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Friday, January 28, 2011
What might have been: Varejao to OKC?

By Marc Stein

You wouldn’t want to make the claim that there’s nothing interesting happening these days in Cleveland. When a team wins only once in a span of nearly 60 days and still hasn’t made it to victory No. 9 yet, there’s a morbid curiosity every time it plays about how much worse things can get.

The slightly more upbeat source of intrigue in Cavsland, of course, is the potential for deals before the Feb. 24 trading deadline.

The Cavs still have that infamous $14.5 million trade exception created in the LeBron James sign-and-trade salvation mission with Miami to take on a hefty contract if and when, in the words of Twitter-happy owner Dan Gilbert, they finally decide to “strike.”

NBA front-office sources say that the Cavs have likewise been making guard Mo Williams available since the summer and continue to receive trade interest from rival clubs for the likes of veteran forward Antawn Jamison and swingman Anthony Parker.

However …

Cleveland’s most enticing trade asset – rugged Brazilian big man Anderson Varejao – was ruled out for the rest of the season in early January thanks to a torn ankle tendon. Varejao still hasn’t decided whether he’s going to have surgery on the ankle, but the severity of the injury brought an understandable halt to some thought-provoking negotiations that sources say had quietly begun to percolate between the Cavs and Oklahoma City.

The Thunder, as noted in Monday’s Power Rankings, began the week having outrebounded only 22 teams … compared to 55 last season. The Thunder, in short, need another big man to truly contend in the West. And they know it.

Varejao’s injury, though, essentially ensures that it won’t be him, tantalizing as it must be for Thunder fans to imagine what sort of impact he potentially could have had in the same frontcourt rotation with Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison.

It has to be noted that the Cavs, from everything I’ve heard, really didn’t want to part with Varejao when he was healthy. The scrappy power forward, who averaged 9.1 points and 9.7 rebounds in the 31 games he did play, is naturally the sort of physical player beleaguered new Cavs coach Byron Scott is fond of.

It also seems safe to suggest that the Cavs would have asked for Jeff Green or James Harden in a Varejao deal, which almost certainly would have had Oklahoma City balking.

The Thunder, though, do have a stash of quality draft picks and other young big men (Cole Aldrich and Byron Mullens) to offer that likely would have forced the Cavs to keep taking their calls. A veteran big who can defend and rebound with greater regularity than Nenad Krstic is the sort of big man, sources say, that OKC is looking for … even though Varejao is pricier than the typical Thunder target with three guaranteed years worth nearly $25 million left on his contract after this season heading into the uncertainty of a new labor agreement.

Yet the argument likewise could be made -- bearing in mind that no one really knows how restrictive conditions will be for teams in the next labor deal -- that Varejao isn’t outrageously expensive when you start talking about proven centers who are proficient defensively and have a willingness to do the dirty work that would seemingly mesh so well with the needs of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Something tells me that this could have been one of the more riveting back-and-forths of this trade deadline if Varejao didn’t go down.