Miami Heat logoCleveland Cavaliers (21-18) vs Miami Heat (8-29)
AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami, FL
Monday, January 21, 2008
8:00 PM EST
TNT, WTAM

It’s always fun when LeBron and Wade meet up and square off. Traditionally, their matchups against one another have been highly competitive and a blast to watch. Will this change now that the Heat find themselves in the midst of a 13 game losing streak, or will the challenge of facing his good friend cause Wade to elevate his team to a much needed streak-snapping victory?

Starting Lineups

Cleveland Cavaliers:

-G Larry Hughes (9.2 ppg, 2.2 apg, 28.8% 3pt, 7.94 PER)
-G Sasha Pavlovic (7.1 ppg, 1.6 apg, 27.6% 3pt, 5.89 PER)
-F LeBron James (29.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 7.5 apg, 30.15 PER)
-F Drew Gooden (11.9 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 0.6 bpg, 13.17 PER)
-C Zydrunas Ilgauskas (13.3 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 18.01 PER)

Miami Heat:

-G Jason Williams (8.9 ppg, 5.2 apg, 1.4 spg, 12.41 PER)
-G Dwyane Wade (24.4 ppg, 6.7 apg, 25.0% 3pt, 22.17 PER)
-F Dorell Wright (6.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.2 apg, 14.14 PER)
-F Udonis Haslem (12.6 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 0.4 bpg, 13.40 PER)
-C Shaquille O’Neal (14.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 1.6 bpg, 18.53 PER)

Team Efficiency Stats

Cleveland Cavaliers:

-Offense (96.4 ppg, 44.5 rpg, .434 FG%, .717 FT%, 19.1 apg, Efficiency-100.7, Rank-20)
-Defense (98.5 ppg, 41.8 rpg, .461 FG%, Efficiency-103.4, Rank-17)

Miami Heat:

-Offense (93.3 ppg, 38.8 rpg, .460 FG%, .693 FT%, 19.8 apg, Efficiency-99.0, Rank-27)
-Defense (100.1 ppg, 41.4 rpg, .464 FG%, Efficiency-105.3, Rank-25)

Game Notes

The Cavs find themselves playing yet another team that plays no defense. Additionally, the Heat have no offensive identity, they don’t rebound well, and they just don’t win games in general. On paper, this is a team the Cavaliers should beat handily (and there just aren’t many teams I would say that about). But that’s on paper. In real life, on tyhe court, the Cavaliers, and LeBron in general, tend to bring out the best in Dwyane Wade. The Cavaliers have struggled to defend the perimeter all season, and with the Cavaliers sure to focus so much attention on Wade, some open shots will be there. In general, though, this is an offensively challenged team and if Cleveland plays with the kind of defensive intensity they are capable of, they should really be able to limit the Heat’s output in this game.

For the Cavaliers, they will look to get continued good play from the bench. Varejao will be key in helping the Cavs dominate the smaller Heat lineup on the boards, as well as defending Shaq. Daniel Gibson, who has hit a 3 pointer in 25 straight games (2nd only to Mark Price’s 34 stragith in franchise history) and who is 3rd in the NBA in 3 pointers made and 3 point percentage, must continue to get his shots in. LeBron needs to just be himself and stay agressive, while Z and Gooden need to take advantage of some big time scoring chances when Shaq goes to the bench (which he does quite frequently these days). The Cavaliers will lose this game only if one of two things happens…..either Dwyane Wade has a Superman game, which he does from time to time, or the Cavaliers overlook the Heat and don’t come out with energy.

Vegas Line

Miami +3.5
Over/Under 187

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San Antonio SpursCleveland Cavaliers (20-18) vs San Antonio Spurs (25-11)
SBC Center, San Antonio, TX
Thursday, January 17, 2008
8:00 PM EST
TNT, WTAM

Ready or not, it’s rematch time. A rematch of the team that crushed the Cavaliers in the 2007 NBA Finals in a heartbreaking sweep. The good news is this game finds the Cavaliers playing some of their best basketball of the season (although, admittedly, that’s not saying a whole lot). The Spurs have won 3 in a row, while the Cavaliers have won 2 straight and 8 of their last 10.

Starting Lineups

Cleveland Cavaliers:

-G Larry Hughes (9.4 ppg, 2.4 apg, 29.3% 3-pt, 8.17 PER)
-G Sasha Pavlovic (7.2 ppg, 1.7 apg, 28.4% 3-pt, 5.81 PER)
-F LeBron James (29.8 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 7.5 apg, 30.36 PER)
-F Drew Gooden (12.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 0.7 bpg, 13.39 PER)
-C Zydrunas Ilgauskas (13.2 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 17.96 PER)

San Antonio Spurs:

-G Tony Parker (20.1 ppg, 6.6 apg, 0.7 spg, 21.13 PER)
-G Michael Finley (10.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.8 apg, 12.54 PER)
-F Bruce Bowen (5.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.3 apg, 7.24 PER)
-F Tim Duncan (18.6 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 1.7 bpg, 24.78 PER)
-C Fabricio Oberto (5.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, o.3 bpg, 15.79 PER)

Team Efficiency Stats

Cleveland Cavaliers:

-Offense (96.6 ppg, 44.5 rpg, .433 FG%, .717 FT%, 19.1 apg, Efficiency-100.6, Rank-21)
-Defense (98.7 ppg, 41.9 rpg, .461 FG%, Efficiency-103.5, Rank-18)

San Antonio Spurs:

-Offense (97.9 ppg, 41.7 rpg, .458 FG%, .755 FT%, 22.2 apg, Efficiency-107.0, Rank-6)
-Defense (92.0 ppg, 39.4 rpg, .456 FG%, Efficiency-100.2, Rank-5)

Game Notes

As I mentioned, the Cavs are playing well right now. In particular, LeBron James has been on a monstrous tear as of late. In his last 7 games, LeBron is averaging 33.4 points, shooting 52.9% from the floor, netting 9.9 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game. Even more impressive has been LeBron’s 4th quarter performances, where LeBron has turned into an absolute mercenary. Over those same 7 games, in the 4th quarter LBJ is averaging 12.6 points on 56.9% shooting. For the season, LBJ leads all NBA players in 4th quarter scoring at 9.6 ppg (2nd is Joe Johnson at 6.5 ppg). In fact, for the season, LeBron has more double digit scoring 4th quarters (15) than anyone else (2nd is Kobe with 11). Bench production has been up as of late for the Cavaliers as well, as over the last 4 games the bench is averaging 39 points per game, led by strong performances by Daniel Gibson, Andy Varejao, and Devin Brown.

Believe it or not, the Cavs have won their last 3 regular season matchups against the Spurs. Big Z has been a big part of the reason, averaging 15.9 points and 9.4 rebounds per game over his last 9 games against the Spurs. The good news ends there. The Cavs have to go from one extreme to the other, going from Memphis’s defense to the Spurs’ defense. The Spurs are one of the best defensive teams in the NBA and they boast one of the NBA’s most efficient offenses. The Spurs are great at adapting to any style of game, and they will look to stifle LeBron with Bruce Bowen while taking advantage of the soft defense of the Cav’s perimeter defense. Just as he did in the NBA Finals, expect Tony Parker to look to abuse the Cavs with his penetration. If the Cavs want to have a chance in this game, they must control the boards, cut off Parker’s penetration, and find creative ways to get LeBron going on offense. If the Cavs can run some pick and rolls with LBJ and either Z or Andy early, and then hit Gibson and maybe even Damon Jones for some timely 3 pointers, the Cavs just might be able to find some success. Either way, this game will be a nice measuring stick game to see where the team really is at this juncture of the season.

Vegas Line

San Antonio -7.5
Over/Under 183.5

Mike BrownCavaliers Extend Head Coach’s Contract

Mike Brown doubters, get used to him. He’s not going anywhere anytime soon. The Cavaliers announced today that they have extended his contract through the 2010-2011 season.

GM Danny Ferry said in a statement,

“Mike Brown brings his high character, work ethic and talent as a coach with him to work every single day. He has been, and will continue to be, important to our continued growth as a basketball team as we work towards a championship. Dan Gilbert saw this in Mike Brown on his 1st job interview two and half years ago and it is evident today more than ever.

While the stats show that Mike has been the most successful head coach in Cavaliers history, it is his great leadership and his un-flinching focus on our core values and identity that continue to make him the right guy for the job.”

No further details about the extension were released.

I don’t know what it is about Cleveland, but all the sports teams seem to be in such a hurry to sign their mediocre coaches to extensions. Lets be honest here, does anyone really think Mike Brown is the reason this franchise has experienced the level of success it has in the past 2+ years? Or does it maybe, just maybe, have a lot more to do with a certain LeBron James?

Just as with Eric Wedge and the Indians, RAC and the Browns, and now Mike Brown with the Cavaliers, the Cleveland sports franchises are consistently winning in spite of some seriously questionable decisions on the part of their coaches. In no way am I saying that Mike Brown should have been on the hot seat…..he shouldn’t be. LeBron seems to be ok with the guy, and that’s really the most important thing. But why the rush? Why not take some time and make sure that these guys are really the guys who can lead the Cleveland sports franchises into a Championship era.

Mike BibbyDealing With The Quiet Period In Cleveland Sports

Lets face reality. You can only say ‘the Cavaliers are a fatally flawed team’ so many different ways. With still a month to go before pitchers and catchers must report for spring training, all is deafeningly quiet on the Indians’ front. The Browns just got knocked out, and with the exception of working on an extension for Romeo Crennel and the chance of Coach Chud getting a head coaching position with someone else, not much is going to happen until free agency starts.

This leaves us Cleveland sports fans with precious little to talk about these days. What we’re left with is trying endlessly to figure out what’s “wrong” with this Cavaliers team. The funny thing is, the answer is easier than any of us want to admit. The problem with this team is the players. LeBron is out of this world. He’s without a doubt the best all around player in the NBA and can elevate a team more than anyone else. The problem is, outside of LeBron, the only other consistently good players are…….

And that’s precisely the problem with this team. Z has his games, but after his great start to the season, he has slowed down significantly, perhaps in part due to the extreme minutes he was playing early in the year. Daniel Gibson is a solid player, but doesn’t get enough shots. Anderson Varejao is having a nice season now that he is readjusted to the NBA pace, and he has brought the energy and rebounding spark we had all hoped, with the bonus of an improved offensive game. Drew Gooden is good when he wants to be, but has never been a player who could give you 100% on a game in-game out basis. Devin Brown is a nice complementary piece at best. That’s it. You’re getting absolutely nothing out of anyone else on this roster. If LeBron has an off game, who is there to pick up the slack? And that’s what’s wrong with the Cavaliers. They have the 4th highest salary in the NBA, and it’s spent on bloated long term contracts for underperforming players. Until those contracts can be shed, this team will continue to be what it is…a team that LeBron can carry to victory on any given day (just like today’s game against Toronto), but a team that is not a serious threat to win a 7 game NBA Championship Series.

In the spirit of improving this team, however, much has been written this week about the Bibby trade rumors, particularly with the Kings having been in town Friday night. This subject has been beaten to death, but I figured I would chime in with my thoughts.

The Bibby rumors have been written about in over 10 articles this week. The standard opinion, of course, is that the Cavs don’t have the pieces to get this deal done. That’s the opinion of Bob Finnan with The Morning Journal, as he writes,

“But Bibby and Thomas add up to around $20 million. The only way the Cavs could pull that off would be to send Larry Hughes to Sacramento, or get a third team involved. That’s where things get sticky. Hughes, despite a few bright spots from time to time, is playing perhaps the worst basketball of his career.”

This is an opinion shared by Scott Howard-Cooper of the Sacramento Bee as he writes,

“The speculation season officially began Friday night for Mike Bibby. He entered the Kings’ locker room before the game against the Cavaliers to face a semicircle of local reporters and another round of questions about Cleveland as a possible trade destination – even if it took everyone conveniently forgetting that the Cavaliers would have trouble putting together an attractive offer.”

For his part, though, Brian Windhorst of the Akron Beacon-Journal isn’t so sure it’s quite as tough as some might think to move some pieces to Sacramento in order to acquire Mike Bibby, writing,

“A year ago, Kings President of Basketball Operations Geoff Petrie was determined to get back a starter-quality point guard if he traded Bibby. That was the problem — the Cavs didn’t have one to trade and couldn’t find one in a three-way deal that Petrie wanted. That has changed somewhat with newcomer Beno Udrih showing promise with the Kings in Bibby’s absence. Petrie has also made it known since then that his goal is to clear salary-cap space for the summer of 2009.

All of which brings the Cavs back into the game without the need of a third team. Nearly the Cavs’ entire roster has contracts that will be up after next season, giving them all sorts of trading pieces if the Kings make that a priority. The Kings would be interested in moving a player signed past 2009 in addition to Bibby. Most likely it would be Kenny Thomas, who is signed for two more seasons and can’t get off the bench.

If the Cavs want Bibby bad enough, they do have the ammunition to give the Kings what they want. It would take a package that would probably involved a talented big man such as Drew Gooden, a prospect such as Shannon Brown or a draft pick and contracts expiring in 2009. The Cavs have numerous ones, especially Eric Snow, Damon Jones or even both.”

For what it’s worth, a deal of Mike Bibby and Kenny Thomas for Drew Gooden, Eric Snow, Damon Jones, and a draft pick does indeed work under NBA rules. So Bob Finnan isn’t totally accurate when he says the deal would have to include Larry Hughes to make up the slary difference. It wouldn’t. This would indeed be a fairly attractive trade for the Kings on a couple different levels. Rather than having Hughes’ contract for 2 more years after this, they would be able to get rid of Snow and Jones after just 1 more year. Plus, they would be rid of Kenny Thomas’s contract, while acquiring a solid power forward in Gooden and an additional draft pick. So you can see how this would be somewhat intriguing for the Kings to think about, assuming they are convinced that they can build a team around Kevin Martin and Beno Udrih.

For the Cavaliers, the question is whether Mike Bibby is really going to be the difference maker they would need him to be. Bibby is not a good defensive player by any means, his numbers have been declining the past couple years, and injuries have slowed him down even more. But when healthy, he is still a dynamic offensive presence and would give the Cavaliers a true point guard who could be a positive contribution to the team. In losing Gooden, the Cavaliers would lose a strong rebounding source, but it would open the door to increased minutes for Varejao to try to make up for the slack.

At the end of the day, none of this is really all that important. In this quiet season of Cleveland sports, we all seem to be looking for something, anything to write about. And in that context, we try to kid ourselves into believing that the Cavaliers have the ability to make a significant trade without taking on some seriously bad long term contracts. In a nutshell, it just isn’t very likely to happen. Just something to think about while we wait for baseball to start.

LeBron is backKing James Returns To Lift Cavs To Much Needed Victory

This team is getting close to being healthy. Last night marked the return of LeBron James (from injury) and Anderson Varejao (from foolishness), and saw the continued inspired play from Larry Hughes (I can’t believe I just said that). The newly uplifted team responded in a big way, beating the Indiana Pacers 118-105. Larry Hughes was simply outstanding, scoring 36 points on 13 of 17 shooting. LeBron came off the bench for the first time in his life, and added 17 points, 5 assists, and 3 rebounds. Anderson Varejao, while looking winded at times, played almost 24 minutes and provided 6 points and 9 boards. It was good to see AV back on the court, and his energy and rebounding were back and definitely made an impact on the game. The only thing missing from the festive evening of basketball was Boobie Gibson, who was out after having a wisdom tooth pulled.

One of the more interesting side stories to this game was LeBron James coming off the bench. LeBron asked to come off the bench, that much is certain. There are varying stories about the motives behind the “benching”. LeBron claims he did it to shield AV from the boo’s that he assumed the crowd would rain down on AV. He said he wanted to protect his teammate and be a good leader. If that’s true, it’s just one more example of what an amazing person and leader LeBron truly is. He continues to develop both on and off the court, and it’s an unbelievable priviledge to watch night in and night out.

However, Brian Windhorst somewhat disputes this as being the true motive, writing,

“After the game, LeBron said he asked Mike Brown to come off the bench. He said he wanted to come in with Andy so he wouldn’t hear any boos. He said he wanted to “protect” his teammate. That is a nice story and explains why he didn’t start. Although it was funny to watch Brown dance around the issue with the media. When Bill Livingston of the Plain Dealer asked whether LeBron would start Friday in Jersey, Mike paused and said: “I’ve got to watch the film.” Priceless!

Anyway, it’s not 100 percent true. LeBron did ask to come off the bench but there was no discussion about bringing him in with Andy. But LeBron did pick up that ball and run with it and give great quotes about it.”

Well, whatever the reason was, I suppose it’s of little consequence. What matters is that this was a good first step in turning this season around. It’s hard to predict where this team will be at the end of the season, but if last night was any indication, the Cavaliers are going to at least be able to put up a fight in defending their Eastern Conference title.

My favorite part of the night, though, was listening to LeBron’s post game interview. Say what you will, but this guy’s a gem. Check out some of these quotes:

“It felt like we were in a good groove. Everyone knows each other. We know what we like and dislike, so it felt like it did last year when we were playing our best basketball.”

“Mentally [Larry Hughes] is going out there and playing the game of basketball. He is a natural two guard and what he does best is come off screens and go off the dribble and make shots. He has been in the zone the last two games and we need that from him. We don’t expect him to go out and score 30-plus points every night, but we expect him to go out and score points for us and lead the way he played tonight.”

“Last time I didn’t start would be never. It felt different, but I had no problem with it. I asked Coach to come off the bench. I thought it would raise the intensity of the fans having Larry (Hughes), Andy (Varejao), and me come in at the same time and it worked.”

“It was good. We lost Boobie (Daniel Gibson), but he is not going to be out long. He had a bad tooth that needed to be taken care of. But, it is a good feeling. You go through a stretch where you are losing games and people look at us like we are not a good team. But, we know once we get all of our guys back it is a totally different story like I said last week. We are back now, so we will see what happens.”

Good to have ya back, LeBron.

Fortune Magazine Cover LeBron JamesFrom Fortune Slams To Varejao Quotes

While LeBron is still sitting out with a sprained finger, those of us going through LBJ withdrawal can get our fix by checking out the latest issue of Fortune Magazine. The article is a fascinating read, as it discusses LeBron, Inc CEO Maverick Carter, Warren Buffett, and Nike, amongst other aspects of the LeBron Empire.

The one disturbing aspect of the story, though, is the repeated slams of the city of Cleveland. We’ve become somewhat numb to the major media bashing of both the city and the organization, as they all seem to be in collusion together in an attempt to convince LeBron to get out of Cleveland ASAP. This was amongst the harshest criticisms I’ve read yet, though.

“Ultimately, LRMR’s future does not rely on research but on James’s winning an NBA championship, and in Cleveland’s current lineup he is getting little support. This is an issue, because the success of the Cavaliers – who at presstime were playing .500 ball in the early season – will dictate the success of LRMR. For better or worse, James is locked into playing for Cleveland until 2010 at least, based on a contract extension he signed in 2006.

Ohio may be home, but it is not a major media market. And there has been speculation within the league of his moving to New York or Los Angeles when his contract is up.”

Again, this isn’t anything we haven’t heard/read before, but after a while it starts to get old. I don’t know what LeBron’s going to do in 2010. I don’t think he has to leave Cleveland. He’s already the 3rd highest endorsed athlete, almost $10 million higher than the next closest NBA player, Kobe Bryant. I also think LeBron would be perfectly happy to stay in Cleveland, but he’s not going to do so out of charity. If Danny Ferry can build a successful team around LeBron in the next couple years, there will at least be a chance of LeBron sticking around.

Looking around the web, a lot is being said about Anderson Varejao now that he will be rejoining the Cavaliers. SI.com has already spoken with Varejao. For his part, Varejao is trying to take the higher road now (not that he has a lot of choice….he’s going back to Cleveland whether he really wants to or not),

“It’s good. I’m happy. I’m going to be back playing basketball. I am grateful to the Bobcats for signing me to the deal I wanted, but the rules … I was restricted. … But I’m happy to be in Cleveland.”

Andy also talked about his teammates, saying:

“They all know me and they love me. I love them. We have no problems. They understand me and the situation, and they know what was going on. I spoke with Sasha and Z. They are happy. They welcomed me back and said, ‘We’ll see you in a couple days.’ ”

Finally, he addressed his comments last week about now wanting to come back to Cleveland,

“I love the fans in Cleveland. I just was sad and upset with everything. It was negotiations. I’m looking forward to being back there and playing like always.”

The Sporting News has some quotes from Mike Brown, Danny Ferry, and Drew Gooden,

“”His size, his athleticism, his strength, his knowledge, all that stuff — yes, it’s an added bonus,” coach Mike Brown said before Cleveland’s game at the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.

“We’re looking forward to getting him in Cleveland and getting him back on the basketball court,” Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry said. “He’s a player we respect and admire and he’ll help us become a better basketball team.”

“I’m happy to have him back, especially now, when we are down guys,” forward Drew Gooden said. “He will be helpful for us.””

An awful lot has been written about Varejao’s holdout. The Plain Dealer’s Terry Pluto asks what the point of the holdout was,

“What were the agendas?

1. His agent is Dan Fagen, who sees himself as the NBA’s Scott Boras. He hates restricted free agency and wants to challenge it. You can do that with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, impact players. But if you sit out a defensive specialist with marginal offensive skills, the league will be content to let your guy sit. Fagen picked the wrong guy to make his point.

2. Varejao is like most of us. We always see the people producing less and being paid more than us, and he focused on that. But it skewed his view of reality.

3. The Cavs were not about to pay this guy like an All-Star at nearly $10 million a year, nor did they want him to walk away after one season.

So where does that leave us?

1. The Cavs need a big guy, and Varejao is back.

2. The Cavs will be a better team because Varejao is effective, especially playing with James — and his contract is extremely reasonable.

3. Varejao will be happy to be playing again, but he has to be asking himself, “Was all this worth it?” Sure doesn’t seem like it.”

Joel Hammond at Crain’s Cleveland writes that the Cavaliers were the real winners,

“Ferry had the eyes of the world on him in this negotiation, and comes out smelling rosy. In Varejao, at that price, he gets a) a player who can help the depleted Cavs compete this year, at a manageable price, and b) a deal that offers the ultimate flexibility. The Cavs, don’t forget, have draft picks again, and can stockpile young, energetic forwards for when they either trade Varejao’s expiring contract next year or lose him in free agency after the 2008-2009 season.”

John Ludden at Yahoo! Sports doesn’t mince words in strongly making his case for the Cavaliers as the side which came out on top,

“By staring down Varejao’s stubborn agent, Dan Fegan, Cavs GM Danny Ferry struck a blow for front office officials everywhere. Ferry didn’t just beat one of the league’s toughest negotiators — “Danny Ferry cleaned (Fegan’s) clock,” said one giddy rival agent — he prevented Fegan from setting a precedent for other prospective holdout candidates.”

Tom Ziller at FanHouse, though, isn’t so sure that Fegan won’t be the one with the last laugh,

“The reported deal is for the mid-level for three years; the third year, however, is a player option. I’d say it’s a brilliant ploy by Varejao’s agent Dan Fegan — the Andy camp wanted either huge money or a very short flyer which would get dude to unrestricted free agency ASAP. However, I’m not yet willing to concede this is the best Fegan could get; that call will be made in two years when Varejao (assumedly) does hit the market.”

Blogging for Yahoo! Sports, Kelly Dwyer says that while Fegan didn’t get his way, this was all a whole lot to do about nothing,

“The big man’s agent, Steely Dan Fegan, is notorious for getting great money for players who rarely deserve it, and, until last summer, he’d boasted a nearly perfect record of forcing teams to overshoot for his clients. This time around, Fegan more or less crapped out; and his NFL-style holdout experiment didn’t exactly produce the results he expected. Varejao signed with the Bobcats for around $5.5 million per year, only two years guaranteed (AV, likely flush with Fegan in his ear, will opt-out in 2009), and the Cavaliers will spend a week exploring trade options before matching the offer for the restricted free agent.

This is where I come in: Varejao isn’t really worth our time. He’s a solid big man who can walk and chew gum at the same time, which is good to have and worth the money he’s going to make, but that’s about it. Limited offensively, not a killer defensively, and he’s going to have a hard go of things now that the NBA is locking down on flopping and needless charge calls. Even worse, look who he resembles most in terms of sheer production:

AV, per 40 minutes of game action, age 24: 11.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 1.1 blocks.

Scott Williams, per 40 minutes, age 24: 12.3 points, 13.2 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 1.9 blocks.

We’ve seen this dance before.”

Stan McNeal, in a blog for the Sporting News, says don’t look to Varejao for financial advice,

“The one perk in this deal for Varejao is that he will be able to opt out and become an unrestricted free agent after next season. So you can give him credit for being confident in his earning power. Just don’t look to him for advice on how to win a holdout.”

Meanwhile, while everyone is getting fired up one way or the other over the Varejao contract, the Cavaliers were on the court attempting to play basketball tonight. I suppose there’s good reason why everyone’s so easily distracted lately. The Cavs lost 105-86 to the Wizards tonight and are now 0-4 without LeBron. At least Drew Gooden is bothered by this,

“Being the caliber of team we are, even having this many injuries, losing this many games in a row is unacceptable.”

I don’t exactly know what kind of caliber this team is without LeBron, but I’m much more interested in what caliber this team is with LeBron healthy and AV back in the lineup. Hopefully by next week we can start finding out.

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 ESPN.com 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 ESPN.com, 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.