Posts Tagged ‘Anderson Varejao’

Morning shootaround — Nov. 1


VIDEO: Top 10 plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Blatt airs out the Cavs! | Thunder’s Jackson seeks pay and play | Picking at that Chris Paul scab | Rubio gets (over)paid

No. 1: Blatt airs out Cavs! — One of the best things about the first week of the NBA season is that it’s followed quickly by the second week of the NBA season. Contrary to what we’ve just seen over the past four or five days – hands wringing, teeth gnashing, exaggerated expectations of all sorts and an overall whoop-de-doo-ness that no one possibly can sustain – life in and around The Association eventually settles into a less frenetic, more manageable pace. Here’s a perfect example: Just about every team will have some rugged, behind-closed-doors meetings between now and mid-April. But because the Cleveland Cavaliers had theirs Friday, after their Opening Night embarrassment on TNT 12 hours earlier (they celebrated LeBron James‘ return to Cleveland in every way except beating the Knicks), this qualifies as a big deal and a “Eureka!” moment for coach David Blatt and his troops. As you take a peek at Dave McMenamin’s report for ESPN.com, notice how ordinary it all sounds, as far as a new coach and his new team – check out, for instance, Anderson Varejao‘s blistering comment. It’s just that everyone’s sample size is small right now, so everything is bigger!

“He just got on us,” James said when asked about Blatt’s message. “He got on us from the time we started our meeting to the time we left. And it’s great. For a team like us, we need that. I love constructive criticism. I never took it personal. It’s just an opportunity for us to get better, and it definitely put a fire into us.”
After turning the ball over 19 times against the Knicks led to 26 points for New York — turnovers Blatt called “irresponsible” and “borderline inexcusable” — the Cavs cut that number to just 12 against Chicago.
Blatt also told the team he wanted more ball movement, as well as player movement, on offense going forward.
“Fiery and to the point,” one source told ESPN.com when asked to characterize the meeting. “[Blatt] was very direct with the group about the expectations and what we need to do day in and day out.”
The Cavs showed a greater team resolve while playing for the second consecutive night, this time on the road, and outrebounded the Bulls 52-42 after New York had controlled the glass 35-33 the night before.
“Today in our meeting, we said we have to play better than the way we played last night,” Anderson Varejao said. “We have to play harder, tougher, and that’s what we did tonight.”

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No. 2: Thunder’s Jackson seeks pay and play — Many folks assume that the Oct. 31 deadline for contract extensions for players entering their fourth seasons is all about the money. While that’s often the case, it isn’t an absolute. Consider Oklahoma City guard Reggie Jackson, who didn’t get an extension Friday but could be better off because of it. Jackson and his reps perceive his value to be much higher than he’s been able to show playing behind Russell Westbrook in the Thunder backcourt. Now, with Westbrook hurt and a long season of opportunity in front of him – along with some teams’ opinions already about Jackson’s potential – the Boston College product and No. 24 pick in 2011 might be able to turn restricted free agency next summer not just into a big payday but into freedom to seize a bigger role with his own team. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports peeled back some curtain on Jackson’s situation in OKC:

As rival teams evaluate restricted free-agency candidates next July, league executives believe Jackson holds a distinct advantage among his peers: The Thunder’s investment into their star players may limit how far the franchise can go to match a rich offer sheet and make Jackson an ideal target to change teams.
“Bottom line,” one NBA general manager told Yahoo Sports, “how much are they willing to pay for Westbrook’s backup?”
The loss of Westbrook to a fractured hand on Thursday night – possibly for a month – will give Jackson a chance to showcase his skills in the near future, a platform that could make Jackson’s case for a free-agent deal. Some teams believe Jackson could command a deal in the $13 million-$14 million-plus annual range – especially because of a belief that investing more into an offer sheet could cripple the Thunder’s chances of matching it.
The Thunder’s past inability to re-sign two key players to rookie extensions – James Harden and Jeff Green – led to the organization trading both players. Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti has insisted the Thunder would match any offer sheet for Jackson next summer, but skepticism exists throughout the league.
Jackson, 24, is sitting out with a sore ankle, and it is still unclear how soon he’ll be able to return to Oklahoma City’s lineup. Next summer, Jackson would pursue a three-year deal with a player option on a third year that would allow him to move into unrestricted free agency in 2017.

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No. 3: Picking at that Chris Paul scab — Remember when the Los Angeles Lakers were above it all, that is, too successful and regal to engage in the “what if…” second-guessing common to lesser organizations? First, the Lakers rarely had much to second-guess, life tended to go so well for them. Second, the next great thing in Forum blue-and-gold always was just around the corner, so there was no great urgency to fret. But the Lakers have the time and the inclination now that they’ve dropped in status and in the standings – and let’s face it, Chris Paul plays in the same dang building. So Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times visited the topic of the Paul-to-the-Lakers trade that wasn’t, as the Lakers re-visited their close miss in landing the All-Star point guard:

Who could forget [former NBA commissioner David Stern] citing “basketball reasons” for vetoing the trade that was supposed to send Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom to New Orleans in December 2011?
The Lakers appeared to have acquired their most dynamic point guard since Magic Johnson, but then small-market owners raised a racket, Cleveland’s Dan Gilbert in particular calling the trade a “travesty” in a lengthy letter to the league.
David Stern said no. The deal was off.
“Sometimes you want to say, ‘Dammit, David Stern,'” Lakers Coach Byron Scott said before Friday’s game. “When they made the trade, before David kind of X’d it, I was like, ‘Wow, that’s going to be fantastic.'”
Then again, Scott might never have become the Lakers’ coach, the franchise going down a presumably more optimistic path with Paul than the one that took them through Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni, not to mention Steve Nash, acquired from Phoenix in July 2012 for two first-round and two second-round picks.

Scott could only dream of Bryant and Paul in the same backcourt.
“Mmm-hmm. I could really imagine that,” he said Friday. “There would be a big smile on my face if that was the case.”

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No. 4:Rubio gets (over)paid — There have been no David Kahn sightings around Target Center in Minneapolis in recent days, but some who closely watch the Minnesota Timberwolves might suspect that train-wreck of a basketball boss had returned. Kahn’s drafting of and presumed fixation on point guard Ricky Rubio led to Kevin Love‘s departure from that woebegone franchise (the Wolves refused to sign Love to a fifth year on his extension three years ago and instead traded him this offseason in advance of his freedom to leave). And now the Wolves – thanks to rapidly escalating player price tags, yes, but also their need to plant some personnel flags with someone besides youngsters Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine – have signed Rubio to a $56 million deal. Despite his troubles putting the ball through the hole. The Associated Press had more details:

About two hours before the midnight Eastern deadline, Rubio signed a four-year contract extension worth $55 million that includes another $1 million in incentives, bringing an end to a long and sometimes tense negotiation between the flashy Spanish point guard and the team that drafted him in 2009.
Rubio averaged 10.1 points, 8.1 assists and 2.3 steals but shot just 37 percent in his first three seasons. The shooting numbers led some to say the Timberwolves would have been better off waiting to see how Rubio performs this season before extending him an offer given that they would have had the ability to match any offer that he received on the open market next summer.
But owner Glen Taylor has long been big on loyalty, and he reached out directly to Rubio earlier this week to make one last push.
“I want to call Minnesota home for a long time,” Rubio said. “That’s why I signed the contract. My mom’s going to get mad at me, but I don’t leave home when I’m here. This is my second home. I really feel very welcome here.”
As salaries stand right now, Rubio’s $13.75 million average annual salary starting next season will be more than high profile point guards like Tony Parker, Steph Curry, Kyle Lowry and Ty Lawson. Rubio’s representatives targeted Phoenix guard Eric Bledsoe’s five-year, $70 million deal to eclipse, and ended up coming very close despite not having the leverage that Bledsoe had as a restricted free agent.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The ball’s not in Kyrie Irving‘s hands nearly as much these days, but the Cavaliers’ point guard sounds fine with that. … Three-a-days? former NBA forward Tyrus Thomas allegedly is putting in “at least” two workouts a day in the hopes of making a comeback. … Bulls fans will find out tonight in Minnesota just how “minor” Derrick Rose‘s latest injury (left ankle sprain suffered Friday vs. Clevelaned) really is.  …

 

Morning shootaround — Oct. 31


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Oct. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook could miss 4-6 weeks | Cavs fall flat vs. Knicks | Smith calls out Faried | Brown rips Sixers’ rebuilding plan | Report: Cavs, Varejao closing in on deal

No. 1: Westbrook could miss 4-6 weeks — All those questions about the depth of the Oklahoma City Thunder? The chatter is about to get even louder. The Thunder’s star point guard, Russell Westbrook, suffered a hand injury and had to leave the game last night against the L.A. Clippers. Our own Scott Howard-Cooper provided some context to what the injury might mean for OKC, and then comes this news: according to Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman, Westbrook could miss four to six weeks as he heals up. The loss of Westbrook, combined with Kevin Durant already being out with a foot injury, spells trouble in Oklahoma:

The early indication is that Russell Westbrook could miss four to six weeks after fracturing the second metacarpal in his right hand Thursday against the Los Angeles Clippers.

It could keep the Thunder’s electric point guard sidelined through mid-December and add him to an already ridiculously long list of injured Oklahoma City players who are expected to miss the season’s first month.

The projected recovery time would cost Westbrook 15 games on the low end and as many as 21 contests. He would rejoin the lineup between Nov. 28 and Dec. 12.

Westbrook is scheduled to undergo further tests Friday in Oklahoma City.

“It’s just really pretty unbelievable. You’re kind of just shocked almost,” said Thunder forward Nick Collison of his team’s injury-riddled roster. “It’s not funny at all, but you almost have to laugh about it just because it’s so many guys.”

In all likelihood, the Thunder will go into its home opener Saturday against Denver with just eight healthy players. Only one is a point guard. Joining veteran Sebastian Telfair are Collison, Perry Jones, Serge Ibaka, Andre Roberson, Kendrick Perkins, Steven Adams and Lance Thomas.

Under the league’s hardship rule, however, teams can be granted additional roster spots and exceed the maximum of 15 players if they have been depleted by injuries. At least four players must be injured for at least two weeks and must miss at least three regular season games for a team to qualify.

Oklahoma City, which the league recently denied the hardship exception because it had not yet met the games missed criteria, certainly will be eligible now with Durant, Anthony Morrow, Mitch McGary and Grant Jerrett all set to miss Saturday’s game against the Nuggets.

With Westbrook now out for an extended period, the Thunder could soon add two players to its roster, bringing the team’s total number of players to 17.

Still, the Thunder needs help. Now.

The eight remaining players consist of one borderline All-Star (Ibaka), two defensive-oriented big men (Perkins and Collison), three largely unproven players who possess promise (Adams, Roberson and Jones), one journeyman (Telfair) and one training camp survivor (Thomas).

“It’s unfortunate the way it is right now, but that’s the way it is,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “We have to figure out how we can improve and get better from all of our experiences. And this is going to be a tough one, but the good teams, good players bounce back through adversity.”

Westbrook ironically was the Thunder’s healthiest player before Thursday. Of course, Westbrook missed 36 games last season after undergoing three surgeries on his right knee in 2013.


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook suffers a hand fracture against the Clippers

(more…)

One Stat, One Play: Space for LeBron


VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: Space for LeBron

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Cleveland Cavaliers led the preseason in offensive efficiency, even though LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love only played together in two of their seven games.

They’re a safe bet to lead the regular season in offensive efficiency too, and some smart people believe that they have a shot at being the most efficient offensive team in NBA history.

When you have James, Irving, Love, and some guys that can knock down shots, you’re going to score a lot of points. You could probably take away Irving or Love and the Cavs would still finish with a top-three offense.

But there’s one aspect of the Cleveland offense that I still have a question about. It’s regarding who else is on the floor, and how much space the Cavs will provide for one of the best finishers the league has ever seen.

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The above video is the first installment of “One Stat, One Play,” and it deals with James’ trips into the paint.

Report: Cavs, Varejao talking extension


VIDEO: Anderson Varejao and the Cavaliers in his native Brazil

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Being one of LeBron James’ favorite teammates has its perks.

Being able to play at a high level helps, too.

Cleveland Cavaliers big man Anderson Varejao enjoys the best of both. And it could soon pay off in the form of a contract extension for the Brazilian import. Varejao and the Cavaliers are talking contract extension, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.

Varejao won’t make it to unrestricted free agency in July if the Cavaliers get this handled now. While there is no agreement expected right away, the two sides have, according to the report, engaged in aggressive conversation about an extension:

Cavaliers star LeBron James has a strong bond with Varejao, with whom he played six seasons before James left Cleveland in 2010 to sign with the Miami Heat.

Cleveland coach David Blatt chose Varejao to start over Tristan Thompson to begin the season, and Varejao’s playoff experience promises to be an important part of the Cavs’ pursuit of a championship.

Varejao is considered one of the NBA’s most aggressive rebounders and defenders, elements that’ll be vital in competing against the physicality of the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference this season.

After fighting injuries in recent seasons, Varejao played 65 games for Cleveland a season ago, averaging 8.4 points and 9.7 rebounds in 27 minutes a game. He will make $9.8 million in the final year of his deal.

The Cavaliers open the season against the Knicks Thursday night on TNT (8 p.m. ET).

 

Morning shootaround — Oct. 25


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rondo possible for opener | No start, no extension for Cavs’ Thompson | Injuries put Magic development on hold | Pelicans pass on Rivers’ option?

No. 1: Rondo possible for opener — When Rajon Rondo broke his left hand four days before training camp opened, it was projected that he’d miss the start of the season (and maybe a full month). But the Celtics’ point guard was cleared for practice on Friday and could be in the lineup when the team tips off the season against Brooklyn on Wednesday. ESPN‘s Chris Forsberg has the story:

Rondo is expected to have the bone reevaluated by team doctors early next week and could gain the necessary clearance to participate in Wednesday’s season-opener against the Brooklyn Nets.

“It’s not my call, that’s the way I look at it,” Stevens said Thursday. “When [team trainer] Ed [Lacerte] tells me that someone is ready to play, that’s the go-ahead to let them play. And I wouldn’t rush it. I would not be up here and say, ‘We really need this person on Tuesday night.’ It’s just the way it goes. I’m the son of a doctor, I get it. I realize I don’t know a lot when it comes to medicine. I let them do their job and they do a great job.”

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said he knows Rondo is anxious, but the team won’t hesitate to put him on the floor once he’s cleared medically.

“I think he’ll fit right in,” Ainge said Thursday. ‘I think Rajon is in a great spot, mentally and physically. I can’t wait to see him play. He has a lot to prove; I see it in him. He’s just really dying to get out there and play. I’m excited for him, [that] he’ll probably be able to come back quicker than he thought originally.”

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No. 2: No start, no extension for Cavs’ ThompsonTristan Thompson will be a key player as the Cleveland Cavaliers try to take over the Eastern Conference this season. But to start the year at least, Thompson will be coming off the bench behind Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao. And with less than a week before the Oct. 31 deadline, his agent, who happens to be LeBron James‘ agent, hasn’t talked with the Cavs about a contract extension, as Chris Haynes of Northeast Ohio Media Group writes:

Behind the scenes for Thompson, there’s not much happening.

The deadline for the Cavaliers and Thompson to agree to a rookie-scale extension is Oct. 31. That’s less than a week away and sources close to the situation says, “There has been zero discussion on an extension” between the two sides.

It’s no secret Thompson’s agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, also represents the one guy responsible for the bright lights returning to Quicken Loans Arena with the Cavaliers boasting a league-high 29 national televised games.

If a deal is not reached by the deadline, Thompson will become a restricted free agent in the summer of 2015. Cleveland would then retain the right to match an offer sheet to Thompson and they could also attempt to sign him themselves at that time.

***

No. 3: Injuries put Magic development on hold — Two years after the departure of Dwight Howard, it’s about time the Orlando Magic started moving forward. But it won’t be full steam ahead to start the season, with their big free agent aquisition, Channing Frye, out with a sprained knee and second-year guard Victor Oladipo now sidelined with a facial fracture. Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel details the carnage:

The knee injuries to Oladipo and Frye cost them the preseason and further complicate a brutally difficult start: 16 of the Magic’s first 23 games are on the road.

The Magic might have wanted to downplay or even dismiss the draft lottery this season. But recovering from, say, a 6-17 start might be impossible psychologically for a young team.

Runner-up in rookie-of-the-year voting this past season, Oladipo was focusing on playing the off-guard spot, his natural position.

The Magic had experimented with him at point guard, but drafting Elfrid Payton signaled the club’s intent to establish an Oladipo-Payton backcourt. Now that is on a longer hold.

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No. 4: Pelicans pass on Rivers’ option? — The Pelicans announced Friday that they have exercised the fourth-year option on Anthony Davis, the most obvious transaction of the preseason. But they didn’t announce the same regarding Austin Rivers, who was taken nine spots after Davis in the 2012 Draft. They still have a few days to make a final decision on Rivers, but it appears that he will be an unrestricted free agent next summer. John Reid of The Times Picayune writes how Rivers has failed to develop quickly enough for the Pels:

If Rivers’ option is not extended, he could become an unrestricted free agent next summer. A source said they decided to hold off exercising Rivers’ option because of salary cap concerns, especially if Eric Gordon decides to opt in to his contract next season that will pay him $15.5 million. The Pelicans also are expected to make a push this summer to re-sign center Omer Asik, whom they acquired in a trade last summer from the Houston Rockets.

If the Pelicans had exercised the fourth-year option on Rivers’ contract, his salary would have increased from $2.4 million this season to $3.1 million for the 2015-16 season.

Although he was a lottery pick, Pelicans coach Monty Williams said during training camp that Rivers remains a developing player. He is expected to be in a battle for minutes off the bench at both guard spots with Jimmer Fredette, who emerged in the preseason after signing a one-year contract with the franchise this summer.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Knicks may have settled on a starting lineupLionel Hollins thinks Brook Lopez will be available for that Nets-Celtics opener in Boston … The Thunder’s Anthony Morrow is out 4-6 weeks with a sprained MCL in his left knee … The Lakers aren’t in a rush to add a point guard to replace Steve NashThe Suns went to a three-PG lineup to beat the Jazz … and The Sixers got a 2019 second round pick for taking Marquis Teague‘s guaranteed contract off the Nets’ hands.

ICYMI of The Night: With a week left to work out a possible contract extension with the Warriors, Klay Thompson tied the preseason high for points in a game by dropping 35 on the Nuggets:


VIDEO: Thompson Goes Off For 35

First Team: ‘Bron still after one award

In this five-part series, I’ll take a look at the best games from last season’s All-NBA first team. The metric I’ve used to figure out the best games is more art than formula, using “production under pressure” as the heuristic for selection. For example, volume scoring in a close game against a stout team on the road gets more weight than volume scoring against the Bucks at home in a blowout. Big games matter. Big clutch games matter more.

Despite being hailed as a stellar defender, LeBron has yet to nab a coveted Defensive Player of the Year award.

Despite being hailed as a stellar defender, LeBron James has yet to nab a coveted Defensive Player of the Year nod.

Many will remember the 2013-14 season for what LeBron James didn’t accomplish.

No third straight MVP. No third straight championship. No Defensive Player of the Year award. No … well, that’s about it. When you’ve turned the NBA upside down over the past 11 years, your list of failures is short.

Last season, ‘Bron scored 27 points per game on 57 percent from the field. What gives for the outlandish accuracy? He has mastered the drive. He can certainly shoot it, but his dominance is due to his pronounced ability to control the area closest to the rim. It’s the same strategy his transcendent high-flying predecessors — Elgin Baylor, Julius Erving, Michael Jordan — adopted.

The other side of the ball holds his lingering individual motivation. James has made no secret about his desire to capture the top defensive award. After famously shedding serious weight this offseason, he promises to be quicker and more agile and disruptive than ever.

A Defensive Player of the Year award may come to Cleveland, although the franchise would gladly accept a championship first.

Here are his top games last season:

November 15, 2013 — Torching The Old Nemesis

The Line: 39 points on 14-for-18 shooting

The Quote:If I get 37 shots in a game, I’m going to put up 60. Easy.” — James


VIDEO: LeBron James runs wild on the Mavericks for 39 points

Earlier in the week, Rudy Gay set an NBA record with 37 field goal attempts. On this night, LeBron shot about half that number for 10 more points.

Drifting jumpers, quick dribble-drives, long 2s … in short, James had the full repertoire working. The Mavs elected to follow the Spurs’ 2013 Finals strategy of not double teaming, but contesting every perimeter shot he took. In other words, Shawn Marion, Jae Crowder and Monta Ellis were on their own.

A one-legged Dirkian fadeaway by James with a little over two minutes left gave the Heat the cushion needed to put Dallas away. (more…)

Varejao matters again, for Cavs and Brazil


VIDEO: FIBA: Round of 16, Day 2 Wrap

MADRID – It’s easy to forget how much of an impact Anderson Varejao can make on a game. The little things he does don’t mean much when his team is losing more than twice as many games as it’s winning, like the Cleveland Cavaliers have done over the last four years.

Come Oct. 30, when the Cavs tip off the 2014-15 season with LeBron James back and Kevin Love on board, Varejao is going to matter again.

In fact, Varejao matters right now, with Brazil having a chance to earn a medal at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. The Brazilians advanced to the quarterfinals with an 85-65 victory over Argentina on Sunday, avenging losses to their South American rivals in the 2010 World Championship round of 16, 2011 FIBA Americas final and 2012 Olympics quarterfinals.

Down three at the half on Sunday, Brazil just blitzed Argentina with 52 points on its final 29 possessions (1.79 points per possession) after scoring just 33 on its first 38 (0.87). Point guard Raul Neto, whose rights are held by the Utah Jazz, came off the bench and gave his team a huge lift, scoring 21 points on 9-for-10 shooting.

“In the second half,” Tiago Splitter said afterward, “that was our team — the way we played good D, running fast breaks, finding the open man and going for offensive rebounds.”

Brazil is now 5-1 at the World Cup, looking like the tournament’s third best team behind Spain and the United States. They haven’t hidden that they want to go home with a medal.

“We came here for that,” Varejao said. “We know that it’s not going to be easy. But we prepared ourselves.”

Their NBA frontline of Nene, Splitter and Varejao is obviously seen as a strength, but it had its ups and downs in group play. On Sunday though, the trio stepped up and played is best collective game of the tournament.

The three bigs combined for just 25 of Brazil’s 85 points. But Nene and Splitter shut down Argentina’s Luis Scola, holding him to just nine points on 2-for-10 shooting. (He dropped 37 on Brazil when these two teams met in the same round four years ago.)

Varejao, meanwhile, attacked the offensive glass. He picked up five offensive rebounds, including three in a critical stretch late in the third quarter. With Brazil up five, he saved a Marquinhos Vieira miss and, as he was falling out of bounds, got the ball to Splitter under the basket for a layup. A few possessions later, he grabbed two offensive rebounds that eventually led to a Neto layup.

“I had to be aggressive, going for offensive rebounds,” Varejao said, “because they had Scola and [Andres] Nocioni [as their bigs]. We had size on them. We spoke about it. We said if we shoot the ball, crash the glass, because we have a chance to get a second-chance shot. That’s what I did.”

Varejao finished the game eight points, nine rebounds and four assists. He was doing the dirty work that we can expect him to do in Cleveland. When you have James, Love, Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, you need that fifth guy to defend, rebound, set screens, and just give his team extra opportunities.

Varejao’s activity and playing time (more than 32 minutes) on Sunday are clear indications that, after playing just 146 games over the last four seasons, he’s healthy.

That’s good news for the Cavs, and good news for Brazil, who will play Serbia in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. A win there would put them in position to play for that medal they seek.

It’s also good news for Varejao, who’s happy to be playing big games again.

Varejao feeling healthy after tough four years without LeBron

Anderson Varejao hopes to remain healthy as he competes with Brazil. (Photo courtesy FIBA)

Anderson Varejao is using the FIBA World Cup to prepare for a title run with the Cavaliers. (Photo courtesy FIBA)

GRANADA, SPAIN – Derrick Rose isn’t the only player looking to use the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup as a springboard to a healthier and more successful NBA season for a title contender.

Cavs center Anderson Varejao would love to put some injury issues behind him as well. In the four years since LeBron James left Cleveland, Varejao, who turns 32 later this month, has averaged just 37 games per season, dealing with injuries to his upper and lower body.

James is back and Kevin Love has arrived. With Kyrie Irving and a bunch of shooters, the Cavs’ offense should be ridiculously good. But their defense will ultimately determine how far they go, and Varejao will be a big part of their success on that end of the floor.

With Mike Brown on the bench and Varejao playing 65 games last season, the Cavs improved from 27th to 17th in defensive efficiency. And they allowed 4.4 fewer points per 100 possessions with Varejao on the floor than they did with him on the bench.

The Cavs lack rim protection, but the last two seasons in which they had James and (a healthy) Varejao together, they ranked in the top 10 defensively. Brown was the coach then. David Blatt, who has had strong defenses with the Russian National Team, is the coach now.

As Blatt gets ready to put his new super team together on both ends of the floor, Varejao is in Spain with his Brazilian national team, a contender for a World Cup medal. Brazil is in a tough Group A, where it will play Spain on Monday (4 p.m. ET).

In Granada, after a win over Iran on Saturday, Varejao spoke with NBA.com about his health and the upcoming season.

NBA.com: How do you feel now compared to the last couple of years?

Varejao: I feel pretty good. I feel like I’m 100 percent. I feel like I’m moving a lot better. I’m healthy. I feel like I’m in shape. So this helps a lot.

Does this tournament really help you get your legs back and get back in basketball shape?

Varejao: Yes, it does. I believe the preparation that we had was about 40 days. And now we have the tournament. I just want to stay healthy.

How do you look back at the last four years, not only not playing with LeBron, but not being able to play a full season?

Varejao: Tough four years for me. It was very tough on me. It wasn’t easy, because every year that I was doing well, people were talking about All-Star, this and that, and then I would get hurt. So it wasn’t easy, but it’s all past now. The good thing is that I’m in shape, I’m healthy, and I’m looking forward to the next season.

How good can the Cavs be defensively?

Varejao: To me, defense is all about effort. If we put effort in, I believe we could do really well.

Have you talked to David Blatt?

Varejao: I did when he signed. I spoke with him during the soccer World Cup. I was in Brazil and he called me. I spoke with him once.

What do you know about him?

Varejao: I know that he’s a winner. He won the Euroleague last year. When he was with Russia he beat Brazil in the Olympics. With six seconds left in the game, they beat us.

He’s a good coach. He’s a winner. Everybody that I asked about him said good things about him. Anthony Parker played for him [at Maccabi Tel Aviv]. He said he’s one of the best human beings that he’s met and he’s a great coach.

Do you feel like you fit pretty well with Kevin Love on the frontline?

Varejao: I feel like I have to do what I always did when I played with LeBron, set screens, roll to the basket, be ready whenever I have a chance to go to the basket, play defense and rebound.

Plenty to watch at World Cup


VIDEO: Stephen Curry and Anthony Davis talk about the upcoming FIBA World Cup

GRANADA, SPAIN – The FIBA Basketball World Cup is the best hoops you can get outside of the NBA season. Yes, it’s better than the Olympics.

There are twice as many teams, allowing for more depth from Europe and the Americas. And there’s an extra round of single-elimination, tournament play, giving us 15 win-or-go-home games once pool play is completed.

No, the NBA’s top two players aren’t here. But there are 46 guys currently on NBA rosters, a high for any international tournament. And because Kevin Durant and LeBron James aren’t representing the United States, and because there is so much depth among the second tier of teams, the competition for medals will be captivating.

Along with the U.S., Spain is the co-favorite. As the hosts they will enjoy a home-court advantage, which helped propel Turkey to the final game four years ago. But they also have a ton of talent and experience, both in the NBA and in making the U.S. sweat for a gold medal. The reason U.S. has four centers on its roster is because Spain has Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka.

Beyond the top two, the competition to reach the semifinals could be wide open. Pool play will help sort things out somewhat, but as many as 10 other teams could have dreams of making the semifinals and playing for a medal.

Most of those teams will be on Spain’s half of the 16-team bracket after pool play is completed. In Group A play in Granada, the hosts will face Brazil, with its three NBA big men and terrific point guard, France, the 2013 European champion with five NBA players on is roster, and Serbia, who knocked out Spain in the quarterfinals of this tournament four years ago.

When pool play is completed, the top four teams from Group A (Granada) will match up with the top four from Group B (Sevilla) on the Madrid side of the bracket. Group B features Argentina, Croatia, Greece and Puerto Rico.

The U.S. has an easier path to the final. In Group C pool play in Bilbao, its toughest opponent will likely be Turkey, which has fallen hard since the 2010 World Cup, or the Dominican Republic, which the Americans blew out in New York last week.

Group D (Gran Canaria) features two tougher teams – Australia and Lithuania – which the U.S. will likely face on the Barcelona side of the bracket.

The USA’s history in this event (formerly called the World Championship) is not great. Prior to 2010, it had only won 1954, 1986 and 1994. Yugoslavia, which continued to exist as a basketball team after it dissolved as a nation, won five World Championships.

But Mike Krzyzewski has compiled a 43-1 record and a 36-game winning streak in his nine-year tenure as the USA head coach. He won this tournament four years ago with a roster of 12 guys who had never played a senior-level international game. And the world has yet to experience the defensive of new assistant Tom Thibodeau first hand.

The U.S. won its four exhibition games by an average of 29 points, but could still use improvement, especially on offense. Pool play, beginning with Saturday’s game against Finland (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) will allow them to work some things out, but it’s doubtful that anything can prepare them for a potential gold-medal game against Spain in Madrid.

Before we can think about that, there is a ton of high-quality basketball to be played and plenty of reasons to watch.

There are key players on NBA contenders — Derrick Rose and Anderson Varejao — looking to get back into basketball shape after injury-riddled seasons.

There is the last stand of Argentina’s golden generation and their beautiful brand of basketball, represented by Andres Nocioni, Pablo Prigioni and Luis Scola.

There’s the continued growth of Greece’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Senegal’s Gorgui Dieng, and Lithuania’s Jonas Valanciunas

There are six incoming rookies, including Australia’s Dante Exum (Jazz), Greece’s Kostas Papanikolaou (Rockets) and the Croatian pair of Bojan Bogdanovic (Nets) and Damjan Rudez (Pacers), to watch and figure out how they might contribute to their new teams.

There are 2014 draftees like Croatia’s Dario Saric (Sixers) and Serbia’s Bogdan Bogdanovic (Suns), who might eventually be NBA contributors. And there are a few potential prospects, like the Ukraine’s Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (who will play at Kansas next season), to keep an eye out for.

There’s the curiosity of how veteran Euroleague floor generals like Marcelo Huertas (Brazil) and Milos Teodosic (Serbia) would fit in the NBA.

There’s the Dragic brothers racing up the floor at every opportunity for Slovenia. There’s Andray Blatche playing point-center for the Philippines. And there’s the flair of real point guards like Carlos Arroyo and Ricky Rubio.

Seventy-six games over 17 days. If you can’t wait the upcoming NBA season, with Kevin Love joining LeBron in Cleveland, the Spurs trying for their first repeat, and Rose back in a Bulls uniform, the FIBA World Cup should hold you off for a while.

World Cup stacked with NBA players


VIDEO: USA tops Puerto Rico in exhibition

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – LeBron James was always taking the summer off from competitive basketball. Kevin Love decided to do the same just before the U.S. National Team opened training camp in Las Vegas last month. But there are still reasons for Cavs fans to watch the FIBA World Cup, which begins Saturday in Spain.

The Cavs are one of two teams that will have four players taking part in the World Cup. Kyrie Irving, of course, will start (at least some games) at point guard for the United States. He’ll face new teammate Erik Murphy, playing for Finland, in the USA’s first pool-play game.

Murphy, who was acquired in a trade from Utah last month, may not necessarily be on the Cavs’ opening-night roster. Only $100,000 of his $816,000 contract is guaranteed, the Cavs are already over the 15-man roster limit, and they’ve yet to sign Shawn Marion.

Irving has already faced Brazil’s Anderson Varejao in an exhibition game. And he could go head-to-head with his Cleveland back-up — Australia’s Matthew Dellavedova — in the knockout round.

The Rockets are the other NBA team that will have four players at the World Cup. James Harden, the Dominican Republic’s Francisco Garcia, Lithuania’s Donatas Motiejunas and Greece’s Kostas Papanikolaou will all represent the Rockets in Spain.

Papanikolaou is one of five incoming rookies at the tournament. The others are the Bulls’ Cameron Bairstow (Australia), the Nets’ Bojan Bogdanovic (Croatia), the Jazz’s Dante Exum (Australia), and the Pacers’ Damjan Rudez (Croatia).

Croatia’s Bogdanovic is not to be confused with Serbia’s Bogdan Bogdanovic, who was selected in this year’s Draft by the Suns and will play at least two years in Turkey before coming to the NBA. The Serbian Bogdanovic is one of six guys taken in the last two drafts who has yet to come over.

The others are Alex Abrines (OKC, Spain), Arselan Kazemi (PHI, Iran), Joffrey Lauvergne (DEN, France), Raul Neto (UTA, Brazil) and Dario Saric (PHI, Croatia). (more…)