The Wizards and center Zydrunas Ilgauskas completed a buyout agreement this morning and the Hawks have already made their pitch for the 7-foot-3 center to join them instead of returning to the Cavaliers.
“Once he clears waivers and becomes a free agent (on Monday), hopefully he will consider us,” Hawks general manager Rick Sund said today. “We talked to his agent. He knows we are interested, as are a couple other teams.”
Hawks coach Mike Woodson and some key players said Ilgauskas would be a great fit.
“He’d bring ‘veteranship,’” Woodson said. “And he can still play. He’s a big presence on the block, he can make shots, he can make free throws, he can rebound and he can block shots. ”
Hawks forward Joe Smith said he plans to contact Ilgauskas, his teammate during Smith’s two stints in Cleveland during the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons.
“I will try to reach out to him and see what he’s thinking,” Smith said. “I hope his mind is not made up.”
It is widely assumed Ilgauskas will return to the Cavaliers, who drafted him in 1997. He has said his “heart is in Cleveland” but his agent said Ilgauskas will consider signing with the Hawks and will take his time with the decision.
Dallas, Denver, and Utah also are expected to recruit Ilgauskas. The Cavs would have to wait 30 days after they traded Ilgauskas (March 19) to re-sign him while any other team can sign him after he clears waivers on Monday at 2 p.m. No team in the league has the necessary salary-cap space to claim Ilgauskas off waivers.
In order to become a free agent and join a contender, Ilgauskas gave back $1.5 million of the prorated portion of his $11.5 million salary due, according to the Washington Post. The Hawks have both their mid-level and bi-annual salary-cap exceptions available but it’s not expected that Ilgauskas’ prorated salary will be large enough to need them. That puts the Hawks and his other suitors on roughly the same level with salary offers.
Ilgauskas’ motivations aren’t clear beyond his desire to play for a team capable of making a deep playoff run. If he’s looking for playing time the Hawks and Jazz appear to offer him the best opportunity for minutes among the teams reported to be interested.
Hawks forward Josh Smith said Ilgauskas would play a big role for the Hawks.
“I will try to get his number from Joe and give him a call and tell him how much we want him here,” Smith said.
“We need a guy like that,” said Hawks All-Star center Al Horford. “I hope our people can make that happen because he would be a big key for us.”
Ilgauskas would add three things the Hawks can use: size, shooting and playoff experience (64 games).
“He’s a guy that is good with shooting on the pick-and-pop,” Horford said. “He’s a big body. We already have some of those but you need as many as you can get for the playoffs, especially an experienced guy like that.”
Ilgauskas, 34, had foot problems early in his career but played in 73 or more games in each season from 2002-08. He played in 65 games last season and 53 this season, when he was relegated to a backup role behind Shaquille O’Neal.
“He’s just as healthy as anyone else,” Joe Smith said. “He didn’t have any problems in both years I was with him.”
The Hawks likely will try to sell Ilgauskas on playing time in their power rotation. In Cleveland he was playing a career-low 20.5 minutes per game in a frontcourt that included O’Neal, Anderson Varejao and J.J. Hickson. Now the Cavaliers also have power forward Antawn Jamison, who was acquired from Washington in the three-team trade that included Ilgauskas.
Ilgauskas would stand to get significant minutes in the Hawks’ power rotation. Jason Collins, the only 7-footer on the roster, has played sparingly. Zaza Pachulia (6-11), the primary reserve at center, has struggled lately. Horford (6-10), the starter at center, could play power forward alongside Ilgauskas with Josh Smith at small forward, a position he played early in his career.
“I’m down for whatever position they want me to play,” Josh Smith said. “If it means going big for matchups, that’s cool.”
The only true center playing significant minutes behind Utah’s Mehmet Okur is third-year player Kyrylo Fesenko. The Nuggets start Nene at center with defensive specialist Chris Andersen backing him up. The Mavericks recently acquired center Brendan Haywood to back up longtime starter Erick Dampier, who is out with a hand injury.
The Cavaliers, who lead the Eastern Conference, appear to have the best shot at the Finals among the teams pursuing Ilgauskas. The Hawks are seven games behind Cleveland in fourth place and could try to sell Ilgauskas on being the player to help them reach the next level in the playoffs.
“We are playing well,” Joe Smith said. “We’ve got just as good of a shot at the Finals as anyone.”
The Hawks do not plan to pursue veteran guard Larry Hughes, who recently was waived by the Sacramento Kings. It is believed the Hawks aren’t inclined to use their 14th roster spot for a perimeter player, which also means Mike James wouldn’t be considered after he gets an expected buyout from the Wizards.
The Hawks also are not expected to pursue 7-foot center Mikki Moore, a free agent who is looking to get back into the league after heel surgery in December.