Photo: John Kuntz/Cleveland.com
At a time where the Cavaliers didn't really need any additional bad news, it was announced on Tuesday afternoon that Zydrunas Ilgauskas had agreed to a two-year contract to follow LeBron James down to South Beach, joining the Miami Heat. After 771 games (plus 71 playoff games) in a Cavalier uniform, Big Z will do what it was feared he would have to last season after his trade to the Wizards: put on another team's jersey.
It doesn't seem like long ago that the Cavaliers took the string bean Ilgauskas in the first round of the 1996 NBA Draft. Right away, you could tell that he was special. His jumpshot was something you didn't see from a 7'3" big and he was surprisingly agile. Of course, that changed with his injuries, and who knows how truly great the 2-time All-Star could have been if he hadn't lost significant jumping ability and athleticism from the repeated foot injuries. Overall, despite some critics of the re-signing of Ilgauskas in 2005 by Danny Ferry, Z proved to be worth the money, helping the team win the Eastern Confernce in 2007, resulting in the euphoric celebration captured above.
The first thing that I want to make completely clear is that I have no hard feelings toward Z leaving to try and win a championship. It wasn't happening in Cleveland (at least, not in the two years at most that Z has left to play) and although the Cavaliers did offer him the same contract as Miami, it was clear that he would be far from the ideal center in the new Byron Scott up-tempo system. With Antawn Jamison, J.J. Hickson, Anderson Varejao, and Leon Powe already on the roster, minutes would have been limited anyway. In Miami, Z has a legitimate chance not just to win a title, but to play a significant part in it. Ilgauskas may in fact be the team's starting center, competing with non-centers Juwan Howard and Udonis Haslem for the honor as it currently stands. While my heart was screaming, "Anywhere, ANYWHERE but Miami!", it turns out that it's the perfect fit for Big Z.