[Editor's Note: This article was written before the news of Z's signing was formally announced. Since then, it has been confirmed that Zydrunas Ilgauskas has indeed signed a one year deal with the Cavaliers, per Brian Windhorst's Twitter account. However, we are still running this article as is because the thought process behind the decision still remains.]
Get ready Cavs fans. Zydrunas Ilgauskas is about to officially be reunited with his team for his return back to his rightful home. While Monday was actually the first day he could sign with Cleveland, Ilgauskas had a decision to make on the deal and the Cavaliers have a little housecleaning issues to take care of first, so a deal is expected to be finalized sometime Tuesday morning.
The decision Z is facing is whether to sign a deal just for the remainder of this season or to commit to the team for next season. If he does indeed sign the Bi-Annual Exception, the contract would be for 2 years and just shy of $4 million. However, the 2nd year is an option year, and the two sides can negotiate whether that be a team option or a player option. The issue doesn’t appear to be a matter of Z retiring after this year, though. His agent Herb Rudoy has said Z plans to play next year. So the issue is whether Z wants to automatically stay with Cleveland next year, or if he wants to test the free agent market this summer.
According to a quote given to the Plain Dealer’s Mary Schmitt Boyer, Rudoy said Z would decide what he wanted to do sometime Tuesday morning:
“Danny and I are discussing a couple of scenarios and I will let him know in the morning how Z wants to proceed,” Rudoy told The Plain Dealer. The hope was to complete a deal in time to allow Ilgauskas to travel with the team to New Orleans on Tuesday afternoon for a game on Wednesday.
According to a report by the Associated Press, this marks a change in philosophy on Z’s part:
Ilgauskas has the option of signing for just the remainder of this season or adding extra years to the deal.
“It’s just a matter of how long of a contract we’ll sign,” Herb Rudoy said.
Earlier in the day, Rudoy said he wasn’t interested in any deals beyond this season. He wanted Ilgauskas to be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Ilgauskas, though, is contemplating signing with Cleveland beyond this year.
The natural question I’m sure many have is, why would Z want to become a free agent? Does he really not want to finish his career in Cleveland? The answer probably isn’t that black and white.
Of course, I could get all conspiracy theorist on you and point out that Z has a residence in New York, and if anyone on the Cavaliers knows what LeBron is thinking regarding his future, it would be Ilgauskas. So perhaps he wants to play out his last year or 2 with LeBron in New York? But it’s a good thing I’m not one for conspiracies, so I’ll leave that one alone.
Rather, I think the real issue is twofold. One, there’s the money Z had to give up to come back to Cleveland in the first place. According to Mary Schmitt Boyer’s article, Ilgauskas had to give up $1.5 million to get out of Washington, and now the pro-rated value of the BAE that he would sign is only $150,000. And yes, I understand Z has made a lot of money from this franchise in his career, but never the less, nobody enjoys losing $1.3 million dollars that was owed to them.
The 2nd issue for Z could be some hurt feelings over being dealt. Remember, the reason Z had to give up that money was because the Cavaliers used him as a pawn to get Jamison. There have been several reports that Z wasn’t exactly thrilled with the move. This was win-win for the Cavaliers because not only did they get Antawn Jamison, but they also get Z back for considerably less money than they were originally paying him at the start of this season. So I’m not going to blame Ilgauskas if he feels a little hurt by the move. At the end of the day, Ilgauskas still proved his loyalty to this team by giving up that money and coming back to Cleveland despite strong offers by several other contending teams. At this point, Ilgauskas does not owe this franchise anything.
For Ilgauskas, he really stands to lose nothing by becoming a free agent. It would allow him to claim a piece of the Cavaliers’ Mid-Level Exception next year if the Cavs want him back (the Cavs lost their Bird Rights to Z when they traded him). The MLE would give him a chance to earn more money than he could get under the current BAE. And if the Cavaliers don’t want to bring him back, and Z still wants to play, he’s seen that there are some really good teams out there who would love to have him. I think it opened his eyes to the value he still holds for teams in the league, and it would be hard to blame him for exploring that option further.
Or, at the end of the day, perhaps he will decide to just sign for more years right now. There’s not a true Cavs fan out there who doesn’t want Z to retire as a Cavalier. Nobody wants to see him end his career in Dallas or Atlanta, and I think in his heart Ilgauskas doesn’t want that either. Ultimately, though, the choice is his to make, and I for one will support his decision whichever way it takes him.