For Anderson Varejao’s entire NBA career, he has played for the Cleveland Cavaliers. With the combination of crazy hair, hustle and energy, Varejao has become a fan favorite in his nine seasons in Cleveland. Other than the hair, hustle and energy, his career has been full of injuries, decreasing his value as a player. The past two seasons Varejao has only played in 25 games each year. However, even with all the injuries, he has still become one of the best defensive centers in the NBA.
Varejao was drafted No. 30 overall by the Orlando Magic in the 2002 NBA Draft. He was the second center the Magic drafted that year—they selected Dwight Howard with the top overall pick. A month later, Orlando traded Varejao, Drew Gooden and Steven Hunter to Cleveland in exchange for two second-round picks and Tony Battie. He became the third-ever Brazilian basketball player to play in the NBA (Leandro Barbosa, Nene Hilarioa).
His first NBA contract was a three-year deal that expired in 2007, making him a restricted free agent. He received an offer sheet from the Charlotte Bobcats for a two-year deal and the Cavs quickly matched the deal.
The Brazilian center was always considered the big man of the future for the Cavaliers. However, when “The Decision” went down, Varejao took on a different role for the franchise. With the departures of players like LeBron James, Mo Williams, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Shaquille O’Neal, Varejao quickly became a leader. His first obstacle he had to hurdle: getting his team through a 26-game losing streak. When they finally did snap the losing streak, the season was nearly finished and they finished the year 19-63, the second-worst record in the league behind Minnesota.
And from there the rebuilding began.
Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller all came into the league 22 years old or younger, looking to make an early impact on a franchise that hit rock bottom. Standing in the middle of the team’s transition was Varejao.
His name can be found on the top of rebounding lists, charges drawn, injury reports and his name is always thrown around every trade deadline. He has been the Cavs’ most tradable asset since LeBron left for South Beach. His name has been thrown around in a lot in trade rumors over the past few years–for good reason–but the Cavs have never been able to land the right deal for him. Varejao is a tough player to deal, and teams want to make a deal based on what his stat sheet shows. The Cavs want to make a deal based on his stats and what he brings to the table, and that what his stats don’t necessarily show. All the charges drawn, offensive tip outs and his pick and roll defense can be hard to put a price on.
Through all the offensive rebounds, injuries and trade rumors, Varejao’s curly hair is still flowing in a Cavaliers uniform. He turns 31 before the 2013 NBA season starts and has three years remaining on his contract. Given his injury history, the Cavs won’t be breaking the bank to resign the Brazilian center. But if he averages career highs like he did last year in points and rebounds—which is unlikely with the acquisition of Andrew Bynum—he could finish as the Cavs’ best all-time rebounder. He is approximately 2,000 rebounds behind Ilgauskas, who is the franchise’s leader with 5,559.
With his uncertain future, no one knows what will happen with Varejao. He could be dealt to another team or he could retire as a Cavalier. He could be like his mentor Ilgauskas and come back and work under Chris Grant as assistant general manager. His jersey may never be retired in the rafters in Quicken Loans Arena, but maybe they will retire a replica wig in honor of the Wild Thing; fans know he deserves it.