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Wild Thing States His Case
Wild Thing States His Case
During the Anderson Varejao holdout, you couldn't find any fans that were willing to stand behind the Cavs young Brazilian big man. We all talked about Andy's flaws as a player, then watched the Cavaliers struggle mightily without him. Well, Varejao has had a very real impact on the win-loss column for the Cavs since returning, and it's becoming apparent that the next time the two sides visit the contract negotiating table, Varejao will be in the driver's seat.
There wasn't a lot of black and white in the Anderson
holdout saga, which has already faded into the back of most fans' minds.
Danny Ferry held all the cards. He held
rights as a restricted free agent, he reserved the right to match any offer another team would make, and he was dealing with a player who had a very limited market for his services. No other team was coming out of the woodwork to pay him the kind of money he was seeking -- or any money for that matter, since it was common knowledge that the
would match any reasonable offer.
Still, news reports said
was stubbornly hunkered down on a contract demand somewhere in the $9-10 million per year range.
later refuted those published claims, but whatever he was demanding, Ferry wasn't biting, and the standoff continued into the season.
Public favor largely rested with
management during the entire fiasco. Ferry was attempting to avoid another crippling contract by refusing to shell out too much money for a role player -- in this case, a player high on energy but short on skill, a player many fans and media members deemed replaceable.
who was being unreasonable, we said. He was the one listening to his shark agent, the one overestimating his market value, the one who was apparently too proud to admit he made a miscalculation.
Harsh words followed.
accused Ferry of breaching protocol by making a clandestine trip to see
in Brazil before the start of the season. Ferry said he made the trip because he had been stonewalled from communicating with his player.
countered by saying the
didn't deal in good faith, and that he didn't want to play here anymore.
By the time the Bobcats gave
the out he was looking for, signing him to an offer sheet that would finally force the
to match and break the stalemate, it was already December and damage had been done to the season.
were plodding along at that point, reeling from the results of a six-game losing streak that coincided with
James in street clothes attempting to nurse a sprained finger back to health. They were below .500 for the first extended period since
rookie season of 2003-04, when they finished 35-47.
Then, on Dec. 11,
and Larry Hughes all returned in a 118-105 win over the Pacers, and the team's fortunes turned upward.
Since the return of
from his extended
are 10-6, including a 5-1 record in January. It's not a coincidence or merely the psychological effect of the team being made whole again.
has had a very real impact on the win-loss column for the
since returning, and it's becoming apparent that the next time the two sides visit the contract negotiating table,
will be in the driver's seat.
His basic stat line reads like a very good bench player's should: 8 points, 8.7 rebounds and half a blocked shot in about 28 minutes per game. But that's only the tip of the iceberg.
The real story of
return with a vengeance is that 48 of his 139 rebounds this season are offensive; that he's shooting 50 percent from the floor and not all of his made shots are tip-ins or
Mike Brown is starting to draw plays that call for
cutting to the basket. The man with hands I once believed were the worst in the NBA is actually a more sure-handed receiver for
fastballs than teammate Drew
, whose hands should be scarred from all the
passes that have smacked off them and out of bounds.
The real story is that
, since returning, has become the most dynamic, well-rounded big man on the roster, capable of rebounding, playing a little defense, and deceptively using an improving offensive game that not a lot of people know about yet.
If you're a
fan, you want the rest of the country's image of
to come from Game 3 of the NBA Finals, when he foolishly tried to force an errant layup with time winding down, instead of passing back out to
. You want all the other teams to believe that the player they should really be worried about is
job a lot easier when you write him off as a
, uncoordinated pup with no real skills. It allows him to mask his growing basketball intelligence, his knowledge of how to plant his feet just so, take a charge in the sternum and fall over so that the refs toot their whistles in spite of the
It allows him to mask his ability to gain position on opposing players in the rebounding trenches, then relentlessly swipe at the ball with a series of deflections aimed at preventing the other would-be
from getting both their hands
on the ball.
Like the distorted post-impressionist works of Vincent Van
thrashing, flailing and flopping might look like the brushstrokes of a madman to some, or at least the
of an amateur. But it might actually be genius unrealized in its own time.
has always had a unique skill set as a basketball player. It's far from perfected, but even as it stands now, it's a skill set that helps the
win ballgames. It's a skill set that was sorely missed by the
for the month-plus that
sat in Brazil.
is the glue that holds Mike Brown's bench together. With him, it's a serviceable unit. Without him, it's pretty much dead weight, even with the sharpshooting of Daniel Gibson available.
When -- or hopefully before --
becomes an unrestricted free agent the summer after next, Ferry would be wise to realize what he has in
, and be ready to pay him as such.
While Ferry was right to not overpay this time and load another cumbersome contract onto the
' collective back,
unrestricted free agency will be a different story. Not only will
demand a huge raise, by that point in time, there might be teams out there willing to give him the money he wants.
If the first month-plus of
return to the
is any indication,
is developing into a star, someone the
cannot afford to part with in the years leading up to
own unrestricted free agency, when it will be critical to show him that he can be a long-term title contender in his home state.
Hopefully, the coming year and a half will allow time for Ferry and
to rebuild any bridges that were burned during the recent contract fiasco. Otherwise the
and Cleveland fans might find out the hard way that
isn't as replaceable as we once believed.
Jan 14, 2008 7:00 PM
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