Fans who were worried about Zydrunas Ilgauskas not being bought out can breathe a little easier today. While the buyout agreement with the Washington Wizards has not been finalized yet, all indications are that the talks are progressing and everyone seems to expect an agreement happening within the next day or so.
This doesn’t mean Ilgauskas hasn’t already been thinking about his future. According to a report David Aldridge filed last night on NBA.com, Ilgauskas’ agent Herb Rudoy has every intention of speaking with as many teams as possible who are interested in acquiring Z. Aldridge writes:
Once Ilgauskas is a free agent he can sign with any team and be eligible for the playoffs.
Ilgauskas’s agent, Herb Rudoy, said via text Tuesday that the two sides were “still working” on the buyout.
“Z has not made a decision, but I expect him to do so by the weekend,” Rudoy said in the text. Asked if he would speak with other teams besides Cleveland if the Wizards and/or the league gave him permission, Rudoy texted, “Yes I can and I will.”
Now, before anyone gets too worried about Rudoy talking with other teams, remember that in order to keep this thing legal and allowable under NBA rules, the Z camp must go through all the proper motions.
In fact, some of you may be wondering what, exactly, could all prevent Ilgauskas from returning to Cleveland. Well, the answer is, not much. Atlanta will make a run at Z and will be able to offer Ilgauskas an awful lot of money if they feel so inclined.
The Hawks are sitting there with their full $5,854,000 Mid-Level Exception at their disposal, while the Cavaliers only have their $1,990,000 Bi-Annual Exception to use. I don’t know as that Atlanta would really want to offer Z the full MLE. Of course the amount would be prorated and wouldn’t push them over the tax line this season, but if the Cavaliers offer the full 2 year Bi-Annual contract to Z, then you would have to assume the Hawks would also have to go to 2 years, and do they really want to commit $6 million to Ilgauskas for next season?
The biggest threat to Z’s return to Cleveland is really just the NBA finding something incriminating in terms of a prior arrangement. I would say it’s 50-50 whether or not Danny Ferry really talked to Z about coming back before the trade happened. I mean, on one hand, you can make a legit argument that he didn’t have to. He knew full well Z would never play for Washington and that he would seek a buyout, and then, the question is, where else is he going to go but Cleveland?
You don’t want to sound like this isn’t a decision for Z, and you certainly don’t want to imply that he owes Cleveland anything. Sure, Cleveland stood by him through everything in his career, and Cleveland gave him a lot of money when nobody else likely would have, but Z has also put up with a lot through the years, and now is his time to really do what he wants. But having said all that, this is his home. He is eternally a part of this franchise and this franchise is eternally a part of him. This is his home. The Cavs didn’t trade him because they don’t want him. Not because they don’t think he still has value to the team. No, none of that. They traded him because he had the $11 million expiring contract that could net the team Antawn Jamison. Z knows this. So to think that Ferry needed to make sure a prior agreement was in place is probably not 100% accurate.
On the other hand, nothing in life is guaranteed. It’s a serious risk any time you let a player out of your control. Just look at Carlos Boozer. If Ilgauskas doesn’t come back to Cleveland, it will adversely affect this team’s Championship chances. So would Ferry go out of his way to blatantly step around the NBA rules? According to Adrian Wojnarowski, of course he would. Why wouldn’t he? Everyone else in the NBA does. He writes:
Beyond the ordinary warnings that come on the trade call and with league memos, the NBA delivered a deeper admonition to the Cleveland Cavaliers: We’re watching on Zydrunas Ilgauskas, watching everything and don’t let us find a hint of evidence that a prearranged deal has been set up for his return once he gets his buyout with the Washington Wizards.
NBA officials ought to confess to an irrefutable truth: Unless teams are completely careless and foolish – Jerry Stackhouse declared he was taking a 30-day vacation and returning to Dallas before he’d even been traded – the league is powerless, if not unmotivated, to police itself.
NBA officials can’t catch teams. Truth be told, they don’t want to catch teams. This is a league full of side deals. Do you think teams clearing cap space aren’t working on potential deals with players? You’re kidding yourself. The phone calls come and go every day.
“No emails,” one agent said. “Never put anything in an email.”
There’s the NBA general manager who called an agent every week a season ago, trying to convince the rep to push his unhappy star to force a trade to his team. Discussions between executives and agents about the free-agent class of 2010 – even 2011 – are well under discussion. Yes, it’s called tampering, and it’s called about as often as the carry.
Well, that’s encouraging. Sure, the NBA likely won’t get in the way of teams tampering with LeBron, but hey, they also will turn a blind eye to any prearranged deals to get Ilgauskas back in Cleveland. And lest you think I’m stretching what Adrian is saying here, he goes on to explicitly say just that:
Here’s the one political thing the Cavs have going for them: Cleveland executives have watched numerous officials, from Knicks executives to Nets minority owners, publicly tamper with LeBron James and never heard an admonishment from the league office. It feeds a conspiracy belief that David Stern wants James in New York. So how could the NBA get in the way of Ilgauskas now, without it looking like the league has an agenda to derail the Cavs’ title chase and, ultimately, their re-signing of James?
Well, if that doesn’t warm your heart as a Cavs fan, I don’t know what will.
I think the funniest part of this is that for years we’ve had to listen to people put down Z’s game. From analysts, to commentators, to bloggers, etc, we’ve heard time and time again how Z was not an impact player, how he was just along for the ride like everyone else on this roster, and how at the end of the day he was just a slow, lumbering, white guy who had the luxury of being tall. But now all of the sudden, teams are lining up to get their hands on Z. Some, like Atlanta and Dallas, are doing so because they believe Z can truly help them. Other coaches, like Doc Rivers and Phil Jackson, are publicly (and in Rivers’ case, hypocritically) criticizing the prospects of Z returning to Cleveland. Well, if you think back to the way Phil Jackson was practically making fun of Ilgauskas in ABC’s audio of his time outs during one of last season’s matchups, I’m surprised he cares so much now.
The bottom line is this: Ilgauskas is likely to be bought out in the next day or two, and if everything works out right, he will listen to other teams for a couple days before announcing his intentions this weekend of returning to Cleveland. And you know what, considering that it’s been the Cavaliers who have believed in Ilgauskas and never doubted his impact on the game of basketball, I’m not going to apologize for this. Yes, the loophole is atrocious and needs to be fixed. Nobody is denying that. And it probably will be fixed in the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement. But for now, it’s legal, and I’m encouraged by the direction this story is headed.