On the surface, it's hard to imagine why the Cavaliers would trade Anderson Varejao. He's having the best season of his career, is in the middle of a deal that keeps him on the books for less than $10MM a year through 2015, and provides an inside complement to star point guard Kyrie Irving. Still, the 7-24 Cavs are a long way from contention, and there's motivation to sell high, particularly with a player who's 30 years old and has a history of injury such that he's missed 97 of his team's 179 games since 2009/10. One league executive told Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal that he believes Anderson Varejao will be the top target on the market this year if Cleveland puts him on the block, so it's reasonable to suspect that Varejao's trade value will never be higher.
Even if he is the best player who'll be made available, Varejao doesn't fit the profile of the No. 1 trade candidates from years past, like Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard. Varejao's 14.1 points per game this season have him on track to smash the career high of 10.8 PPG he set last year. He's shooting just 47.8%, his lowest mark since 2007/08. This year's 0.6 blocks per game is right in line with his career number of 0.7, despite the fact he stands 6'10" and plays near the basket. His only elite skill appears to be rebounding, as he leads the league with 14.4 boards per contest, which is significantly more than the 12.6 RPG of the league's second-leading rebounder, Zach Randolph.
The Thunder have been frequently mentioned as a potential partner in a Varejao deal. Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal reported that the teams have discussed a proposal that would send Perry Jones III, Jeremy Lamb and the Raptors' 2013 first-rounder that Oklahoma City owns to Cleveland for Varejao. The Thunder would have to give up more to make the salaries match for that deal, though. They could accomplish that by throwing in Hasheem Thabeet, Eric Maynor and DeAndre Liggins, but a five-for-one trade would seriously compromise the Thunder's depth if anyone got hurt, and I don't think such a package would be intriguing enough for Cleveland to bite. Lloyd wrote earlier in the month that the Cavs could have their eyes on Serge Ibaka, and Marc Stein of ESPN.com said two weeks ago that rival executives are skeptical Varejao will be dealt because Cleveland's price for Varejao keeps going up.
More recently, HoopsWorld's Alex Kennedy said the consensus around the league is that Varejao will be dealt, and Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio pegged Cleveland's asking price as a big man and multiple first-round draft picks. That suggests a three- or four-team deal may be most likely, since a single club may be unable to part with too many first-rounders.
It also points again to the Thunder, since they're owed first-rounders from the Raptors and Mavs and still possess all their own first-round picks. I don't think they'd be willing to part with Ibaka, but GM Sam Presti might try to talk Chris Grant, his Cleveland counterpart, into Kendrick Perkins. If the Cavs are truly focused on the future, they wouldn't mind enduring Perkins' nonexistant offense for the time being if it meant getting the multiple first-rounders they covet. In the short term, Perkins would provide a defensive force to offset the shortcomings Irving and Dion Waiters have on that end, and also serve as a championship-tested mentor to the team's youngsters. Perkins and Varejao have nearly identical contracts, with the most significant difference being that the final year of Varejao's deal is only guaranteed for $4MM, while Perkins' $9.654MM in 2014/15 is fully guaranteed.
The Cavs would stand to gain plenty of cap space when Perkins' deal comes off the books, but that wouldn't be until a year after 2014, the first time LeBron James can get out of his contract with the Heat. A league executive speculated to Aldridge that the Cavs might want to hang on to Varejao to make a more attractive pitch to James that summer, and keeping Varejao would also give Cleveland the option of waiving him and absorbing the $4MM partial guarantee if they need more cap space in 2014.
If the Cavs want to trade Varejao, Oklahoma City is far from their only option. The Wolves and Spurs have recently been reported to have interest, and there are probably many other teams who would welcome the high-energy big man. The key is just how willing the Cavs are to move him. A small complication is that Varejao has a 5% trade kicker on his deal, and since the contract was signed before the current CBA took effect, the team that takes on Varejao would have to come up with the small measure of extra cash. Of greater concern is likely Varejao's health, as he's currently on the shelf for a week with a bruised right knee. If he sustains a more significant injury, the Cavs probably wouldn't be able to move him, and his value could take a hit for future seasons. Given Varejao's fragility, the looming specter of injury is probably the greatest motivation Cleveland has to sell high, and sell soon.