On the day Kyrie Irving was cleared to return to practice, Anderson Varejao was lost at least temporarily with a shoulder injury. That’s the way the last six weeks have gone for the Cavaliers. Just as one player steps off the medical carousel, another takes his place.
Irving was cleared to return to practice two weeks after straining his left biceps, but the Cavs are expected to go slow with his return. The initial plan, one league source said, is to hold him out of Wednesday’s game at the Orlando Magic, give him a full week of practice and make sure he’s ready before unleashing him Friday in a huge game with playoff implications against the Atlanta Hawks.
Varejao was diagnosed Monday with a sprained AC (acromioclavicular) joint. He has already been ruled out of Wednesday’s game against the Magic, but that’s it. Varejao was injured late in the second quarter of Sunday’s victory against the Indiana Pacers. The Cavs initially feared the injury could be serious, one source said, but by the end of the night Varejao’s shoulder was already feeling better. Now the team seems relieved they dodged another serious injury to their oft-injured big man. An MRI on Monday revealed the sprain.
In perhaps another sign they don’t believe Varejao’s injury is too serious, the Cavs signed free agent guard Scotty Hopson to a contract for the remainder of this season worth about $1.38 million. He will also receive a non-guaranteed deal for next season worth about $1.44 million.
Hopson is receiving the prorated portion of the team’s $2.5 million room. By overpaying for Hopson now, the Cavs manufactured a large trade bullet to fire this summer.
Hopson’s deal, combined with Alonzo Gee’s non-guaranteed deal for next season and Varejao’s partially guaranteed contract gives the Cavs plenty of trade options. The three deals total about $14 million, of which only a small portion of Varejao’s contract is guaranteed, as the Cavs continue to position themselves for a significant trade this summer.
Hopson was signed using the room mid-level exception, which is a new component to the collective bargaining agreement. The room MLE is only available to teams that spent part of the season below the salary cap.
Hopson, 24, is a 6-foot-7 wing who has never appeared in an NBA game. He went undrafted out of Tennessee in 2011 and has spent the last three seasons playing overseas. He averaged 15.5 points and shot 48 percent on 3-pointers this season for Turkey’s Anadolu Efes in the Euroleague.
Hopson gives the Cavs another shooter with size while C.J. Miles continues his slow recovery from an ankle injury. Miles has played less than two minutes since severely spraining his left ankle six weeks ago. Asked if he expects to play again this season, Miles said Sunday, “that’s the plan,” but it’s clear at this point no one expected his recovery to take this long.
As for Irving, his return should provide an unexpected jolt at the right time. After he was injured in a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, there was a sense his season could be over. But Irving said last week he was ahead of schedule, the injury wasn’t as severe as feared and he was hopeful he would return this week.
The Cavs were seemingly left for dead after he was injured, particularly after they dropped the first three games without him. But they have persevered to remain alive in this playoff chase and began Monday just 2½ games behind the Hawks for the final playoff spot. The Hawks faced the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday.
“We’ve had guys in and out the whole year and our guys just figure out a way,” Mike Brown said. “Every time we step on the court, we play a little better. Our guys keep fighting.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.