Wild ThingTeam Falters, Varejao Lounges

People sometimes like to say ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’. Unfortunately, when things don’t change, they have a funny way of still staying exactly the same. Imagine that.

Last night, the Cavaliers once again displayed a simply pathetic defensive performance and even yet another superhuman performance by LeBron (34-7-7) couldn’t overcome the defensive shortcomings, as the team fell at home to the Milwaukee Bucks by a score of 111-107. That’s right, the same Bucks team who prior to last night were averaging 89 points on 41% FG shooting on the road. Last night? 111 points on 48% shooting. You might want to chalk it up to coincidence, but realize, the Cavaliers are giving up the 7th most points per game (103.5) in the entire NBA. Only 7 teams are allowing a higher opponents’ FG% than the Cavaliers. Last season, only 7 teams held their opponents to a lower FG% and they were 5th in opponents’ PPG.

So what’s going on here? This is virtually the same team as we had last year. Well, I think there are 2 major differences. First, Daniel Gibson is getting a LOT more playing time this year (33.0 minutes per game vs 16.5 min last year). I really like the development of Daniel’s offensive game, and he seems to keep getting better and more confident and assertive. But his defense is still an area that needs a lot of work. He often seems to be slow to cut off the penetration and slow to recognize screens. Hopefully these are areas that he can improve on.

The other major difference is the lack of AV. Varejao’s absence is killing this team on the defensive side of the ball. His energy is one thing, but the other aspect that’s missing is his enormous threat to take an offensive foul. His mere presence on the court slowed opponents’ penetration last season because they had to be mindful of him taking a charge (flopping?), and this hesitation seemed to stall the other teams’ offenses last year.

I know I’ve written repeatedly that I don’t want the Cavaliers to budge and give in to Andy’s insane demands, and I still don’t. But more and more pressure is going to be applied to this team to do something with AV. Already trade whispers (speculation?) seem to be increasing. Ken Berger wrote in Newsday about this,

“We’ve been over this: Trading a 30-year-old screwball point guard owed $42 million isn’t impossible.

What if the Kings, for example, want to unload Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Kenny Thomas badly enough to include Ron Artest in a deal? What if Marbury’s involvement in a three-way deal with the Kings and Cavs is enough to revive the long-rumored Mike Bibby-to-Cleveland talks and get Anderson Varejao out of Ohio?”

And David Aldrige wondered in The Philadelphia Inquirer if the Cavs would be interested in making a deal, saying:

“If Andre Miller is a starter, and the starters are getting their ears pinned back almost every night, the Sixers really should think seriously about moving him. It won’t be to Miami – some chat yahoo started that rumor a few days ago – but it should be somewhere.

Cleveland is desperate for a starting point guard to help LeBron James, and if the Cavs don’t get anywhere soon in their negotiations with their free agent, Anderson Varejao (the two sides are a million miles apart), Billy King should see if there’s some way Varejao would come down from his ridiculous $10-million-a-year demands and take a reasonable contract that the Cavs could put in a package. For, say, Miller.”

There’s no denying this organization has been in need of a point guard for far too long. And names like Andre Miller and Mike Bibby sure do sound nice. But a funny thing has happened. The Cavs’ offense has been respectable this season (11th in the Association in PPG). I’m not so sure the team’s most pressing need right now is offense. Look, if Varejao is willing to come down in his demands as David Aldridge is hoping, why wouldn’t the Cavs just sign him themselves at that point?

If the pressure to do something is building on the Cavs, then it’s growing even more on Varejao. Brian Windhorst wrote earlier this week,

“Spanish newspaper Marca last week quoted a source close to Varejao as saying he is close to ”giving up” signing with the Cavs this season. What that means isn’t clear — whether he’ll follow through with threats to sit out the season or sign to play in Europe. Either way, the Cavs maintain his rights next summer.

Varejao’s decision to delay signing could end up costing him lots of money even if he eventually comes to terms with the Cavs. The team could pro-rate the contract and dock him pay for missing games. If he were to sign for the roughly $6 million the Cavs are believed to have on the table for this season, he technically would already be out about $920,000, which is about what he made all last season. Of course, that’s all negotiable.”

The team clearly is still holding all the cards in this situation, but that doesn’t mean that some kind of change isn’t needed. The Cavs are simply not going to be very far above .500, if at all, if they keep giving up 103 points per game. There just isn’t enough firepower outside of LBJ to sustain this offense against such a lousy defensive effort. Something has to change, and it had better change sooner rather than later.