OMG I’m AwesomeAnderson Varejao Trying To Make Waves

This thing is officially a mess. With negotiations evidently going nowhere in the Anderson Varejao holdout, evidently AV has decided that the only thing left to do is to throw anyone and everyone under the bus by talking to the media and not holding back.

Lets start at the beginning. Anderson Varejao entered this offseason as a restricted free agent. He asked for a deal in the range of 6 years, $60 million. The Cavaliers, predictably, scoffed at this number, and basically told Varejao to go ahead and find someone to give him that kind of deal. The Cavaliers held all the cards, as they could match any offer anyone else made. After a lot of talk by Varejao’s agent, Dan Fegan about several teams showing interest in giving Varejao the money he wanted, the only team that even considered signing Varejao was Memphis, who eventually decided to just sign Darko Milicic. This left Varejao all by himself, with an inflated sense of self worth and no suitors.

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers did absolutely nothing. They brought in no plan B’s to replace Varejao. Danny Ferry just sat on his hands, and decided to keep holding all the cards. But not before making one major miscalculation. Ferry went down to Brazil and knocked on Varejao’s front door unannounced and unbeknownst to Fegan. He came with contract in hand and tried to talk Varejao into signing. The stunt was not illegal, but certainly taboo. Varejao was angered by the move, and basically told Ferry to leave and to call his agent.

Which brings us to today, with 2 sides who are angry, frustrated, and distrusting of the other side. All of this finally boiled over this week, as Varejao finally spoke out to the English speaking press. As Bob Finnan reported, as Varejao spoke, the Cavaliers began looking for other options. Finnan wrote,

“The Cavs have begun to aggressively pursue sign-and-trade deals involving the 6-foot-10, 250-pounder from Brazil, but a league source said they aren’t going to take back inferior players just so Varejao can be overpaid.”

The problem with this, however, is that it’s too little too late. Sign and trade deals are just too tough to pull off this late in the season. Brian Windhorst touched on this in his blog this week, saying:

“As for a sign-and-trade now, who is fooling whom? The summer is for sign-and-trades, the summer is for doing contracts. You don’t think Fegan has been working on sign-and-trades since July? Of course he has and there is no deal to make. There one coming now just like there wasn’t then. See, so much of this is common NBA sense, which is why so much of this is nonsense.”

And often, nonsense breeds nonsense, and that’s what happened when Varejao spoke. In an interview with ESPN’s Chad Ford, AV absolutely ripped into the Cavaliers organization, from top to bottom, including teammates. From Ford’s interview:

“I wanted to come back. I love the fans and I really love my teammates. But there are others there that have made it very difficult. It’s gotten to the point that I don’t want to play there anymore. I’m just hoping for a sign-and-trade at this point.”

Several other teams told they would have offered Varejao their full midlevel exception (starting at $5.356 million per season), but Varejao has not been willing to sign for that amount because he believes (a) the Cavs would match, and (b) he’s worth more.

The Cavs’ popular forward wants considerably more than the team is offering. He turned down the Cavs’ one-year, $1.2 million tender offer. (To retain a restricted free agent, a team must make a tender offer.) He also refused Cleveland’s opening offer of five years, $20 million, and then its latest offer of five years, $32 million, with a starting salary slightly below the midlevel exception.

But Varejao said media reports that he’s asking for a contract averaging $10-11 million a season “just aren’t true. There are a lot of things being written that are wrong. I know they aren’t talking to me or my agent.”

Varejao says that the Cavs’ players support him, and that his conversations with James have been positive.

“He just says, ‘We love you and we’re waiting,'” Varejao said. “He keeps telling me he wants me back but to get the best deal I can and to take care of my family. He’s a great teammate. He always supports us on and off the court.”

That sentiment was confirmed by a source close to James, who said, “LeBron wants Andy back. He wants him to get a fair deal. I think his frustration isn’t with Andy, it’s with the fact that for the past two years, he’s been waiting for more help and he hasn’t gotten it. This is just a step in the wrong direction.”

If Varejao leaves, it will be a bitter ending for both parties. But at this point, that might be the most workable option.

“I’m willing to go and play in Europe if that’s what it takes,” Varejao said. “I know it’s a risk and I’ll be a restricted free agent next year, but at least I’d be happy. I don’t think I’ll be happy in Cleveland knowing that I was [almost] the lowest-paid player there for three years and am still paid much less than players on the team that I outperform. Life’s too short to be unhappy.”

That last paragraph is the one that really caught people’s attention and turned a lot of people against Varejao. The fact of the matter is, as long as there is no team willing to pay him the near $10 million he wants, and as long as no team is willing to give up pieces to overpay for AV themselves, this thing is likely going nowhere. As Adrian Wojnarowski wrote for Yahoo! Sports,

“Varejao had been asking for $60 million, an irrational request out of a player whom James made look much better than is. Privately, Varejao keeps telling James that he still wants to play for the Cavaliers. Yet, Monday, Varejao’s agent, Dan Fegan, apparently set him up with a writer to say he wants a sign-and-trade out of Cleveland. He’s rejecting the reported $32 million that Cleveland has offered him, and he thinks there are bigger riches on the market for him.

Maybe there’s a few more dollars, but not much more. Fegan has his client talking tough and he’s committing career suicide. He’ll never have it as good as chasing championships next to James for years and years. Varejao is letting Fegan use him to get his reputation back after the Yi Jianlian draft debacle, and that’s a shame. To hear Varejao insist he wants out is troubling to James. As much as anything, LeBron seems offended that a teammate would no longer want to play with him.

“If he’s got a problem with the front office, then he’s young enough where he can go somewhere else,” James said.

Asked if he was resigned to going the season without Varejao, James responded, “It doesn’t look like I’m playing basketball thinking about Andy coming back, does it?”

And don’t be fooled. LeBron isn’t the only member of the Cavaliers who was angered and shocked by Varejao’s comments.

“There was already a little uneasiness with Varejao, because he seemed to be betting on the Cavs getting off to a poor start to drive up his value. That’s a bit of a gray area. But the quote on, in which he belittled some of his teammates’ performances, wasn’t. The statement irked some Cavs, many of whom already have been scratching their heads over the process.

”I think it rubbed some of us the wrong way. One of the things you don’t do in this league is compare your situation to someone else because everybody is different,” one Cavs player said. ”I almost don’t believe he said it because earlier in the article he says he loves his teammates.”

The bottom line in this matter is that there are certain things that just aren’t tolerated in team sports. In the same way teammates do not publicly question holdouts and contract disputes involving other teammates, so too are they expected not to lash out at those still playing when one is holding out. AV broke major protocol when he diminshed the performance of his teammates in an attempt to make himself look better.

But is AV solely to blame? Perhaps not. There are many who are questioning how much of this is AV and how much is Dan Fegan. Brian Windhorst, for one, laughs at the notion that AV never asked for $60 million,

“By the way, Varejao trying to indict the Cleveland media saying he never asked for a contract averaging $10-$11 million a year is rich. One of the worst kept secrets in the NBA is that Fegan asked for six years and more than $60 million a few days before training camp. Executives all over the league have been taking to each other and to media members about that figure. It’s not even inside information anymore, everybody knows it. Maybe that is not what they are asking for now, but they asked for it then.”

The truly fascinating thing about this is how polarizing of a figure Fegan really has become. His mere involvement seems to indicate that this is going to drag on for a very long time. Amongst his detractors are former clients and peers alike. From Branson Wright’s article in the Plain Dealer today,

“Former Cavs guard Ricky Davis said he is positive Fegan is behind this stalemate. Fegan was Davis’ agent for two years.

“He doesn’t need to be an agent,” said Davis, about Fegan. “He does dirty stuff, under-the-table things. [Varejao] needs to change agents immediately if he wants to get this thing done.”

Fellow agents seem to share a similar viewpoint of Fegan:

“He’s a crazy guy,” said one agent, who did not want to be identified. “He’s known for picking up guys in their contract years, and that’s taboo in our industry. He did that with so many players, including Varejao. He’s not well-liked among other agents. . . . His biggest problem is that he doesn’t care about relationships. It can’t always be about the money.”

But is it really just about the money? There seems to be more at stake here, as this unprecedented restricted free agent hold out situation is being closely watched, as the outcome has ramifications for everyone involved.

“Another agent, who also didn’t want to be identified, said there’s a bigger issue on the table.

“Fegan’s whole reputation is based on what happens with Varejao,” said the rival agent. “Fegan’s trying to show how tough of an agent he is. Every agent, every GM and every player is watching to see how this works out. If the Cavs budge, Fegan will sign a hundred clients.”

That’s the flip side. Fegan is respected for his tough negotiation tactics, and many agents admire him. Those same agents also want to see if this holdout by Varejao transpires into dividends.

“If this works, we’ll all have our players hold out,” said the agent. “It’ll change the face of negotiations in the NBA. So what’s going on between the Cavs and Fegan is very important because if it works out for Fegan, this will change the whole game. But if he fails, he’ll look like an idiot.”

Which makes this whole thing seem to be more than just “nonsense”, but also transparent. This isn’t about what Anderson Varejao is truly worth. This isn’t about doing what’s best for a client. This isn’t about basketball as a sport. This is about pride, ego, and pure business. This is about manipulation of the system. This is about outsmarting. Which is really why Varejao would have been better served to have just stayed out of it. He’s obviously frustrated, but it seems a bit of that frustration is misguided. Not that he’s not entitled to be angry and frustrated with the Cavaliers, but he has to see that some of that should be pointed at his agent as well. Dan Fegan isn’t doing this for Anderson Varejao, he’s doing this for Dan Fegan. It’s just unfortunate that it was Varejao who got caught in the middle and who stands to lose the most, including the respect and trust of his teammates.