Saying he's chasing a dream to win an NBA title, Zydrunas Ilgauskas is leaving the Cavaliers after 14 seasons to join LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
The Cavs had a contract offer on the table and told Ilgauskas he was always welcome with the organization, but with the team in rebuilding mode, Ilgauskas chose to accept a two-year, $2.8 million offer in Miami. The second year will likely be a player option.
"It was a tough decision for me; very emotional," Ilgauskas told The Plain Dealer. "I spent 14 years of my life here. I came in as a young boy and grew up to be a man. Cleveland had a lot to do with that."
The Heat, who had no centers under contract, began recruiting Ilgauskas after James signed last week. James was part of the recruitment effort.
"Obviously (LeBron) related how much he'd like for me to join him," Ilgauskas said. "I looked at all my options. When I stepped away from all the hoopla that surrounded free agency, from a basketball standpoint, for me personally, it was the best decision I could have made."
Obviously, I'm gonna miss Big Z but it's not exactly a big blow at this point. Without LeBron, the Cavaliers should be entering a rebuilding period (Dan Gilbert's ill advised promise to win before LeBron not withstanding) and rebuilding teams don't need old centers. Z barely got any minutes in the playoffs anyways (a combination of his diminishing skills and Mike Brown's stubborn refused to see that Shaq sucked) and I don't mind the big fella chasing a ring, especially at his age.
Also, of course LeBron helped recruit Big Z to Miami. LeBron also met Derek Fisher at the airport for Fisher's free agent visit. Brian Windhorst tweets:
Western Conference executive: "LeBron has done more recruiting in the last five days than he did in the last 3 years."Sounds about right. Remember, LeBron never even spoke with Tom freaking Izzo when Izzo was considering the Cavaliers job (but Bron-Bron was still undecided at the time...). When Cavs fans say that LeBron quit or his heart wasn't in it, this is the kind of crap we're talking about (also, Round 2 vs Boston).
Finally, Henry Abbot of TrueHoop tweets:
I'm waiting for someone to tell me that joining the Heat revealed some flaw in Zydrunas Ilgauskas' character.HAR! I knew someone was going to make a snarky comparison between LeBron's and Z's respective departures and the fan/media reaction. I know Henry is trying to be funny here but man, if someone can't understand why Cleveland fans would have different reactions to LeBron and Z bolting for Miami, I'm not sure I want to waste my time explaining the difference. (As for an answer to Henry's question, Z is a roll player, not the 2-time MVP. Though, speaking only for myself, the only thing about LeBron's move to Miami was the way he handled it publically).
Hell, I'm just waiting for someone to say that Cleveland fans are racist. I mean, we freaked out when LeBron, a black player, left but we're all hugs-and-kisses for Z, who is, obviously, Lithuanian.
But in all seriousness, this really feels like the end of an era. Z's been a Cavalier seemingly forever and the squad during his rookie year is one of my all-time favorite teams. That 97-98 Cavs team (coached by Mike Fratello!) started four rookies (Z, Brevin Knight, Derek Anderson and Cedric Henderson) and a not-quite-out-of-shape Shawn Kemp. They ended up bowing out in the first round to the Pacers and the future looked bright right up until Z's feet broke and Kemp used the lockout to sample all of Baskin Robbins' 31 flavors.
Even with all of LeBron's antics, having Z on the Heat roster would make a potential Miami championship just a teensy, tiny bit easier to stomach. Still, seeing Z get to the promise land in a different uniform will be bittersweet to say the least.
I wish him all the luck in the world.