Z is back with the Cavs

This is good news.

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.

Z took some heat for playing for the Heat, but I don’t blame him for trying to grab a ring. I knew he was mostly finished as a player, and it was a desperation move by Miami that ended up not working out.

I guess many fans wanted him to hate LeBron after The Decision, but now that LeBron choked last year I suspect most fans will welcome Z back with open arms.

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Z is a class act

Zydrunas Ilgauskas was allowed to play tonight and was given the chance to break the Cavs record for most games played. For a man who has endured numerous foot injuries, it’s quite an accomplishment. Z spoke briefly after the game and clearly didn’t want to dwell on Mike Brown’s brain fart the other night when Z got the first DNP-Coach’s Decision of his career.

When he finally stepped on the court, breaking Danny Ferry’s Cavaliers record for games played, the fans rose and clapped, giving Ilgauskas a standing ovation for the full duration of the Cavaliers’ offensive possession. They stood and screamed and yelled out “Zeeee” in deep baritones from every corner of the arena, from the floor to the rafters.

“That was one of the coolest things I’ve experienced in my life, and also the closest I’ve probably come to tears on the basketball floor,” Ilgauskas said. “I very much appreciate it and thank them.”

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“Obviously I was very disappointed that I didn’t play in the last game,” he said. “I know I’m a good player. I think by me playing in that game, I would not have affected the outcome of the game. What made me more disappointed and upset were the acts that followed. This whole mess that has been created.

“I’m not going to go into any details. Once again, I’m going to be a bigger man and walk away from this. I know when I go to bed at night, my conscience is clear. What I’m going to do is continue to do my job. I love this team, I love my teammates; they’re like a family to me. I’m going to come every day to work and try my hardest, win some games and hope to bring a championship to this city because they deserve it.”

Z has always been a class act. Hopefully he and the others can win a championship for the city.

Terry Pluto looks back on how the Cavs found Z back in the day in a nice profile.

Photo from fOTOGLIF