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Anderson Varejao

Anderson Varejao

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A year ago in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Anderson Varejao watched most of Game 7 against the Boston Celtics from the bench.Varejao had his moments in the series against the Celtics, but he was not a mainstay in the Cavs' rotation.It epitomized his 2007-08 season, when Varejao's moments were too few.Things could not be more different this season.Varejao has gone from watching Joe Smith and Ben Wallace take his time in Game 7 a year ago to starter and finisher for the Cavs this season.He's proven himself as a legitimate NBA starter — and more important, a legitimate NBA finisher.A year ago, Varejao's season was marred by a holdout, injuries and efforts to be what he wasn't.His season this year has been fortified by consistency, effort and hustle.

He's a 6-foot-11 forward who can run the court and defend, which makes him a valuable member of this team.It was money that led to Varejao's struggles last season.

He had emerged in previous seasons as a hustle-and-energy guy off the bench.But in the offseason of 2007, Varejao became a restricted free agent, which led to a holdout, which led to his signing a contract with the Charlotte Bobcats 22 games into the season.The deal pretty much met the terms the Cavs sought during the holdout, so they decided to match it within minutes.Varejao didn't have a training camp, then hurt his ankle twice.

When he returned, Smith had moved ahead of him in the rotation.During the holdout, he had heard how much money he should be making.

A sensitive guy, he took it in — and at times he played like his mind was cluttered.At times he tried to do too much — especially when he made complex moves off the dribble that simply did not suit his game.This offseason, Varejao did a lot of work on his strength and on clearing his mind and on his shooting (which has improved) and his low-post moves (ditto).

He returned refreshed, and has had by far the best season of his career.

And when Wallace went down with a broken leg, Varejao moved into the starting lineup and has not moved out.His most impressive stat: His field-goal percentage is a career-best 53.6 percent, a reflection of the fact he's taking better shots.In the playoffs, he ranks sixth in the league in offensive rebounds, and fourth in offensive rebounds per 48 minutes.''I'm here just to do — how do they say? — the dirty work,'' he said.

''My game never was a stats game.''That shows defensively, as Varejao ranked second in the NBA by taking 52 charges — a number coach Mike Brown loves.Few are as bothersome to the other team as Varejao, whose herky-jerky style and constant effort can get into people's heads.''He gets under my skin, so I can only imagine what it's like if he's not your teammate,'' Zydrunas Ilgauskas said.

''He's as bad in practice as he is in the game.

Maybe worse, because he can get away with more.''The question becomes Varejao's future.He is being paid $5.78 million in the second of a three-year deal, but that contract allows him to ''opt out'' after this season and become a free agent.He hinted he might not opt out, but few players reject the chance at unfettered free agency.He said he'd like to stay with the Cavs, and the Cavs no doubt would like to keep him.

He plays well with LeBron James, he plays defense (said Ilgauskas: ''He always guards the opponent's best big''), he hustles and, at 24, he's young.

Most important, based on this year, he's improving.''We have the best organization in the NBA, with all the respect to the other ones,'' Varejao said recently.

''We have, like, everything.

[Owner] Dan Gilbert has done an amazing job for this team.''He's not afraid to spend money.

He showed that as soon as he got to Cleveland.

I want to be here.''I want to be here.''A new contract could be in the offing.

Varejao earned it.Leading offIt's time for the Indians to move Grady Sizemore out of the leadoff spot.Sizemore has struggled this season.He's hitting .227, and has struck out 40 times in 150 at-bats.

The Indians look at the strikeouts per plate appearances rather than merely at-bats, but he's still striking out 23.7 percent of his appearances (compared to 17.4 percent in 2008).That's too many for Sizemore, and too many for a leadoff hitter.His on-base percentage is .308, and his OPS (on-base plus slugging) is .708.Compare that to the Indians' next leadoff hitter: Asdrubal Cabrera, who is hitting .336 with an on-base percentage of .400 and an OPS of .848.When the season started, baseball stats guru Bill James wrote that Sizemore had become a guy who tried to pull everything.Fifty-two percent of Sizemore's hits went to right, James wrote, and 66 percent of his ground balls went to the right side.These could be indicators that a guy who could and should be using all fields had fallen in love with his home run swing.Except that Sizemore has always been a pull hitter.The Indians' pitching remains a far bigger concern than Sizemore, and this probably isn't the first time he's had a .230 stretch in his career.But the Indians need better from him.Especially when they're 10 games below .500.The Indians have left Sizemore as the leadoff batter for a number of years, in part because that's where manager Eric Wedge wanted Sizemore to hit and in part because that's where Sizemore wanted to hit and in part because they didn't have alternatives.It would seem to me that Sizemore might be a good fit in the third spot (despite the average).

Victor Martinez would be behind Sizemore, so teams couldn't pitch around him the way they did in 2008, when Indians' No.

2 batters hit .248 (this year they're .265).Also in the third spot, his power and run-producing ability would be highlighted, though his speed might be negated some.If Sizemore hit second, he could take advantage of his tendency to pull the ball — especially ground balls.

If a runner were on first and he pulled the ball, he'd have more of a hole to hit to.

And if a runner were on second and he pulled a grounder, the runner would advance.Too, Martinez could hit third and still protect Sizemore.I'd still bat him third, with Martinez fourth.A team with the Indians' record needs to consider all alternatives.Random thoughts• The Indians remain most concerned about their pitching, specifically the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation and the bullpen.• Anthony Reyes has a 7.20 ERA.

Enough said.

A starter must be found to take over for Aaron Laffey, who was moved to the bullpen.• Seems that David Huff will get the call from Triple-A Columbus soon.• Lost in the mess that is the won-lost record is the outstanding start from Martinez, who, heading into the weekend, was hitting .400 with an OPS over 1.0.

That's considered excellent.• Seems that if Matt LaPorta is going to be in the majors, he ought to get four at-bats every day.

Might not be a bad idea to DH him — or at least keep him off first base — until he remembers to tag the base.• Jhonny Peralta played third the other night.

Putting Peralta at third base and Mark DeRosa at second base long term kind of seems to be re-shuffling the deck chairs, no? If Peralta is too slow to play shortstop, then doesn't that weaken third-base defense to put him there?• Maybe it's just me.• Fausto Carmona is looking more and more like a guy whose one good season was a fluke, as opposed to the other way around.

Carmona throws fine in the bullpen, then gets too geeked up on the mound.• Carmona's ERAs in his career: 5.42, 3.06, 5.44, 5.57.

Methinks there's a trend there.• And methinks if the Indians tried to trade Carmona, about two-thirds of the league's teams would try to acquire him.

That's how valuable pitching is, and how little is available.• That's what the Indians are up against as they search for starting pitching via trade.

Few teams are willing to give up quality starters.• Sizemore and Peralta (.248, 37 K's) and Carmona illustrate the Indians' problems.

These are guys the team depended on, and they're not coming through.

If they don't come through, then the problems of the other guys are exaggerated.• A wise man advised me recently to check on the Indians' status on June 1.

He might have a point — heading into Friday night, the Indians were still in the midst of a miserable start and were just 41/2 games behind.• As to the Cavs, it was good to hear Brown say he knew they needed to work on offense during this break between series.

Because they did not have good offense in Games 3 and 4 against the Atlanta Hawks.• Brown listed these elements as lacking: Spacing, ball movement, multiple drive-and-pass per possession, solid screens, good cuts and attacking the shot clock (making a pass in the first five seconds of the shot clock).• Why did the Cavs revert? Brown said it's human nature.

They'd depended on James going one-on-five for years, so they slipped into old habits.• Said the Cavs' coach: ''You need to have a great one on your team, in my opinion, to win [the championship].

Because everyone knows what you're doing.

So we may have to sit back and say, 'We have to defend tonight and 'Bron can get it done offensively.' Like Game 3 in Atlanta.

There are going to be games like that, when he's going to be great offensively and take over for us.''Game 4, nobody was good offensively.

What saved us was purely our defense.

Game 3, our defense was still there but 'Bron saved us offensively.

So it's going to happen at times where we're going to have games where he's going to do it all.''• If you enjoyed the LeBron puppet commercial, go to YouTube and search for ''Muppets'' and ''Danny Boy.'' Then sit back and laugh.• Got an e-mail that touted an NFL team's ''organized team activities to begin next week.''• Hold the presses.• The post office should e-mail us to say: Mail to be delivered today.• Until next time, there you have it.Patrick McManamon can be reached at [email protected]

Read his blog at http://www.ohiomm.com/blogs/mcmanamon/.

Follow Pat on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/patmcmanamon

http://www.ohio.com/sports/cavs/45226352.html
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