The Wizards and center Zydrunas Ilgauskas completed a buyout agreement on Thursday and the Hawks promptly made their pitch for the 7-foot-3 center to join them instead of returning to his former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“Once he clears waivers and becomes a free agent [on Monday], hopefully he will consider us,” Hawks general manager Rick Sund said. “We talked to his agent [Herb Rudoy]. 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, who was 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 Rudoy 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 have to wait 30 days after they traded Ilgauskas on Feb. 17 to re-sign him, while any other team can sign him as soon as 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 to the Wizards $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 to make room for his contract but it’s not expected that Ilgauskas’ prorated salary will be large enough to require 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. The Hawks and Jazz appear to offer him the best opportunity for minutes.
In Cleveland he was playing a career-low 20.5 minutes per game in a frontcourt that included Shaquille O’Neal, Anderson Varejao and J.J. Hickson. The Cavaliers now 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.
Ilgauskas, 34, had foot problems early in his career but played in 73 or more games in each season from 2002 through 2008. He played in 65 games last season and 53 so far this season.
Among the teams pursuing Ilgauskas, the Cavaliers, who lead the Eastern Conference, would appear to have the best shot at reaching the Finals. The Hawks were seven games behind Cleveland in fourth place entering Thursday’s schedule and could try to sell Ilgauskas on being the player to help them break through to the East finals.
“We are playing well,” Joe Smith said. “We’ve got just as good of a shot at the finals as anyone.”