Anderson Varejao, the 12-year veteran of the Cavs, was recently traded to Portland in a three-team deal that netted Cameron Frye for Cleveland. The Blazers waived him tootsweet and now our he's on the street, free to sign with whomever he wants. The Spurs are among the teams interested, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein, along with the Warriors and the Thunder.
The questions before us, based on the hypothetical of Stein's report being accurate, is A) why would the Spurs want him, if they indeed do and B) should they?
Varejao, 33, used to be a really good player once upon a time. Never a star by any means, but a solid glue guy, an ace offensive-rebounder, and someone quick enough laterally to hedge on the pick-and-roll. He was basically Tristan Thompson, with less dunking and more Simpsons references. Unfortunately for him, Brazilian big-men have bones made out of Legos so he's missed a lot of time with injuries over the years.
How much time exactly? Well, he's topped 31 games and 1,000 minutes exactly once since 2009-10, when he was 27. He's only played as many as 50 games five times in 12 years. He appeared in 31 games before being traded by Cleveland and was a healthy scratch in many more, but he's been such a non-factor for first David Blatt and then Tyronn Lue that he's played all of 310 minutes this season, which is five more than Boban Marjanovic.
And let's be clear: Varejao, shooting 42.1 percent on the season, with just 21 free-throw attempts, is no Boban offensively, to be kind.
Defense is a different story, of course. He did lead the Cavs in defensive rating in his limited time for what its worth, but wasn't enough of a difference-maker to leapfrog Timofey Mozgov in the rotation. And it's not like we can blame that on the politics of salary. He was making more than double what Mozgov makes. Varejao has slipped as a rebounder, with the years and the injuries catching up to him, and the inactivity has likely caused whatever offensive skilled he once had to erode some. His PER of 11.7 is a career-low.
Ostensibly, the Spurs' interest in Varejao would be purely to play in case of emergency. It's hard to see him getting minutes over David West, for example, even though he is the superior defender. West has already done enough to earn his keep and then some, sacrificing nearly 90 percent of his salary to join the Spurs in the first place. If anything, West may lose playing time in the postseason just because the Spurs will run into some small-ball lineups.
The obvious concern when you see a rumor such as this is that the club is still worried about the health of Tim Duncan, or their prospects of being able to keep him healthy for the duration. He missed eight games with "right knee soreness" before the All-Star break and finally looks like he's ceding some ground in his turf war with Father Time, particularly on offense, where he's looked rigid, mechanical, and at times uncoordinated near the basket -- and his jumper is so flat that you can iron a shirt on it.
But Duncan is still so smart, and such a skilled grandmaster of the game, that he finds a way to be an offensive asset even as his skills diminish. He's still the best screen-setter on the team and the best passer among the starters. He still knows how to use his length and his body to tip in misses or to secure offensive boards to steal another possession. And we haven't even discussed defense, where Duncan was enjoying one of his best seasons on that end before getting hurt.
Simply put, the gap between Duncan and someone like Varejao is such a chasm that ultimately it doesn't really matter if the Spurs sign him or not, because for all intents and purposes, San Antonio's season ends the second Duncan's does. I could see the logic in bringing Varejao into the fold as a stopgap for spot minutes in case Duncan suffers the kind of injury that keeps him out for a quarter or a game, but regardless, the drop-off would be significant. Just about everything has to go right for the Spurs to win the title and that certainly includes Duncan not only staying healthy but somehow being able to capture some of his old form on offense one last time.
The more interesting question, to me anyway, if indeed the Spurs are interested in Varejao is what does that mean for Marjanovic? We've heard both Gregg Popovich and Kawhi Leonard take the fans to task for treating the Serbian giant like some circus act or sideshow, but what are we to conclude about how PATFO sees him if they'd feel more comfortable playing someone signed off the street, a stranger to their program who hasn't spent all year with the team and who'd barely know any of their plays? Ironically, it's Varejao who has the "Sideshow Bob" nickname.
Ultimately the best reason to sign Varejao would be to keep him away from the Warriors. He makes a lot more sense for them as a backup center with Festus Ezeli out than he would for San Antonio. Then again, Golden State have so many good players, almost all of them 6'8 or shorter and capable of hitting the three-ball, that if the Dubs want to play someone who's not a shooter and not a big-time rim-protector, it kind of feels like they'd be doing the rest of the league a favor, like when Billy Donovan insists on sitting both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook together instead of staggering their minutes.
It'll be interesting to see where Varejao signs, but I can't imagine it'll move the needle much either way. If he's playing important minutes for the Spurs in May, something will have gone disastrously wrong.