Cavs making strong bid for Ilgauskas
CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers are applying full-court pressure to Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
Several of the center’s former Cleveland teammates visited him in New York on Tuesday, hoping to persuade him to re-sign with the Cavs and help them make a run at an NBA title. Ilgauskas, who has a place in SoHo, was traded last month to Washington in the deal for forward Antawn Jamison.
“They told him they want him to come back,” said agent Herb Rudoy. “(Cavaliers general manager) Danny Ferry flew in the other day and met with him, too.”
Ilgauskas recently bought out his contract with the Wizards, freeing him to sign with any team after 30 days.
“I talk to Z a lot, not just because he was a teammate of mine,” LeBron James said after Cleveland’s 111-92 win over the Nets in New Jersey. “We’ll see what happens.”
The Cavs need him.
With Shaquille O’Neal out for the remainder of the regular season following thumb surgery, Cleveland’s frontline is woefully undersized. On Monday, coach Mike Brown started 6-foot-9 forward J.J. Hickson at center. Hickson scored 17 points with nine rebounds and two blocks in a rout of the Knicks, and he added 20 points and 13 rebounds in a win over the Nets.
However, it’s uncertain whether he can continue the pace.
Ilgauskas has drawn interest from several other teams, including the Atlanta Hawks. Rudoy said Ilgauskas is weighing his options and that the 34-year-old has mixed feelings.
“He’s got a big emotional investment in Cleveland, in the city and the team,” Rudoy said. “On the other hand, he was not happy to be used as a pawn in the trade.”
Rudoy expects Ilgauskas to make a decision by this weekend. Ilgauskas can announce where he’ll play at anytime but cannot sign a contract until March 22.
“He’ll tell me when he’s ready to tell me,” Rudoy said. “I’m waiting to hear from him.”
Brown said before the Cavaliers’ game against the Nets on Wednesday night that he had not spoken with Ilgauskas.
Cleveland’s career leader in rebounds and games played, Ilgauskas is one of the Cavs’ most popular players. But this has been a strange season for the 7-foot-3 veteran, whose career was nearly ended prematurely because of serious foot injuries that cost him two full seasons.
Ilgauskas first lost his starting job to O’Neal, an understandable move by the Cavs who felt they needed more interior size to dethrone Orlando in the Eastern Conference. But on Nov. 28, the night Ilgauskas was set to break Cleveland’s record for games played, he was inexplicably benched by Brown.
The sensitive Ilgauskas was miffed by the slight and expressed his disappointment days later following a Cavs’ home win, choking back tears as he spoke.
“I’m going to be a bigger man and walk away from this,” he said at the time. “I know when I go to bed at night my conscience is clear. I love this team. I love my teammates. They are like a family to me. I’m going to come every day to work and try my hardest. Hopefully we can win a championship for this city because they deserve it.
“It has not been an easy ordeal.”
And then came the trade, which although it had been rumored for weeks, caught Ilgauskas off guard.
Ilgauskas has hinted about this being his last season and he would like nothing more than to end it by winning a championship for the only team he has ever known. He never suited up for the Wizards.
Rudoy said he has received hundreds of e-mails, letters and phone calls from Cleveland fans who want Ilgauskas to return.
“They’ve really reached out to him,” he said. “He loves the fans of Cleveland and I know how much the Cavaliers mean to him. But again, he was not happy to be a pawn. It was really disappointing.”