Return of the Wild Thing

One of the biggest things any coach in any sport seeks is “consistency” – something, someone they can count on every night. And on Friday afternoon, the Cavaliers announced the signing of one of their surest – and wildest – things, Anderson Varejao.

Like any player, Varejao has off-nights shooting the basketball and occasionally he’ll get overmatched defensively. But one thing that the Cavaliers can count on every single night is Anderson Varejao busting his tail to get the Wine and Gold a win. And now, they can count on that for the next several years.

After the event that marked the inking of Shaquille O’Neal, the ceremony welcoming the Wild Thing back was relatively subdued down at Cleveland Clinic Courts in Independence. Varejao – flanked by GM Danny Ferry and, wearing a “Brasil Basketball” shirt, head coach Mike Brown – saved his best line when asked about the Diesel.

“I hope Shaquille O’Neal doesn’t mind coming off the bench,” said the Brazilian big, with a straight face as the roomful of media burst into laughter. He later added: “Shaq is a superstar and an All-Star and there’s a lot I’m going to learn from him. It’s going to be fun to play with him.”

It’s still unclear whether Anderson will head into next season as the starter or return to his sixth man role. Last year, in 39 games off the bench, Varejao averaged 7.1 points on .526 shooting, with 6.6 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 24.4 minutes. In a career-best 42 starts, he averaged 9.9 points on .542 shooting, 7.7 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 32.3 minutes.

Altogether, Varejao posted career bests in scoring (8.6), field goal percentage (.536), double-doubles (9) and minutes per game (28.5). The 6-foot-11, 260-pounder also averaged 7.2 rebounds and 1.0 assist per game. Statistically speaking, Varejao was second in the NBA in offensive fouls drawn, with 52.

Overall, the Cavaliers were 33-9 with Anderson in the starting lineup. When the Wild Thing broke double-digits, Cleveland was 25-5.

Re-signing Varejao was one of Danny Ferry’s top priorities of the summer, and not long after acquiring the Diesel from Phoenix, the Cavaliers’ brass quickly achieved their goal.

“(Varejao) is an elite defender that can guard multiple positions,” praised Ferry. “His ability to defend is very, very unique. His ability to guard different people and play different coverages – in the pick-and-roll, etc. – really makes him a special player for us and for a team that has a strong defensive identity.

“And along with that, he’s a lot of fun,” Ferry continued. “I know the guys on our team are all excited, because when Anderson walks into the locker room, the group lights up. So, it’s a nice thing and it’s an important thing for us.”

Andy is rock-solid defender and rugged defender, but he does bring some levity to the locker room. Last year, he infamously gave himself the temporary tattoo “CHOSEN 2” in magic marker, spoofing LeBron’s ink. And to follow up his hilarious lampoon of LeBron, he did the ceremonial talc toss in the final game of the regular season with the Chosen One in street clothes.

He is one of the city and the squad’s most beloved teammates and has always had a great working relationship – on the floor and off – with No. 23.

“Cleveland’s been great to me – the city, the fans, the organization – and I believe in everyone in this organization,” smiled the Wild Thing. “And, of course, playing with LeBron is the dream of every player.”

This season, Andy was selected as a member of USA Today’s 2009 All-Rambis Team. Against the Bulls on Jan. 2, he posted career highs in scoring (26), field goals made (9) and attempted (14) and free throws made (8) and attempted (13). He tied his career best in rebounding with 14 at Toronto on Feb. 18 and went a perfect 8-8 from the field en route to an 18-point, 12-rebound double-double at Sacramento on March 13.

“Andy makes plays that don’t show up in the stat sheet,” said Coach Brown. “We feel like we have a team full of intelligent players, and they pick up on the little things that Andy does that may not go into the stat sheet. And we feed off those things as a group. He gets us going just as much as he gets the fans the going. Those types of things – those possession-type things – are irreplaceable, especially the deeper you get into a playoff run.”

And with Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Shaquille O’Neal both entering the final years of their respective deals, Varejao – who’ll turn 27 just before the season tips off – will be one of the pillars of Cleveland’s frontcourt of the future.

Varejao had other offers, but he made it quite clear that Cleveland was the place he wanted to be.

“I’m happy here and I came back because I think we have a great organization, great team and we have a chance to win a Championship,” beamed the newly-minted Cavalier. “Our priority was Cleveland as soon as we started to talk. I know we had some other teams (interested), but I wanted to come back. And that’s why I’m here.”