Unless you’ve been hibernating through another long Cleveland winter, chances are you heard by now that the Cavs acquired forward Antawn Jamison from the Washington Wizards. In the deal, the Cavs were forced to part with Zydrunas Ilgauskas and their first-round draft pick next season. The Clippers were also part of the trade; the Cavs acquired future bench warmer Sebastian Telfair from LA.
I know in a recent column I was gung-ho about the Cavs trading for Amare Stoudemire, but this trade was a fleecing. The team didn’t even have to part with the still-developing J.J. Hickson. After watching the Indians get the jagged end of the stick over and over last season, it feels pretty good to see it go our way for once (and it makes sense since Danny Ferry is the Anti-Mark Shapiro).
The upside of Jamison over Stoudemire is that he’s a better jump shooter, defender, and he’s not entering a free-agency season at the end of the year. Stoudemire could have been a half-season rental while Jamison is here for the next two years. He’s an unselfish player who will be more willing to accept a reduced role in the offense. We might even see him off the bench rather than starting.
There are really only two downsides. The first is his age – 33. It’s not that big a deal if you’re focusing on the present. Jamison will help this team immediately, especially in the playoffs. And in the high stakes free-agency game about to take place in July, a Cavs franchise with a title is a strong selling point when it comes to retaining the world’s best player.
The other downside is the loss of Ilgauskas. He’s the heart of this team, suffering through 17-win seasons and God-awful baby blue uniforms. If any Cavs player deserved to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy, it’s Z. The word on the street (and in every sports column I read on Thursday) is that the Wizards will buy out his contract, brining the team under the league salary cap. The move will save them millions in luxury tax that teams like the Cavs are forced to pay for going over the cap. After that, Ilgauskas could sign with any team that offers him a contract, setting up a possible return to Cleveland.
But the Wizards made an “under the radar” move in addition to the Jamison trade. They traded Dominic McGuire to the Sacramento Kings for draft picks; a move that brings them under the cap even before an Ilgauskas buyout. That lessens the incentive for a buyout, and if you’ll remember the Cavs and Wizards have some bad blood between them. But these aren’t the same Wizards the Cavs used to face in the playoffs. Seems unlikely they’d keep him just to stick it to the Cavs, but stranger things have happened. It would be miserable seeing Big Z at the end of the bench in a Wizards jersey.
Even if the buyout does happen, who’s to say Z wants to come back? Maybe he feels slighted by the Cavs and would rather sign with another playoff team like the Dallas Mavericks. They’ve already expressed interest. While the Cavs would have to wait 30 days to bring Ilgauskas back, any other team would bypass that waiting period. It’s impossible to say what’s going on in the head of a guy who gave 12 years of service to his employer only to be shifted east like a tall stack of poker chips.
I’m confident that the Cavs will get Z back; he’s already stated that his heart is in Cleveland. All the Cavs would need to do is clear up a roster spot (we’re looking in your direction Darnell Jackson) and offer him a deal. But if the improbable does happen and Z ends this season on another team, a part of me would feel like the Cavs sold their soul for a shot at a title.
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