Kleeman's Jump Hook: The NBA Cannot Buy Out Its Trade Problem

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IFebruary 23, 2010

ATLANTA - DECEMBER 29:  Al Horford #15 of the Atlanta Hawks drives against Zydrunas Ilgauskas #11 of the Cleveland Cavaliers at Philips Arena on December 29, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Zydrunas Ilgauskas will wait the league-mandated 30 days and then re-sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers to play alongside his buddy LeBron James.

Nike will not have to shelve an advertisement featuring the LeBron and "Big Z" sock puppets for long.

Soon enough, Ilgauskas will ask "what is up LeBron" just before tipoff of a game that matters. James will welcome the return of the franchise's longest-tenured player.

The Cavs remained loyal to the center throughout his injury-plagued, 13-year career, so he will want to repay Cavs management and James. The chance to win that elusive ring will keep his other suitors at bay.

The Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, and Atlanta Hawks could use an additional big body and since their squads lack in size they will give him a look.

But, he won't reciprocate.

If the Washington Wizards agree to buyout Ilgauskas' expiring contract, most know his destination of choice.

“It will be kind of tough knowing that he is coming from the best team in the league to coming to play with us,” Hawks guard Joe Johnson told Yahoo Sports' Mark Spears. “I could see him coming to Cleveland before he comes to us. That’s just my opinion and how I feel about it, but we’d love to have him.”

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Johnson is skeptical for a reason, and it highlights a loophole in the NBA's trade regulations that has irked some fans and coaches Phil Jackson and Doc Rivers.

The Cavaliers dealt Ilgauskas and a 2010 first round pick to the in-crisis-mode Wizards for impact forward Antawn Jamison in a three-team transaction last week.

The L.A. Clippers swapped Al Thornton for Drew Gooden. The Wizards also acquired the draft rights to Emir Preldzic.

L.A. Times hoops writer Mark Heisler reported last weekend that the NBA would block Ilgauskas' return to Cleveland. It made no sense then, and the Associated Press has since reported that the league would not stop such a move.

Why would David Stern do anything that might lessen the chance of a LeBron vs. Kobe NBA Finals?

An anonymous league official told the AP the NBA would only intervene if evidence surfaced of a handshake deal.


The idea of Ilgauskas in a Cavs uniform again does not disgust me. He leads the franchise in rebounds and games played. He loves Cleveland, and that city needs all the fans it can get.

I could go for a joke here, but I will refrain.

The problem: If Ilgauskas re-signs, GM Danny Ferry will have landed a 20-point, eight-rebound player for nothing. You could call it a free agent signing disguised as a trade.

The Cavaliers boasted the league's best record before this lopsided deal. Ferry, then, managed to improve the roster without surrendering forward J.J. Hickson.

A first round pick in another spotty draft won't mean much to a team in win-now mode.

Preldzic has played zero NBA minutes.

Should the NBA reconsider its position?

Unless Ilgauskas pulls the moron move of the year, no one in the association's New York office will find proof of a pre-arranged deal. Yet, Stern did not need footage of a handshake to know this deal was rotten from the start.

Ernie Grunfeld, taking orders from a new owner, has initiated a fire sale in Washington. Somehow, the Wizards have won three of four since the GM jettisoned Jamison, Caron Butler, and Brendan Haywood.

Jamison had to go, but there might have been other options.

Two seasons ago, Jerry Stackhouse spoke too soon, and the league offered more than a tsk-tsk.

Stackhouse told reporters he expected to rejoin the Mavs after the 30-day wait period.


The NBA informed Mark Cuban that it would prevent the veteran guard from re-signing with Dallas if the New Jersey Nets agreed to a buyout.

Cuban found another player to include in the Jason Kidd-for-Devin Harris blockbuster, allowing Stackhouse to remain a viable contributor off the bench.

The San Antonio Spurs executed a deal for forward Kurt Thomas in that same two-week span as fishy as raw salmon and Canyon Lake.

R.C. Buford dealt away Francisco Elson and Brent Barry to the Seattle Supersonics for Thomas. Barry and the Sonics agreed to a buyout, allowing him to reunite with his San Antonio teammates for a botched repeat run.

Maybe there wasn't a handshake deal.

Other teams chased Barry, and it appears he listened. The Houston Rockets wooed him away from the Alamo City months later.

Still, questions linger about that deal and all others like it.

If Ilgauskas keeps his mouth shut, can the NBA justify looking the other way when it punished Stackhouse for wanting the same thing in 2008?

Stern isn't an idiot. He knows the Cavaliers and Ilgauskas want to reconvene to chase a title.

Anything can happen, and the Hawks, among others, could make a strong push.

Loyalty has its limits. As much as the Cavs will want "Big Z" back, they did trade him, and he has the right to explore his options.

However, Ilgauskas also cares about winning. The Cavs are better bets to win it all than Atlanta or Dallas.

You don't need to see a handshake to know that.