Zydrunas Ilgauskas returns to Cavs
CLEVELAND -- Zydrunas Ilgauskas is back inside for the Cavaliers.
The former center, who became one of the franchise's most popular players during 12 seasons in Cleveland, has returned to the team as a special assistant to general manager Chris Grant.
Ilgauskas' job responsibilities will include evaluating amateur and pro talent for the Cavs, who drafted the 7-foot-3 Lithuanian in 1996 and watched him overcome serious foot injuries at the start of his career to become a two-time All-Star. Ilgauskas retired after playing for the Miami Heat last season.
"I always thought this would be a natural step for me after my career was over," Ilgauskas said over the phone from Florida. "I always felt like I had a lot to offer and I've got a lot to learn."
Ilgauskas first discussed the possibility of rejoining the Cavs with Grant during the NBA lockout. Before accepting the position, Ilgauskas said he also spoke with former teammate Danny Ferry, who made the transition from the front court to the front office. The Cavs' former GM explained the challenges of a new position to Ilgauskas, who said he's looking forward to helping anyway he can.
"I'm willing to learn, and my work ethic won't change," said Ilgauskas, the team's career leader in games played, rebounds and blocks. "I do have a unique experience as a player. I played with good players and bad players, good teams and bad teams. I've seen it all."
Ilgauskas said he'll probably scout for the Cavs in Europe, but quickly added, "it's all up to Chris. I'm open to anything."
For the first time in his adult life, Ilgauskas isn't playing basketball on a daily basis and he doesn't miss the grind of a season.
Retirement -- at least as a player -- suits him.
He's coaching his adopted sons' basketball team in Miami and said it was special to be home for both of their birthdays. He also recently traveled to Lithuania to celebrate his parents' 40th wedding anniversary.
"I'm doing all the things that I've missed over the years," he said. "It's been good. I'm enjoying it."
Known simply as "Z" to Cavaliers fans, llgauskas has no regrets about leaving to play elsewhere. He may have been gone physically, but the big man said he's always been deeply connected to Cleveland, and the chance to be part of the Cavaliers again was an easy decision.
"A no-brainer," he said. "Everybody knows how I feel about the city of Cleveland and the organization and the fans. It's been home to me and my family for a long time and it will always be home."
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press