Marty Burns
Thursday October 4th, 2007

When the Cavs gathered for the first day of training camp, the hot topic wasn't last year's trip to the NBA Finals, the team's lack of personnel moves this summer or even the Indians' pending playoff run.

It was LeBron James' recent stint as guest host on Saturday Night Live.

"They were killing me," James joked to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer about his teammates' reaction.

The Cavs, of course, could use any and all comic relief right now. After having been swept by the Spurs, LeBron & Co. know they need help to take the next step to win a title. Yet with no significant additions to the roster during the offseason, any improvement is going to have to come from within.

But what really has the Cavs feeling a little uneasy these days is the status of two key players from last year's team -- Anderson Varejao and Sasha Pavlovic -- who are unsigned free agents and not in camp.

Varejao, a 6-foot-10 forward from Brazil, played a key role off the bench all season with his hustle and energy. Pavlovic, a 6-7 shooting guard from Serbia, was a playoff starter who averaged 9.2 points in the postseason.

Both are restricted free agents seeking multiyear deals, and threatening to sit out the season if they don't get it. Varejao reportedly wants around $65 million over five years. Pavlovic reportedly seeks a deal in the range of $25 to $30 million over the same span.

The problem is that no teams have any cap room left to sign them for that kind of money. They could play in Europe, but it's doubtful they would get the same cash there. Both players let their qualifying offers expire ($1.2 million for Varejao and $2.8 million for Pavlovic), but the Cavs retain their rights. The two would remain restricted free agents if they were to play overseas for a year and then return to the NBA.

"They can try to come back next year, but the market isn't going to be much better," one Eastern Conference GM said.

With as many as seven teams in the mix in the Eastern Conference race, any significant personnel loss for the Cavs could be fatal. The loss of Varejao, in particular, would be difficult to offset. While the Sideshow Bob hairstyle and the wild, twisting air ball he threw up at the end of Game 3 of the Finals might have made him look like something out of an SNL skit, the lanky energizer was often the Cavs' most effective overall big man.

The Cavs can survive the loss of Pavlovic much easier. Though the four-year veteran had his moments last season, he was shaky at times in the playoffs and a non-factor many nights. The emergence of Daniel Gibson at the point last season frees up Larry Hughes to slide back to his more natural shooting guard position. The Cavs also signed free agent Devin Brown as insurance.

Still, the Cavs have to be concerned about losing two regulars who know coach Mike Brown's system. Cleveland is a team built on defense (the Cavs ranked in the top 10 in nearly every statistical category last season) and Varejao is a big part of it. The Cavs could have a tough time replacing his length and willingness to take charges.

While nobody in Cleveland is panicking yet, James understands the importance of keeping together the core of his team.

"I don't know Sasha or Andy's side. I don't know [general manager Danny Ferry's] side, but I need my soldiers here to play," James told the Plain-Dealer. "I hope something can get worked out because those two guys are a big part of our team."

As James knows from his SNL stint, he needs a robust supporting cast to put on a good show in 2007-08. Otherwise, he and the Cavs could end up looking like a joke.

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