Cavaliers match offer sheet, Varejao contract hold out draws to a close

CLEVELAND – Cleveland yesterday matched the Charlotte Bobcats’ three-year offer for restricted free agent Anderson Varejao, ending a protracted contract dispute that gives the struggling Cavaliers some much needed help.

The Bobcats, in need of a big man, reached the $17 million deal Tuesday, leaving the Cavaliers a week to match it or lose him.

They wasted no time in choosing yesterday to keep the 6-foot-10, mop-haired Brazilian.

The decision came the morning after the Cavaliers lost their fourth straight game. They are 0-3 without superstar LeBron James, who sprained his left index finger a week ago.

Coach Mike Brown criticized his team’s lack of effort in an ugly 100-79 loss to New Jersey, something that Varejao should be able to help improve.

Varejao isn’t much of a scorer, but the 25-year-old, known for his energy, defense and flops, should help the Cavaliers regain their intensity on the court.

The Cavaliers haven’t had a wig night promotion or the same presence under the boards without the fan favorite, who averaged a career-best 6.8 points and 6.7 rebounds last season in helping the Cavaliers reach the NBA finals for the first time.

Varejao could opt out of the deal after the second season and become an unrestricted free agent. He said last week that he would prefer to play for another team.

Before training camp opened, Varejao turned down Cleveland’s one-year, $1.2 million qualifying offer. If he had signed that deal, the former second-round pick could have become an unrestricted free agent after this season. In late October, the Cavaliers rejected a six-year, $52 million package presented by Varejao’s agent, Dan Fegan.

Asked Tuesday night if he expected to see Varejao back with the Cavaliers, Brown said, “I hope so. He’s a talented player. He’s a great guy.”

It was unclear yesterday when Varejao would join the team or how quickly he could jump into Brown’s rotation after missing more than a month.

“I know he’s a hard worker. I don’t know what type of shape he’s in,” Brown said.

The Cavaliers waived little-used guard/forward Demetris Nichols to make room for Varejao on the roster.

Before joining the Cavaliers in the 2004-05 season, Varejao spent three seasons in Spain playing for F.C. Barcelona. He’s also a member of the Brazilian national team, and the Bobcats said he could play for the team in the offseason, a point of contention with the Cavaliers.