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.