Over the past few weeks, the Anderson Varejao trade rumors have persisted. Of course, tracing these rumors around in circles makes it look like this rumor is based on little more than the fact that Cleveland contacted the Wolves to gauge their interest in Varejao. In other words, nothing is imminent. The Wolves will not be trading Kevin Love for Sideshow Bob, so the only trade chips with value in the this situation are Derrick Williams and Nikola Pekovic, with Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea holding some value as complimentary pieces.
There are multiple angles to this rumor, but let’s start by discussing whether Varejao is an upgrade from Pekovic with the Wolves current roster. The short answer: no. While Varejao is probably about Pekovic’s equal as far as overall on-court value, Varejao does not necessarily make the Wolves’ current team any better. Pekovic’s two main strengths are efficient, low-post scoring and offensive rebounding. Varejao does not score often in the low-post, but is actually an even better offensive rebounder than Pekovic (Varejao leads the league by collecting a staggering 16.8% of offensive rebounds while on the court), and scores a significant amount of his baskets on the offensive glass.
Varejao is a better defender than Pekovic, but since Pekovic dropped weight over the off-season and has been working with the Wolves’ coaches to improve his defensive positioning (and stopped committing so many fouls), he has actually been serviceable in defending opposing big men. While Varejao has the reputation of being a significantly better defender, he actually does not block that many more shots than Pekovic. In fact, his career block rate (2.0%) is lower than Pekovic’s (2.2%).
To recap, the only way that Varejao would improve the Wolves are in two areas that Pekovic is already pretty good: offensive rebounding and defensive positioning. The offensive drop-off from Pekovic to Varejao, however, would be massive. On the one hand, putting a low-usage, defensive-minded center next to Love is intriguing. David Kahn, of course, tried the bouncy, athletic version (Hollins, Randolph) and the high-usage version (Darko) of “defensive-minded” centers. Of course, actually acquiring good players is the key here, as the premise isn’t terrible.
From a contract standpoint, this trade actually does make some sense. Pekovic is a restricted free agent, and is likely to get a maximum offer of 4 years at more than $10 million per year from another team. There have been rumblings that the Wolves’ front office is not likely to fork over this kind of a deal, either because they don’t believe that he is worth it (they would be wrong) or because owner Glen Taylor is trying to sell the team and does not want too many long-term deals on the books (more likely). Varejao is locked up for two more years at a total cost of about $18.75 million (the third season is only partially guaranteed). This is a very good deal for an above-average 30 year-old center, and is better value than Pekovic would be on a max contract.
If for whatever reason the Wolves’ front office knows that Pek will ask for $10m+/yr on the open market (and the Wolves’ know they won’t pony up), then a deal for Varejao is not an absolutely horrible move. Of course, this deal makes zero sense with Kevin Love out, as Pekovic is currently the team’s best and most efficient source of offense. If both Pekovic and Williams are traded for Varejao right now, the Wolves will lose essentially all of their offensive production. If Love was healthy (and again, they knew they were losing Pekovic), than a trade wouldn’t be absolutely horrible.
What would I do? I’m glad you asked. I would offer Derrick Williams and Luke Ridnour for Anderson Varejao and Alonzo Gee. I would not trade Pekovic at this juncture, and if the Cavs refuse to take Williams, I would hang up the phone. A Love/Varejao/Pekovic big man rotation would be not only bruising but virtually unstoppable, and paired with a healthy Chase Budinger and Andrei Kirilenko on the wings, this team would likely make some serious playoff noise. Here’s hoping Mr. Taylor has not informed Kahn that Pekovic cannot be extended at more than $10 million per year….