Miami Heat makes Zydrunas Ilgauskas signing official
For Pat Riley and the Miami Heat, the first priority of the summer was the big moves, and with headline names like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Mike Miler and Udonis Haslem they got it done.
It’s been all about big men since.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas has become the third center to sign with the Heat in less than 24 hours, completing a deal he agreed in principle to about five days earlier. On Friday, the Heat completed contracts with returning Miami veteran Joel Anthony and rookie draft pick Dexter Pittman. And Miami’s next move is expected to be the re-signing of another 7-footer, Jamaal Magloire.
That’s roughly 28 feet of centers in all, with the 7-foot-3 Ilgauskas standing taller than everyone else on Miami’s now-bursting, though questionable, depth chart at center. The Lithuanian — who was drafted by Cleveland in 1996 and has never suited up for any other N.B.A. club — is 12th among all active players with 1,269 blocks, and 21st among current players in rebounds with 5,904.
Saying he’s chasing a dream to win an N.B.A. title, Ilgauskas left a contract offer from the Cavs on the table to accept a two-year minimum salary contract that will pay him $1,352,181 and $1,399,507 for this season and next, respectively. The second year will be subject to a player option.
The Heat began recruiting Ilgauskas right after James signed last week. James was a big part of the recruitment effort.
When James announced his decision to join Miami, it seemed almost certain that Ilgauskas would follow. To him, it made sense for three reasons: His wife Jennifer has plenty of family in South Florida, James wanted him to join the rebuilt and suddenly loaded Heat roster, and Ilgauskas is still chasing his first championship ring.
“Obviously (LeBron) related how much he’d like for me to join him,” Ilgauskas said. “I looked at all my options. When I stepped away from all the hoopla that surrounded free agency, from a basketball standpoint, for me personally, it was the best decision I could have made.”
Last season was a difficult one for Ilgauskas as he moved to the bench for the first time to back up Shaquille O’Neal. Then he was traded in February as the Cavs acquired Antawn Jamison. He took a buyout from the Washington Wizards and returned to the Cavs a month later, after the N.B.A.’s mandated 30-day waiting period, but lost his rhythm and his spot in the rotation and did not play strongly down the stretch.
He averaged 7.4 points and 5.4 rebounds in 20 minutes per game last season, shooting just 44% from the field. His efficiency should rise rather significantly this year.
Ilguaskus is still effective with his mid-range jump shot and, one of the better offensive rebounders in NBA history with 2,336 of them, on the glass. The Heat have been looking for big men to pair with its Big Three core and Ilgauskas, despite defensive deficiencies – at 7-3, and, no doubt, slowed over the years by the effects of five surgeries for broken feet, Ilgauskas is an easy target, one that stands out when an opponent gets to the basket and scores – is the best of the four they’ve got. He fits rather nicely into a Heat philosophy predicated on floor-spacing.