was leading the NBA with 14.4 rebounds a game. (David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)
By Rob Mahoney
What began for Anderson Varejao as a day-to-day prognosis for a knee contusion has ballooned into a far more serious problem. According to a release from the Cavaliers, Varejao's supposedly minor knee injury is a bit more severe than initially thought, and will necessitate a surgical procedure that will sideline Varejao for 6-8 weeks. The gritty details, from the team release:
Cavaliers center Anderson Varejao was injured during the Cavaliers game against the Raptors on December 18th at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. Diagnosis was a right knee contusion, specifically to the vastus medialis which connects to the medial (inner) border of the patella. As Varejao's treatment and recovery process continued, an MRI revealed the contused area included a small longitudinal split in the vastus medialis. Despite continued, gradual recovery of the contusion, symptoms also continued in the specific area of the split. Another MRI revealed an increase in the split and symptoms persisted. Dynamic ultrasound imaging also revealed tissue from underneath the split was herniating and pinching with knee flexion.
A second opinion was recently obtained with Dr. J. Richard Steadman of The Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado, which confirmed Cavaliers Head Team Physician Dr. Richard Parker of the Cleveland Clinic's recommendation for surgical intervention. Varejao will undergo surgery this Thursday (January 10th) at the Cleveland Clinic and is expected to be out for six to eight weeks.
It's not at all uncommon for recovery timelines to shift dramatically as teams and players get more information (and further opinions) on particular injuries, but this altered outlook completely nixes any plans the Cavs might have had to deal Varejao prior to February's trade deadline. As an excellent defensive big on a very reasonable deal, Varejao tends to make his rounds in the rumor mill; virtually every contender and quasi-contender out there could use a player with Varejao's skill set, and the Cavs' long-term trajectory could have compelled them to deal their amazingly productive center for the sake of acquiring younger assets or future draft considerations.
That said, the decision to keep Varejao around (or at least hold out for a fair offer) had considerable merit, and the Cavs can't exactly be blamed for failing to soothsay the precise timing of a random injury. Even if you categorize Varejao as being injury prone (which is a fair claim, given that Varejao has played in just 35 percent of the Cavs' games over the last three seasons), this was still an unexpected and unpredictable occurrence as opposed to the latest example of some chronic ailment.
Nevertheless, the Cavs stand to devolve from one of the league's worst teams into a pretty miserable outfit, though Varejao's absence will give Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller a valuable developmental opportunity. Thompson has already taken that opportunity and run with it, to Varejao-like results; over the last 11 games, the second-year forward has average 13 points and 12.1 rebounds per game while showing off a much softer touch around the rim. This could very easily be a flash of potential rather than a potential breakout stretch for Thompson, but the minutes and opportunities afforded by Varejao's absence have nonetheless catalyzed his recent statistical. Zeller's performance throughout the season has been decidedly ho-hum, but the long-term payoffs for a rookie scoring additional minutes and reps could yet be considerable.
It's hard to dispute the notion that this is an opportunity lost. Varejao himself was in the midst of a career year and a compelling All-Star candidacy. The Cavs could well have capitalized on Varejao's trade value this season for the sake of acquiring more assets, or used his play and disposition as a helpful example for the developing bigs on the roster. All of those possibilities are now lost for the time being, all because of the bad break that resulted from what initially seemed to be a run-of-the-mill NBA injury.