April 19, 2014

Cleveland Cavaliers Hire Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Big Z, Rookie Challenge MVP

On Wednesday, the Cleveland Cavaliers announced that they are welcoming the man who has played the most games in a Cavalier uniform, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, back to Cleveland.

That’s right, the Cavaliers have hired Ilgauskas to rejoin the family as a special assistant to GM Christ Grant. From the press release on the Cavaliers’ website:

The Cleveland Cavaliers today announced that Zydrunas Ilgauskas is joining the team’s front office as Special Assistant to the General Manager. The announcement was made today by Cavs General Manager Chris Grant. In his role as Special Assistant to the General Manager, Ilgauskas will be involved with front office responsibilities, including evaluation of amateur and professional prospects.

“We are very pleased to have Z begin the next phase of his basketball career with the Cavaliers and I am looking forward to working closely with him. Z has always had a great desire to learn and succeed and he already has a deep understanding and appreciation of the game and the NBA. We are extremely happy to welcome him back as part of our franchise,” said Grant.

This is a great move by the organization and shows once more the level of respect Dan Gilbert has for the connection between this franchise and its fan. Nobody understands what it means to play basketball in Cleveland more than Big Z, and he should be a great resource for Chris Grant and his team.

This move may sound inevitable to some. But after Ilgauskas followed LeBron James to Miami last season to chase his career dream of winning a title, a decent portion of fans have held that against him. Perhaps some thought Dan Gilbert would as well. It certainly appears that couldn’t be farther from the case, though, as Gilbert and Ilgauskas will be reunited with the franchise.

On a personal level, I cannot be more happy to have Ilgauskas back with the Cavaliers. This is where he belongs. Life can be funny sometimes. How many Cleveland fans ever would have guess back in 1996 when the team drafted a tall, lanky awkward Lithuanian center with a funny name that he would come to mean so much to Cavs fans.

In that transition period from the last couple years of the Mike Fratello era to the drafting of LeBron James, the franchise went through a lot of dark days. In some ways, Ilgauskas came to represent the frustration of the fans. Here was a player who had shown in limited samples just how good (or dare I even say, great) of a player he could be, but his body just wouldn’t allow him to play.

But through that time, Ilgauskas endeared himself to the Cavalier faithful. He never quit, he never complained, he never asked out. Instead he fought through it and went on to play more games with the Cavaliers than anyone else in team history. And for that, Ilgauskas will always be beloved by Cavs fans. And that is how a 7’3″ Lithuanian came to be the new Mr. Cavalier.

Beyond sentiment, though, this move has potential on court benefits as well. Ilgauskas was a smart, savvy player who knew how to find ways to succeed in the NBA as well as how to adapt both to changes in defense as well as to his own physical abilities. He can serve as an ambassador for the Cavaliers, a franchise that is sorely lacking in representation from former players (I know, I know…Austin Carr and Campy Russell are around).

In all ways, this is a move that just makes sense and can make fans feel good. I hope it makes Ilgauskas feel good, too. Next stop will be getting that jersey of his hung up in the rafters. For now, though, it’s just good to know that Big Z will be back in Cleveland where he belongs.

Welcome home, Zydrunas. We couldn’t be happier to have you back.

  • http://twitter.com/oribiasi oribiasi

    Wow, this is such an awesome/feel good story.  I am very happy to have him back; I am sure he will be a good mentor to new players (I’m looking at you, Erden) and its just wonderful news to have him back in the city.

    Welcome home, Z!

  • Harv 21

    Back story:
     
    - “Dan, listen,  can you do me a favor?”
    - “No Z, stay retired, man. You’ve made your money, spend some time with your kids. We’re rebuilding here.”
    - “I don’t wanna play – I wanna get out of the house! If I’m home during another kids’ school vacation I’m gonna lose it.”
    - ” Oh. Um, ok,  why don’t you come in when you feel like it and follow Chris around. He likes you, you can return some of his calls or something.”

  • jbreg

    Any chance that this leads to him being hired onto the coaching staff? It would be nice to see Z sitting courtside again and working with our young frontcourt.

  • http://twitter.com/csobol chris sobolewski

    What exactly does his job entail other than collecting a paycheck for being Big Z?

    Kind of the same question I always had about Kosar and Jim Brown…

  • christopher

    what a maroon…special assistant to the vice general of answering post-it notes.

    Wonder if he applied for a job with his turncoat buddies #6 and Windhorst before deciding to come back.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ WFNYRick

    Perhaps he can start by teaching our big men how to shoot free throws.

  • Shamrock

    Token move at best but does it really matter?

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    Purely conjecture, but many franchises have a couple former players with front office jobs who serve as sort of an ambassador. They offer advice to players and to the front office. I’d expect to see Z filling similar duties. He can talk to young players about playing in Cleveland, he can talk to foreign players about adapting to life in America. He can scout centers and give advice to Chris Grant on them. 

    Or else he’ll collect paychecks and be a mascot. 

  • Anonymous

    I love Big Z.  He can be the flight attendant on the team’s flights for all I care, I’m just happy he’s back.  I don’t blame him at all for going championship hunting in his last years in the league… I would have told him to do that if I were Chris Grant anyways… no point to stick around on a rebuilding team just to say you finished your career in the Cleve.  Welcome back Z… hang out with Erden and teach him how to shoot.

  • Anonymous

    great to see Z stay within the franchise. 

  • Anonymous

    me like

  • Anonymous

    Let’s hope he teaches shooting to the bigs but they ignore his advice on going up strong at the hole.

  • Harv 21

    Grant is big on European players. Z can also scout in Lithuania whch is producing some very good ballers. He’s a hero there and could certainly get access to promising players. But this year, after a decade and a half on the road, guessing he just needs out of the house to do anything. As Charles Barkley recently said, the first month home after NBA retirement is great, the second is ok, but intense boredom sets in.

  • porkchopxpress

    His name is Z not Zesus Christ.  Don’t expect miracles. (smiley face)
      If he can convince Samardo that its okay to keep in shape, Erden that its okay to not have your hands on your hips while a shot is going up, and Tristan that it is legal to have the ball leave his hands and be directed at a teamate rather than the hoop, I’ll be happy.

  • Anonymous

    hey, his dribble-drive vs. the Spurs in 2007 was awesome.  I mean, you have to tell your kids the highlight isn’t in slow motion, but it was still awesome :)

  • porkchopxpress

    As soon as I saw this piece I had a “how many licks to the center of a tootsie pop?” moment.  As in how long before someone trashes Z for going to Miami last year. Its more than getting that tootsie pop open, but just barely.

    It is truly an honor to get to respond to the last nobleman in the country.  Knowing that you are better than Windhorst in the sense that you wouldn’t take a huge pay raise and boost in stature just to stay home and prove your Cleveland loyalty..  I tip my hat to you and all of the hundreds of thousands of dollars you surely must have turned down over the course of your life to stay here and fight the good fight.  Good sir, I salute you. 

  • Anonymous

    What. A. Gig. 
     

  • http://www.zfcomics.com dgriff13

    made my day :0)
    I can wear my “CAVZ: better with Z” Tshirt again without thinking of the Heat.

  • Abigbuck_99

    Chris, please show a ittle respect.  Your name calling just degrades you in the readers eyes and show us you a weak.

  • Anonymous

    The rip on Z may be a little much but you have to say the quote from Windhorst on the day of The Decision in which he said “no matter where LeBron chooses, I will be right here reporting on our Cleveland Cavaliers” immediately followed by his disappearing act is a little….Uhm, “slimy”.

    I get that everyone says things in the heat of the moment and when sitting a table choosing between a stack of cash or Saturdays at Tower City, the cash looks pretty good but he hasn’t owned his quote once.

    It’s pretty obvious that he has been granted exclusive access to LeBron and will be parlaying it all in a giant book deal or at least it’s pretty obvious to me and I am completely wrong. :)

  • Thomas Pestak

    Well it sends this message.  I came to America, I played over a decade in Cleveland, I moved to Miami, and I loved Cleveland so much that I decided to come back to be a part of the franchise.  Even if that’s all Z contributes, it’s enough for me.  It’s important that franchise players maintain a presence with their teams for the fans.  Great move.
    Andrew you forgot about Jim Chones.  I think the Cavs have done a solid job of maintaining an identity.  Joe Tait had the job until he didn’t want it anymore, Mike Snyder has been around since the 80s, they gave Mark Price a shot as a color guy and coach, and now Austin Carr and Campy Russell are on TV and Jim Chones is on the radio.  I’d like to see Larry Nance as a coach but I get the feeling he has other hobbies (racing) like his buddy Brad Daughtery.  I even loved having Danny Ferry as a gm and thought he did a great job – I was sad he resigned.

  • Floydrubino

    love to hear it

    noticed evan turner is not starting for the 76ers

    i wonder if we can go after him because they might want to dump his salary

    the big z belongs in cleveland

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Scott

    One of my first media experiences ever was with former Cavs Asst. GM Lance Blanks. He called Z one of the top two *people* he had ever met. My first press conference as credentialed media was the day the Cavaliers traded Ilgauskas to the Wizards wherein Danny Ferry started tearing up on the spot.

    This franchise, and city for that matter, cannot say enough good things about Ilgauskas. It was almost a certainty that he would be back in a front office capacity at some point post-retirement. The only surprise to me is that it was this soon. Very glad to have him back in the fold.

  • Woods

    I agree with you Harv 21.  Having Z on staff will be helpful for when the next Jonas Valanciunas declares for the draft.  Sending Z over to scout and workout players from his homeland will give the Cavs a leg up in the future.