Cavs

Varejão, Cleveland Finally Get Closure

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The Cleveland Cavaliers have endured a brutal stretch of losing and injuries that have sunk their 2021 playoff hopes. Cleveland has already turned their attention to the draft lottery as they crawl to the finish line.

There will be plenty of time in the offseason to discuss the team’s failures and disappointment. For now, the organization gave fans a proper chance to celebrate a franchise favorite.

The “Wild Thing” Returns

Cleveland surprised the fanbase and NBA world alike by signing former longtime Cavalier Anderson Varejão to a 10-day contract. Varejão, 38, hasn’t played in the NBA since 2017 with the Warriors. Varejão never got to end his career in Cleveland like he envisioned after spending 12 seasons with the team.

This contract is mostly ceremonial as ‘The Wild Thing’ won’t exactly be expected to add major contributions to the rotation. However, the team does see value in giving Varejão some run with the young core. The hustle and tenacity in which he played with during his career is what the organization is looking to coax out of this inexperienced team. Getting the opportunity to pick his brain and learn from him is a valuable asset to have over the final stretch of a playoff-less season.

Some might call this a publicity stunt to distract fans from the team’s current state. This wouldn’t be the first time. Fan service has occurred before during Cleveland’s rebuild.

  • In 2018-19, after trading him the year prior, the Cavs signed 2016 champion Channing Frye to give him a season-long career sendoff culminating in a jubilant celebration during his final game.
  • Also that season, the Cavs traded for fellow 2016 champion Matthew Dellavedova and re-signed him this past off-season.

Neither of those moves were expected to seriously alter the franchise long-term. That being said, both members of the title squad earned the praise and love the fanbase showered upon them during their returns. Now Varejão gets his moment in front of the fans.

As the Cavs celebrate his career, it’s worth looking back and remembering Anderson Varejão’s journey to becoming one of Cleveland’s favorite players.

Early Years

The Orlando Magic drafted the 6’10” Brazilian big-man 30th overall from FC Barcelona with what was that year’s first pick of the second round. About a month later, he was included as a throw-in in a deal for the Cavs to acquire Drew Gooden for Tony Battie and two second-round picks.

He joined a young foundation spearheaded by LeBron James as an emerging up-and-comer in the East. The curly-haired Brazilian won over Cleveland fans almost immediately. He constantly chased down loose balls and was active around the rim. His seemingly blatant disregard for his own body and wacky hair earned him the nickname ‘Wild Thing’. During a home game in 2006, the Cavs attempted to break the Guinness World Record for the most people wearing wigs in a single venue as each fan received a wig resembling Varejão’s hair.

Throughout his career, he would miss a large number of games due his intense effort and energy on the court. His first such stretch was missing the first 32 games of the 2005-06 season with a dislocated right shoulder. He bounced back and had a solid back-end of the season. Varejão became an important part of the 2006 postseason rotation as the Cavs won 50 games and their first playoff series since 1993.

The 2006-07 season, his third in the league, saw ‘Wild Thing’ earning increased minutes in Mike Brown‘s rotation. He posted a top-10 defensive rating and unofficially led the league that season in charges taken. His defensive dirty work helped the Cavs advance to their first Finals in franchise history. His performance is obviously overshadowed by LeBron, but he had some great performances against Detroit in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals.

Consistent Rotation Player

As a restricted free agent, Varejão didn’t sign with Cleveland for the 2007-08 season until December. After he inked a two-year deal with a third-year player option, he was good ole Andy Varejão again and brought the same energy as previous years. He was once again an integral piece to the rotation and performed well in the 2008 playoffs.

During following two seasons, ‘Wild Thing’ was one of Cleveland’s best players in back-to-back 60-win seasons. He started a career-high 42 games in 2008-09 in which the Cavs won a team-record 66 games. He also started in all 14 of their playoff games in 2009.

Perhaps his most memorable moment as a Cav was his game-winning three-pointer on LeBron’s 25th birthday in 2009. It is the only three-pointer he has ever made in an NBA game.

He re-affirmed his commitment to the Cavs by signing a six-year deal worth $48.3 million in the offseason.

Varejão followed up that year with his most efficient season shooting 57.2% during the Wine and Golders’ 61-win season in 2009-10. He played in all 11 of Cleveland’s playoff games and was named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team.

Injury Issues

After consecutive years of avoiding major injuries, various ailments limited Varejão to 81 games over the next three seasons. He started in every game he played over the three-season stretch.

  • 2010-11: A torn tendon in his right foot limited him to 31 games.
  • 2011-12: A fractured wrist held him to 25 contests in a year in which he was averaging a double-double of 10.8 points and 11.5 rebounds. This season included another Varejão wig night.
  • 2012-13: A blood clot in his lung once again shortened his season to 25 games. He was having his best scoring season averaging 14.1 points and leading the league averaging 14.4 rebounds before going down.

The 2013-14 campaign saw Varejão return to play in 65 games, but his playing time was lower than previous years. He only started 29 times due to Andrew Bynum and Spencer Hawes occupying the starting role at various points.

Varejão signed a three-year, $30 million extension in October 2014 as the Cavs returned to contention with LeBron’s return. However, his season ended prematurely again after just 26 games due to a torn Achilles. He missed the team’s return to the Finals against Golden State in 2015.

Joining the Enemy

Andy came back for the start of the 2015-16 season but had his minutes limited to a career-low average. The Cavs made the difficult decision at the 2016 trade deadline to move Varejão to Portland in a three-team trade to receive Frye from Orlando. The Trail Blazers waived him immediately after acquiring him, making him a free agent.

In a move that pained many in Cleveland, ‘Wild Thing’ signed with the rival Golden State Warriors during their historic 73-win season. Varejão became the first player ever to play for both Finals teams in the same season when the Cavs and Warriors rematched in the 2016 Finals.

While the Cavs made their historic 3-1 Finals comeback, their franchise legend was on the other side. After they won, the Cavs offered Varejão a championship ring since he was on the team during the season, but he declined having played against them in the Finals. It didn’t sit well with fans that he never got his ring with Cleveland.

Golden State brought him back for the 2016-17 season, but cut him after he played just 14 games. After the Warriors beat the Cavs in the 2017 Finals, Golden State offered him a ring and this time he accepted. The fact that Andy has a ring with Golden State and not the Cavs left his team legacy in an odd place for fans.

Returning Home

Varejão joined Flamengo in the NBB (New Brazil Basketball) for the second half of 2017-18 and all of 2018-19. Prior to rejoining Cleveland, he had not played competitively since the 2019 Basketball World Cup in China.

When arrived for his first day of work back with the Cavs, he had trouble getting to the Cavs’ locker room.

The arena has been renovated since his last time suiting up for Cleveland. His return in Cleveland against Portland was well worth the wait for Cavs fans who gave him the ovation he deserved.

It may have been an odd feeling for Cavs fans, but it was okay to smile. Seeing Varejão on the floor was a bright moment in an otherwise dull season. He finished with one point, six rebounds, one assist and one block in seven minutes.

In total, Varejão holds top-ten spots on many all-time franchise leaderboards. He ranks eighth in regular season games played and fourth in playoff games played with 71. He’s one of the best rebounders in Cavs history ranking fourth in offensive boards, seventh in defensive boards and sixth in total rebounds. Varejão also ranks eighth in steals and in blocks.

Varejão joined the Cavs straight from Brazil when was 22 and could barely speak English. Now he rejoins the team 17 years later as a Cleveland resident with a family. It’s not out of the question for his jersey to one day hang in the rafters of Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.

The Cavs have many big-picture questions to address this offseason. It was nice to give fans something in the short-term to enjoy as the young team experienced plenty of growing pains. There has been quality development from Cleveland’s young players which could lead to tangible team results one day.

Until then, seeing ‘The Wild Thing’ back in uniform is enough reason for every Cavs fan to smile for the remainder of the season.

Follow us on Twitter @CavsLead for the latest Cavs news and insight. 

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About Avi Carr-Gloth

Avi is a senior at Emerson College majoring in Journalism. Follow him on Twitter @avicarrgloth to stay up to date on the latest Cavs content.

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