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Wild ending in Cleveland

CLEVELAND — Anderson Varejao and his healthy head of hair left Cleveland for a while. His heart remained.

“It’s home,” he said. “I love the city. I love the fans.”

Varejao, who was traded five years ago by the Cavaliers and missed out on an NBA title with them, signed a 10-day contract with the team on Tuesday to begin an end-of-season stint celebrating his 12-year run in Cleveland.

The 38-year-old center hasn’t played in the NBA since 2017 with Golden State — or in any game since the 2019 World Cup in China.

But he stayed in shape by working out in his garage at home, and the curly-haired Brazilian nicknamed “Wild Thing,” who endeared himself to fans and teammates with his hustle while annoying opponents, will finish this season with the injury-plagued Cavaliers.

Varejao didn’t dress Tuesday night in a 134-118 loss against the Phoenix Suns, but that’s not what matters.

He’s back with the team that gave him his start and eager to help any way he can.

“I’m going to enjoy this moment,” he said on a Zoom call following shootaround. “Hopefully, I can get out there and do some crazy things like Andy used to do back in the day. But the main thing is just to be back with the guys and kind of help the younger guys, to help them understand that you cannot take anything for granted.

“No matter what’s going on, it could always get worse, you know. So just enjoy the moment, enjoy what’s going on right now and we’ll see. I’m excited. I’m anxious to see how it’s going to be.”

Varejao said there was some anxiety when he headed “back to work” at Cleveland Clinic Courts, where he was welcomed by his new teammates.

“But once I got here, it felt like I never left,” he said.

The Cavaliers are crawling to the end of another rough season.

They already are thinking about the draft lottery after being eliminated from the playoffs. They are missing seven players due to injuries.

And while Varejao’s signing could be viewed as a publicity stunt, the team sees a benefit in bringing back a proven player who can help some of the youngsters.

“Andy embodies all that the city of Cleveland stands for and beyond, and we couldn’t be more excited to bring his experience, leadership and character back into this locker room,” general manager Koby Altman said. “His infectious work ethic and commitment to our community have earned him his rightful place in the fabric of this organization and all of Northeast Ohio, and have established a genuine admiration that resonates strongly throughout our passionate fan base.

Varejao was with the Cavaliers from 2004-16 before he was traded to Portland in a three-team deal a few months before Cleveland overcame a 3-1 deficit and beat Golden State in the NBA Finals to end the city’s 52-year championship drought.

The next year, Varejao signed as a free agent with Golden State and played against the Cavaliers in the Finals, a sight that pained some in Cleveland.

It hurt Varejao as well, but it didn’t change how he felt about his time in Ohio.

“Even though I was on the other side, I was happy for them to get the ring and celebrate because this city deserved it, and the fans deserve it,” he said. “I’m happy for them, the most important thing now is that I’m back with the wine and gold.”

Varejao was active Tuesday night but did not dress or play, disappointing some fans who had hoped to see the popular Brazilian get his first action for the Cavs since 2016.

The team played a video during a timeout in the first quarter to welcome back Varej”o, who waved to the crowd.

Bickerstaff is confident having Varej”o around for even a short period will benefit the team’s young players.

“He’s a mentor,” Bickerstaff said. “He’s got a wealth of experience and knowledge and he embodies the things that we talk about wanting to be. For him, he can choose to live anywhere in the world. He lives in Cleveland and has made Cleveland his home.

“When I think about how he played the game, we talk about people who compete, we talk about people who are selfless and he was those two things personified.”

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