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NBA 'Z' wants to stay with the Cavaliers



Published: Wed, January 26, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



What new owner Dan Gilbert wants, however, could be entirely different.

CLEVELAND (AP) -- Along with soon-to-be minority owner Gordon Gund, the Cleveland Cavaliers posed for their team picture on Tuesday. Zydrunas Ilgauskas hopes he's around for the next photo session.

With his six-year, $71 million contract set to expire after this season, Cleveland's 7-foot-3 center can't be certain about the near future of his NBA career. However, he does know where he wants to finish it.

"I would love to win a championship here," he said, "in Cleveland."

For that to happen, the Cavaliers must first decide if they want to re-invest in Ilgauskas, who will make $14.6 million this season and is eligible for free agency this summer. The Cavs have until March 1 to sign him to a contract extension. After that, they can only negotiate with Ilgauskas until the end of the season.

If Ilgauskas, who has overcome serious foot injuries to become an All-Star and one of the league's premier big men, remains a free agent on July 1, his salary cap "hold" would tie up about $21 million, preventing the improved Cavaliers from pursuing other free agents.

No deal yet

Ilgauskas has had recent conversations with Gund, who has agreed to sell his majority share of the Cavaliers to Detroit businessman Dan Gilbert for $375 million. However, Ilgauskas has not been offered a deal yet.

"I've had a few talks with Gordon," said the man known as "Z". "As of right now, nothing's happening. Everybody hopes it gets worked out. For now, we're just going to play out the season and put it on the back burner."

Ilgauskas' status is sure to be one of the major topics of discussion this week as Gilbert, Gund and general manager Jim Paxson hold meetings to map out the team's plans.

Gilbert reportedly has reservations about committing another large contract to the 29-year-old Ilgauskas, who has overcome a history of foot problems to play 264 games since his last serious injury.

If Gilbert decides not to re-sign Ilgauskas, the team could choose to trade him before next month's deadline, but they may have trouble finding a deal that fits financially because of Ilgauskas' salary.

Ilgauskas remains loyal to Gund, who stuck by him while he was hurt. The Lithuianan doesn't want to leave Cleveland, but he's seen so much change since joining the club in 1996 that he knows anything is possible.

"Whatever happens, happens," Ilgauskas said.

"I can't worry about that. The important thing is to focus on this season and help us get to be as good as we can."

Inconsistency plagues him

Finding a suitable replacement for Ilgauskas would be tough. He's averaging 16.1 points and 7.7 rebounds, numbers that compare favorably to the league's elite centers like Shaquille O'Neal, Yao Ming and Ben Wallace.

There are games, though, when Ilgauskas struggles. He did Monday night, when he scored 11 points with four rebounds before fouling out in a loss to Washington.

Still, Ilgauskas presents many opposing teams with severe matchup problems.

He's also the only Cavs player who can draw a double-team, tilting the floor to take pressure off LeBron James.

"We depend on him to carry us inside," said Cavaliers coach Paul Silas, who benched Ilgauskas last season and has demanded more defense and rebounding from him.

In James, Ilgauskas has perhaps his strongest ally as well as leverage in upcoming contract talks. James wants Ilgauskas to stay with Cleveland and recently joked that he would work on getting his center a new deal.

"Z's going to get his contract, I'll make sure of that," James said. "I need Z, so I ain't worried about Z going nowhere."




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