To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Cleveland Plain-Dealer has made a list of the 40 greatest players in franchise history. LeBron unsurprisingly occupies the #1 spot, followed by Mark Price. What’s interesting is that center Zydrunas Ilgauskas comes in at the #5 spot, between legendary high-flyer Larry Nance and current Cavaliers color man Austin Carr.
While the Cavaliers are celebrating Ilgauskas’ past achievements, his current status with the team is in limbo. Ilgauskas has been replaced in the starting lineup by Shaquille O’Neal, and his large expiring contract makes him the Cavs’ most valuable trade chip. The rumor that has dominated NBA All-Star weekend says that Ilgauskas is reportedly on the table for the Suns’ Amar’e Stoudemire. He is also rumored to be part of a package for either Antawn Jamison or Troy Murphy.
While LeBron has been the savior of the franchise, Ilgauskas has been its anchor. Ilgauskas has been with the team since they drafted him in 1997. He became the franchise’s all-time leader in games played earlier this season, and also holds franchise records for minutes played, blocked shots, offensive rebounds, and total rebounds.
During his tenure with the team, Ilgauskas has transformed his game to fit what the franchise has asked of him. He’s slowly gone from a low-post scorer and primary offensive option to a spot-up shooter who spaces the floor for LeBron and company, giving them the space they need in the lane. He was long considered a defensive liability, but has defended the rim for one of the NBA’s top defenses over the last few years.
After starting his whole career, he has taken his demotion to the bench in stride. He’s never complained about his new role, even though he’s struggled to find his shot in a reserve role. He has been as impressive off the court as on it, and is universally considered one of the true “good guys” in the NBA.
Unfortunately for Ilgauskas, basketball is a business. As much as the franchise values what Ilgauskas has brought to the team over the years, they may not be able to pass up the opportunity to use his contract to upgrade the roster. The organization reportedly intends to secure a buyout agreement with whatever team trades for him, which would allow Ilgauskas to return to the team after 30 days off.
However, there’s no guarantee that would work, as it’s against the rules to make a buyout agreement an official part of any trade. Any team that trades for Ilgauskas’ contract could try to turn it into some assets for themselves before the trade deadline, which would further complicate a potential buyout. There’s also the nagging detail that handshake deals haven’t always worked out for Cleveland in the past
. The Cavaliers were able to acquire Joe Smith after a buyout last year; trying to pull the same maneuver two years in a row may be pushing their luck.
Completing a major trade always involves making some tough basketball choices. What makes trading Ilgauskas such a tough decision for GM Danny Ferry is that there’s more than basketball at play.