CLEVELAND — Anderson Varejao's season has ended, dealing a major blow to the Cavaliers' NBA title hopes.
Cleveland's starting center tore his left Achilles tendon on Tuesday night in a win over Minnesota, an injury that will cost him the rest of this season and will force the Cavs to look for immediate help up front. The Cavs said an MRI confirmed the feared tear and that Varejao will undergo surgery "in the near future." A timetable for his return and rehab will not be established until after the operation.
The 6-foot-11 Varejao, one of the team's most popular players, was positioning under the basket for a rebound in the third quarter when he crumpled to the floor in pain. All of Cleveland's players and coaches came over to check on him before he was assisted off the floor without putting any weight on his leg. He left Quicken Loans Arena following the game on crutches with his leg in an immobilizing air cast.
The Cavs traveled to Miami on Wednesday for a Christmas Day game against the Heat, the first regular-season matchup between LeBron James and the superstar's former team.
Varejao's injury has stolen some of the buzz from that game as the Cavs are dealing with an injury that could alter their season.
With Varejao out, Tristan Thompson will likely move into a starting role and the Cavs will sharpen their pursuit of another big man. The Cavs had been looking for a rim-protecting center and have had trade discussions with several teams. Reserves Brendan Haywood and Lou Amundson could also get more playing time as first-year coach David Blatt looks for ways to compensate for the loss of Varejao, one of the league's most unique players.
Favored to win the Eastern Conference, the Cavs have made inquiries about Denver's Timofey Mozgov and Memphis center Kosta Koufos. Cleveland has a protected first-round pick from a previous deal with the Grizzlies they could use to land front-line help.
Varejao, who signed a three-year, $30 million contract extension in October, averaged 9.8 points and 6.5 rebounds in 26 starts. But beyond his stats, Varejao also contributes with his endless hustle and positive attitude. He's one of James' favorite teammates and the 11-year veteran has endeared himself to Cleveland fans with his energy and effort.
Varejao has averaged 7.9 points and 7.8 rebounds in his career. He has missed 166 games with injuries over the past four seasons.
During the preseason, the Cavs went to Varejao's native Brazil to play an exhibition against the Heat. Varejao was greeted as a national hero in his homeland and said the trip was one of the highlights of his career.
After a slow start, the Cavs have won 12 of 15 games and Blatt has gotten more comfortable with his rotations. Varejao's injury complicates things and could rush the Cavs into making a major roster move well before the February trading deadline.