Did you know that Zydrunas Ilgauskas is the Cleveland Cavaliers’ all-time leader in games played, minutes played, blocked shots, offensive rebounds, and total rebounds? Or that the sportswriting team at the Cleveland Plain-Dealer just this month named him the fifth-best player in Cavaliers history?
Maybe, maybe not: After all, for most of his 12 seasons in the NBA, Ilgauskas has been mired on bad Cleveland teams; ironically, while the team’s most realistic shot at taking the NBA title is happening, the ever-adaptable and reasonably reliably Z has been jettisoned for a larger-than-life personality with older-than-Australia knees – traded as a necessary evil cap-space move in the deal that sends Antawn Jamison to the Cavs.
Though Ilgauskas’ 2009-10 season is hardly over – reports last night on ESPN had the Washington Wizards buying out his contract and the Dallas Mavericks picking him up – one can’t help but wonder if his expiring contract combined with the ties cut by his heretofore loyal employer will be enough to bring him to Europe for 2010-11.
BiE is not exactly sure the modest and unassuming Ilgauskas would deem his decade-plus with the Cavaliers as a “failure,” but these years were hardly mind-blowingly successful for Cleveland. Despite five (and counting) consecutive winning seasons, Ilgauskas’ first six with the club were poor enough that Z experienced a total 508-498 in Cleveland. And despite the three year span from 1999 to 2001 wherein Ilgauskas missed 175 of a possible 204 regular-season games due to injury, he did suit up (typically starting) for 649 of 709 games up to Wednesday.
Over the years, Z saw the end of the Coach Fratello Era in Cleveland followed by five other head coaches before Mike Brown (and LeBron James) showed up. He’s gone from young one-dimensional low-post player to a full skill set. His Cavaliers teams have specialized in the full-court, then the half-court and then back to full-court except with hyper-quick King James. Z has alternatively run the floor and then banged bodies with much bigger bruisers than himself – all the while usually waiting for his team to pick up a workhorse rebounder to allow the Lithuanian to draw slow-footed big men away from the basket and shoot his shots. (Seriously, washed up Shawn Kemp? Washed up Benoit Benjamin? Tony Battie? And why wasn’t Carlos Boozer begged to stay?)
Meanwhile, poor Z’s prime was mostly invested in helping the Cavs build a team around LeBron and thus take an NBA Championship. Statistically, Ilgauskas’ peak runs from 2002 to 2006, a period when Z was first alpha dog for the NBA’s last-place team then second-fiddle to LeBron. All Ilgauskas did was play nearly every game and contribute no worse than 15.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per.
Said Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry in a statement:”Z has been a cornerstone part of this franchise and his jersey will hang in the rafters here some day, not only because of his play, but because of the tremendous person he is and what he has meant to the franchise and the community. He has represented the Cavaliers, Cleveland and the NBA at a consistently high level for many years. We wish Z and his family the best.”
Today, Ilgauskas is 34. While sticking around for the one- or two-year extension Mark Cuban could offer (should things go down with the Wizards as expected) would probably be attractive, Ilgauskas will surely consider a move back home where the less physical game inside might extend Z’s career and would certainly be a virtual playground in which to show off the skills he’s honed over all this time in the NBA.
Surely he’d like a legit shot at a championship before hanging it up…
In the meantime, BiE wishes Ilgauskas luck with the Wizards (ha ha) and on scoring the best possible deal after the season. Perhaps we’ll be seeing him in CSKA red before too long…? And you can bet a certain pair of team-owning brothers has already openly contemplated how much a 13-year NBA veteran might command to play in Greece…