the first. Give ’em a year to gel, and that’s a serious squad you’re looking at- combined with Chris Grant’s one big expenditure and/or trade in free agency and whatever veteran filler is needed. And, of course, the picks we have for the next year. Long-term, my biggest concern with trading Andy is its possible negative effect on Kyrie. But I think he’ll be able to deal with it when he’s running down the floor to a fourth seed in three years with his fellow blue-chipper Kentucky players and whatever $45 million dollar PF we get in free agency/trade. (Paul Millsap?)

Look, I love Wild Thing as much as the next guy. And I wouldn’t trade him for just anything. But the big offers will come. And when it’s the time to pull the trigger, I hope Chris Grant has the testicular fortitude (shout out to Bill Simmons) to do it.

Also, this one off the record- me and Dan Gilbert would be totally fine with enabling the Thunder to beat the Heat.

Mallory: Dani, you make some great points, but they all come with caveats:

First, it’s not like Andy suddenly turns into a pumpkin after next season.  He’s sat out a lot due to fluke-y injuries, so his legs are fresher than your average all-star (Garnett, anyone?) and his game isn’t exactly predicated on athleticism as much as it is on smarts.  Tom said this during a podcast and it has continued to resonate with me – Andy doesn’t waste an OUNCE of energy on the floor – it’s all really smartly allocated for necessary moments.  That’s not going to fade with age. Now, the argument of Andy’s value on the trade market – Andy has unquestionably been the most valuable player on our team, and it’s not even close.  Currently Anderson Varejao ranks FOURTH, at 4.2, in Estimated Wins Added. (  Something about that number should jump out at you…at this time of this writing, we’ve only won four games!  Getting that value on the market is impossible, obviously, but getting anything CLOSE to that, especially given Andy’s cap number, is a long shot.  Lets say we get Toronto’s #1, a late first rounder, and suck this year.  We end up with the #3 and #5 picks in this year’s draft (that’s a long shot too, by the way) and draft two guys.  One is a bust, the other is a good, not great player (the two likeliest scenarios for ANY draft pick) and they both make us wait 3 years to be certain of that.  You think that, as the likeliest best case scenario, is worth trading a beloved member of this team, a leader, a likely all star, and a guy who can probably produce at near all star levels for the next 4 years, right as we’re supposed to pick up our win totals?  And during all this time, we have to convince Kyrie to re-sign? Look, at some point we have to start winning.  Trading our current best player for unknown entities is basically waving a white flag at another year – 2 years.  We don’t need to get younger – we have PLENTY of youthful projects.  We need to get older, more mature, and more consistent.  Guess who fits that description beautifully? Also, you really think we should trade away a guy making $9 million a year only to overpay someone barely younger who has played MORE minutes than Andy and at a lower level of competitiveness?  You’re nuts!

Nate, am I forgetting anything?

P.S: I did forget something!  That Toronto pick is protected.  Unless it’s #4 or lower, we get ZILCH.  Ouch.

Dani: Far be it from me to say that Andy isn’t going to produce at a high level for a few more years. If he weren’t going to, then he wouldn’t be so valuable. But I think this whole idea that Andy won’t regress like a normal player is patently absurd. Sure, he’s very smart, and his game certainly isn’t predicated on athleticism. But he still has to run and jump like anyone else- the image you’re painting, of Andy as a wily less-than-seven-footer who gains six offensive boards a game solely on positioning, that he’s a no-jump offensive player, is misleading. Anderson Varejao’s game is, as it always has been, predicated on hustle and smarts. The smarts don’t go away, but the hustle will be significantly reduced in effectiveness with every year he ages. Andy will be able to run after a few less loose balls every year, and offensive rebounding gets harder when you can’t jump as high, unsurprisingly. Do I think his production will fall off a cliff? No. But I do think that he will regress a little each year. (Which includes this year.) And another variable to throw into the equation: this season is an outlier. Varejao has never been this good. Certainly, his game has evolved, and there’s several specific improvements we can point to- his passing, his jumper- but if taking Statistics in high school this year has taught me one thing, it’s to trust the median a hell of a lot more than the outlier.
As for the draft picks, well…you’re sorely mistaken. First of all, the Toronto pick. While I think it’s a little too semantic to argue trade specifics when we have no idea if this trade is available, let’s go for it. The Toronto pick would be ours this year if it turned into a pick from 4-14. Next year, it’s 3-14. The following year, 2-14. And so forth. That pick has great value. If it became the fifth pick for us next year (a legitimate possibility, thanks to Kyle Lowry and the Man Who is Not Tristan Thompson and Never Will be), and our pick is number two, that gives us an unbelievable amount of young talent for the upcoming year. I understand the weariness of “projects” from the draft, but not all players are such. Kyrie panned out pretty quickly. Our frustration with Tristan shouldn’t make us assume that all top-five picks will be long term annoyances. Nerlen Noels, for example, is a player who most analysts say is ready to come into the NBA and immediately impact the game greatly on defense.

Look, I think the Cavs should be trying to contend in three years. Imagine the scenario, if everything goes well: Kyrie Irving is one of the best three point guards in the league. Dion Waiters has become a 20-5-5 guy, and has great chemistry with Kyrie. Shabazz Muhammad has learned to play the three with fantastic efficiency, and Tristan Thompson and Noels have formed one of the most dominant defensive front courts in the NBA. Off the bench, we have Doug McDermott providing sharpshooting, Jamal Crawford in his final year of providing instant offense, Alonzo Gee kicking ass as a perimeter defender, and whoever else Chris Grant nabs in between. The price for this massive group of young talent? Anderson Varejao. A true Cavalier, a player we all love…but when it comes down to it, Andy has tried to leave before. We all love him, but the couple of extra wins a year in the near future aren’t worth it. Not when we’re tying to build a championship core. As for Kyrie? He’s a smart kid. He’ll catch on real quick.

And then there was Nate.


TAG!  I’m in like Jimmy Superfly Snuka off the top turnbuckle!  (a reference you two don’t get because you’re millennials) .  You two are so young that you don’t have much of a memory for greatness: Gulf War 1, bombing Libya, The Bad Boys, Lakers/Celtics, grunge, New Coke, shoulder pads, coked up Dylan — ok, it wasn’t all good.  Let’s take a look at some great players who have won their first championship in their 30s:

Dirk Nowitzki
Paul Pierce
Kevin Garnett
David Robinson
Hakeem Olajuwan
Wilt Chamberlain
Ron Harper
Jason Kidd

So what I’m taking from this list is that it IS possible to win a championship after 30 with the team that drafted you.  Nowitzki, Garnett, Olajuwan, and Pierce all did it.  And if you’ll remember, there were some bad bad years for that Boston team before they got Garnett.  I personally thought that Doc Rivers was the worst coach in the history of pro basketball (which is why I’m leaving the jury out on Byron Scott).  What it also proves is that the key to winning a championship is putting the right pieces around a guy.  Patience, luck, and intelligent decision making are  huge keys as well.

So let’s take a look at what you said, Dani.

“Look, I think the Cavs should be trying to contend in three years. Imagine the scenario, if everything goes well: Kyrie Irving is one of the best three point guards… Dion Waiters… 20-5-5 guy… Shabazz Muhammad… Tristan Thompson and Noels… dominant defensive front courts… Doug McDermott… Jamal Crawford…””

So I assume you mean 2015-2016?  Let’s visit the ghost of Christmas future, and put some specific conjecture on Mallory’s points.  If they are as good as you say they are, Kyrie and Thompson will probably command a combined $35 million.  Waiters and Zeller will make a combined $8 million in the last years of their rookie deal.  Shabazz and Noel will be making a combined $10 million with two years left.  Gee, on a new deal will be making probably about what he’s making now.  Let’s guess $3.5 million.  Then combine this with a front court that probably can’t shoot over 60% from the free throw line (unless Zeller’s starting).  That’s $56.5 million invested on 7 players.  Let’s add Jamal Crawford as you say, for around $3 million.  Taking them to $57.5 on 8 players…  Not too bad.  There’s even room to add a decent mid tier free agents there, with a luxury tax threshold of $72 million.  We’re doing pretty well here.  There’s three huge problems with this though: 1) You’re counting on 6-9 very young players to pan out: Kyrie, Thompson, Waiters, Zeller, Shabazz, and Noel (or whomever we draft), and the other draft picks we have (should be 3 or 4 in there).  2) This hypothetical team can’t win anything.  They’re just too young.  The Thunder were the youngest average aged team in the history of the NBA with an average age of 25.  They are far and away the statistical outlier.  As you say, “trust the median a hell of a lot more than the outlier.”  Unless we signed some very old veterans who played a lot we’d have an average age of around 24 with the team you’re promoting.   The Cavs median age would be around 24.  We’d still be 4 years from competing.  This would put us into problem 3) The next year, we’d be the Thunder’s situation of having to choose which superstars to keep, with no way to afford all the guys we’ve drafted, which would leave us scrambling to make trades to plug in less expensive guys who are effective like this year’s Kevin Martin, and… this year’s Anderson Varejao.  Also, according to your plan, we’re on year 1 of a 6 year plan…  We all know how well that’s worked out for the Browns.  That’s right.  I just grappled you after a wicked shin kick.

Now that I’ve got you in a headlock, I have to take issue with another couple of points you’ve made 1) “Dwight Howard is far and away the best pick and roll center in the NBA.”  (Names may escape me in my old age, but I never forget hyperbole).  Dwight is good, but Anderson is on par with him in almost every area and significantly better in some.  AV has an effective TS% of 56.6 while Dwight Howard’s is 58: basically Andy makes up what he loses at the the rim for what Dwight gives up at the line.  Speaking of the line, Andy kills Howard there, shooting 78% versus 47%, leading to Hack a Dwight.  Howard can’t even make the paltry 53.4% it would take to make Hack-a-Dwight ineffective.  Wild Thing beats Howard on offensive and defensive rebound rate, and total rebound rate, 24.9% versus 17.9.  Read that again.  Anderson Varejao grabs 1/4 of all misses.  Howard is down this year because of injury and probably from playing with Gasol, World Peace, and Kobe, but Andy’s  current rebounding rate beats Howard’s best year at 22%.  Andy really starts to kill Dwight with assists and turnovers.  Andy’s 3.7 assists to 1.8 turnovers destroys Howard’s 2.2 to 3.1.  While these assists don’t all come out of the pick and roll, probably half of them do, and I’d wager Andy’s P&R passes are more spot on than his high post passes.  Last night was an example.  At one point, he dribble hands off to Casspi, picks, rolls, gets the ball and passes back to Casspi who draws a foul: an assist that will never show up in the stat book.  Dwight Howard can’t pass out of the P/R like Andy.  Dwight does beat Andy on usage, 23.4 to 18.2, but it’s not that extreme, and Andy seems to get better with more usage.  On defense Dwight is more effective, and I will say that Andy isn’t as good of a defender as he used to be, though the undisciplined Cavs suck at defense in general, and it’s harder to play better individual defense when the team defense is terrible: you don’t know which way to push your help, or help your teammates.  So lets say that Andy is Dwight’s equal on offense, and Andy is 80% of Dwight on defense.  Basically, Andy is currently a player who is 90% of Dwight Howard.   Andy makes $8.37 million, Dwight makes $19.54, over double Andy’s salary.  That’s right, I just nailed you with an Irish whip into a diving crossbody.

I also don’t want to hear any of this “Andy is a power forward, not a center nonsense.”  First of all, the notions of the difference between centers and power forwards are ridiculously antiquated.  The “positionless”  Heat and the Mavs proved that in the last two years.  There’s basically two kinds of big men in the NBA any more: guys that play around the basket, and “stretch fours.”  Guys who play around the basket are closer to true centers in that they score more points closer to the basket and are the guys that tend to block shots and rebound on defense.  Stretch 4s space the flour on offense, but are expected to rebound but not quite block so many shots, unless they’re Serge Ibaka.  There are very few true “post up” centers any more, and most players points in that spot come out of the pick and roll or the pick and pop.  In the Cavs system the two big man spots are virtually interchangeable.  Andy is quite capable of playing both “positions,” but he’s distinguished himself at the more traditional big man spot, thus increasing his value even more.  He’s quite capable of thriving in the coming “positionless” NBA.

Anywho, my posturing for the crowd aside.  Your main point seems to be that Andy’s season is a statistical outlier, and that his health and his play will regress to the mean.  Tom Pestak covered this in depth, so I won’t rehash it, but I would have you look at Zydrunas Ilgauskus as a player whose production took a couple of big statistical leaps in the 02-03 season at the age of 25, and then 07-08 at the age of 30.  I have a hard time finding examples of players who have made huge statistical leaps like Andy at age 30, but Jermaine O’Neal made two large statistical leaps, one in 01-02, after 5000 NBA minutes, and another in 04-05 (his 8th season) after 11000 career minutes.  He remained an effective NBA player for the next 5 years after that leap, and his free throw percentage continued a general upward trend throughout that time.  Kevin Mchale, similarly plateaued after about 9,000 career minutes.  It’s interesting that you mention outliers, because Malcolm Gladwell’s book “repeatedly mentions the ‘10,000-Hour Rule’ claiming that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours.”  It may be that around 10,000 minutes is the number for NBA big men to plateau.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this about corresponded to 10,000 hours of practice.  (This sounds like a good summer project for our resident stat-heads Kevin and Tom).  Due to a weird quirk of freak injuries and early limited playing time, plus not coming into the NBA until 21, Andy is in his 9th season and just peaking, or as I am betting, plateauing.  Boom.  Knee Drop.  You’re going down son.

My counter to you is not that we need to trade Andy and get younger, it’s that we need to recognize how great it is to have an outlier on our team.  We need to surround him with good players, playing well.  Remember that the Thunder didn’t become contenders till they got some vets that set the tone, most notably Kendrick Perkins.  We need those kinds of players, not more young guys.  Look at Sacramento.  All they have is young draft picks.  That team’s an enormous mess.  Being “good” will happen next year.  If we trade Andy, we don’t want more picks.  As Kevin has noted we already have like 6 picks in the next two years.  Unless it’s in the top (we’ll probably already have 1 there), we don’t need more picks.  We need veterans.  But there’s no veteran that does more and has a more equitable contract than Andy.  PERHAPS we trade Andy if we can get a very good player, and if can you find examples of players who have had atypical “peak” seasons and then had huge falloffs in production to counter my argument that he’s platteauing and not peaking… Maybe Rudy Gay or Josh Smith (who’s not nearly as good as Andy this year).  But that doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Why not just buy a marquee veteran next year, and about 3 quality vets, front load the contracts, and then draft well and try to roll over picks for the latter years.  There’s no player in this draft worth tanking (more) for, or trading Andy for.  Superfly Smash off the top turnbuckle.

P.S: Feel free to come back at me with some MMA references since I don’t get them, cause I’m “old.”

Vince, is that "Nate Smith" music?

Dani: First of all, I’ll address your list of players who won a championship after thirty. Garnett was most certainly not drafted by the Celtics, the team he won a championship with. Jason Kidd won with the Mavericks, the team that drafted him, but he spent the largest portion of his career, and his prime, on the Phoenix Suns and New Jersey Nets- I’m sure you know that, being that you were alive for that period, and I was not. That list, on its own, has literally no bearing on the decision to trade Andy or not. David Robinson didn’t win a championship until he was a greatly reduced role player on a Spurs team built around Tim Duncan. Paul Pierce and KG needed each other and Ray Allen to win a championship, as well as a young phenom named Rajon Rondo. That team’s style of construction and contention was more similar to allowing Kyrie to age to his thirties without layoff success, then snagging Derrick Williams and Anthony Davis to play with him in 2020. I’m not going to bother dismissing the other players on the list as unrelated to the Cavs’ current situation, because the compilation is all over the place. Ron Harper? Hakeem? Wilt? Let’s just move on.

I, at least, would be perfectly fine with being in the Thunder’s shoes three years from now. Two superstars and a fantastic surrounding cast? Sign me up. And I can’t guarantee that will be the Cavs roster three years from now. I’m hoping to all hell that Chris Grant can acquire Nic Batum somewhere along the way. What would you rather have? Andy at 33, ready to be overpaid the instant his contract expires? Let us not forget that he tried to go to the Bobcats at one point, it’s not like he made a blood pledge to stay with the team forever. As for the age issue, I would argue that the new salary cap rules make it significantly more likely that successful teams in the NBA to get younger and younger. While it is hard, and maybe impossible, to prove this, I would venture to say that the Thunder’s young age paint a picture of the future of winning in the NBA. Teams like the ’86 Celtics or the ’67 Sixers (you were the one that brought up Wilt) are simply impossible to build. And I would say that we are in year *two* of a 6 year rebuild. Kyrie Irving will be 26 at that point. Sounds perfect to me.

Okay, Dwight. Despite the fact that Superman hasn’t been quite as destructive on the defensive end as usual, he is a tremendously better defender than Anderson Varejao, and has been throughout his career. And he is better on offense, with a 5% increase in usage rate: a real difference you can’t just write off. We can’t “just say” they are equals on offense. We have about a decade of history that says otherwise. Andy is nearly equal to him, admittedly- through 20 games. Varejao = Howard is an arguable point this year, but it never has been before, and it reeks of small sample-size overreaction to claim it will continue as a reality for any real span of time.

I agree with you that Anderson Varejao is a great player. However, we already are tanking, with him or without him. This draft is one of the strongest in the last several years and is especially strong at two positions: center and small forward. Hmm, that’s exactly what the Cavs need. What marquee veteran are you suggesting we get? Hakeem Olajuwon? I don’t want to trade Wild Thing for just anything. But if we really want to become the Thunder, it may be necessary.

Kendrick Perkins didn’t win the WCF for the Thunder. That was Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

I know nothing of any sport outside of the NBA, the NFL and the MLB.

Oh, Nate...

Nate: Well, first of all, that Andy signing with the Bobcats thing?  He was a restricted free agent, he needed leverage.  I’m not putting any stock in it.  And yes, Hakeem is a perfect example.   He desperately wanted out multiple times.  The Rockets were patient, refused to trade him, and put a team around him.  Now, I know — different eras, but that first championship?  Hakeem and a lot of good, not great players: rookie Sam Cassell, Robert Horry, Kenny Smith, Cedric Maxwell, Chucky Brown…  It wasn’t a murderer’s row, and it was a down year in the NBA, but look at the Mavs: same theory: one great year and a down year in the NBA.  It can be done.

Furthermore, there are plenty of good guys that are going to be available next year that can help us at the premiere tier and to fill out our bench: Al Jefferson, Millsap, Josh Smith, Iguodala, Kevin Martin, J.J. Reddick, Tony Allen, Corey Brewer, Karl Landry, Jarrett Jack…  You may say, “Why would they come to Cleveland?”  Well, they’re certainly less likely to if Andy’s not here, and there’s a bunch of youngin’s running around like chickens with their heads cut off.  But the big reason they will come is that the new NBA luxury tax rules start next year.  There is going to be a crunch, and guys are not going to get the mid level exceptions from winning teams that they used to get.  They’re going to have to take less money to go to those places, or go play where the money is.  Additionally, we can swing trades with our cap space next year, especially toward the deadline, when teams are dying to get under the tax threshold.  Trust me.  There will be some fire sales.  Andy’s contract will be even MORE valuable then.  You say we’re in “year *two* of a 6 year rebuild.”  There is no six year window any more, Dani.  NBA free agent contracts are 4 years, or 5 years max.  6 year plans aren’t realistic.  You say teams like the ’86 Celtics and the ’67 Sixers are impossible to build, but that’s exactly what you’re trying to do with your “7 lottery picks in 4 years plan.”  Who says that Kyrie wants to stay when they hit restricted free agency, or even Waiters, especially if we stink the whole time?  Next year is the year to start competing.  One more lottery pick isn’t going to help that, but having one of the top centers in the league on the league’s most reasonable veteran contract will.

Also, In response to your P.S:  Perkins certainly didn’t win the WCF for the Zombie Sonics.  But he helped establish the culture of winning that got them them there in ’10-’11.  Teams need culture changers.  Those people are VERY rarely rookies.

Finally, I’ll just say this.  I don’t know if I can watch the Cavs without Varejao.  It’s going to be hard enough to lose Gibson.  If you’re not rooting for players you love, you’re just rooting for the laundry they’re wearing.


I think we’ve come to a head here. I love watching Anderson Varejao play basketball. But I don’t think this team is anywhere near contention, and I think that high lottery picks are the most valuable assets in the NBA, especially when the current draft class matches your team’s needs so well. This team is in between a rock and a hard place with Wild Thing. I don’t know what Chris Grant will do when the Thunder or whoever else comes a-calling, but whatever it is, I hope it works out well. There is nothing I would cherish more than a Cavaliers title. I’m gonna go watch Lebron highlights and cry. TTYL.


What do you think Cavs:the Blog readers?  Should the Cavs keep or trade Anderson Varejao?  Leave your vote in the comments section or tweet @oldseaminer, @MalFII, or @DanSoch.

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