Varejao happy to be sticking with Cavaliers

Jul 10, 2009 - 9:53 PM INDEPENDENCE, Ohio(AP) -- Even when he opted to become a free agent, Anderson Varejao thought his best option was to remain a Cleveland Cavalier.

Less than a month after declining an option year on his contract, Varejao signed a six-year deal that could pay him $50 million with incentives, but averages closer to $7 million annually. It's a raise over the $6.2 million he was set to earn under the previous deal, but also leaves the Cavaliers with financial flexibility in the years ahead.

Negotiations moved much swifter than two years ago, when Varejao missed the season's first month while negotiating a new contract.

"Our priority was Cleveland," Varejao said. "I know we had some other teams (interested), but I wanted to come back. I believe we have a great organization, a great team and we have a chance to win a championship."

The hustling Varejao became an intricate part of a Cavaliers team that won a league-high 66 games during the regular season. He replaced Ben Wallace in the starting lineup in February, posting career-highs in starts (42), scoring (8.6), field-goal percentage (.536) and minutes (28.5) per game. He also averaged 7.2 rebounds.

Wallace was traded to Phoenix last month as part of the deal that brought superstar center Shaquille O'Neal to Cleveland, giving the Cavs the physical post presence they lacked this spring in losing to Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference finals. O'Neal will pair with Zydrunas Ilgauskas to give the Cavs two All-Star centers, plus Varejao, who also plays forward.

"I think we have three quality veterans in Z, Shaq and Andy," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. "People may think Z and Shaq can't play together, but I feel like I have the luxury of playing any combination of the three at any time. I'm excited about that."

With O'Neal on board, Varejao should be able to spend the bulk of his time at forward, where his high energy and tenacity typically result in charges drawn - he drew 52 offensive fouls last season - and offensive rebounds.

"He's an elite defender who can guard multiple positions," Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry said. "His ability to defend is very unique. He has an ability to guard different people and play different coverages, like the pick and roll, that really makes him a special player for us as a team that wants to continue a strong defensive identity."

Varejao, 6-foot-11 and 260 pounds, is not without limitations. He only takes about six shots a game and he averaged just 3.1 free throws per game last year.

"I have to learn how to read the game, improve my jump shot and finish around the basket," Varejao said. "Little bit of everything."

The signing of Varejao, 26, was important to Cleveland since he is the only center under contract beyond next year. Both O'Neal and Ilgauskas are entering the final year of their deals, while LeBron James could opt out of his contract after next season.

It leaves the Cavaliers with one more shot at a championship before the roster could receive another overhaul.

"Last season was great. We had a great season, but anything can happen during the playoffs," Varejao said. "Orlando played better than us. We have to give them credit. We have Shaq now, who is a winner. If we keep doing the things we did last year, we'll be OK."

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