Part of Danny Ferry was elated. Part of him was choking back tears.
Such is life as an NBA general manager.
The Cavaliers’ front office leader was thrilled to have landed power forward Antawn Jamison, the “stretch four” Cleveland has always lacked, but the first thing he addressed at a press conference on Thursday was having to part with center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, the franchise’s all-time leader in games played.
“The guy is a world-class person and a world-class player,” an emotional Ferry said. “He’s been incredible for this organization and this city. But, in order to add a player, you need to make some tough decisions.”
There’s a decent chance the center-heavy Wizards will buy out the remainder of Ilgauskas’ expiring contract, which would allow him to re-sign with the Cavaliers in 30 days, but there are no guarantees. Washington, in fact, reportedly explored trading Ilgauskas again prior to the 3 p.m. deadline Thursday.
If he is bought out, Dallas is one of several teams already said to be interested in signing Ilgauskas, Ferry’s friend and former teammate in Cleveland, so the next month will be filled with rumors about the 7-foot-3 Lithuanian’s future.
Ferry knew as much when he called Ilgauskas on Wednesday night to inform him of the trade.
“It was not a fun conversation,” the GM said, “but he was very professional, like you’d expect.”
The 33-year-old Jamison, however, is the same way, but more talented, making this a deal Ferry had to make.
“We were only going to do something if we felt it could inch us forward,” Ferry said. “We weren’t going to do something just to do something.”
Jamison, a 12th-year player, is a pro’s pro. He’s classy, unselfish and a great teammate and locker room presence.
In other words, he’s a lot like Ilgauskas, whose No. 11 Cleveland jersey will one day hang from the rafters at Quicken Loans Arena, but whose framed picture on the wall outside the locker room had already been removed, to be replaced by one of Jamison as a current member of the Cavaliers.
‘Z’ is a Grade-A guy as well,” Cleveland guard Daniel Gibson said. “Not having ‘Z’ around will be tough, but that’s the business side you have to deal with.”
On the flip side, the Cavaliers no longer have to deal with Jamison, as they did for three straight years while eliminating the Wizards in the first round of the playoffs from 2006-08. Jamison averaged 19.2 points and 7.2 rebounds against Cleveland in the 2006 postseason, 32.0 points and 9.8 rebounds in ‘07 and 16.8 points and 12.0 rebounds in ‘08.
“We’re real familiar with Antawn and what he’s capable of doing out on the floor,” Gibson said. “Hopefully, it’s an easy transition for him coming over here with us. He’s a selfless guy. When you play like that, it’s an easy transition to become part of a team that’s already winning.”
Making things even better for Jamison, he left a team that was doing much more than losing. The Wizards entered the season with lofty expectations, but have flopped miserably — on and off the floor.
Washington has dealt with interior squabbling, the weekend trade of Caron Butler and the whole Gilbert Arenas-Javaris Crittenton locker room gun fiasco.
Think Jamison isn’t happy to be out of the nation’s capital? The 6-9, 235-pounder is as thrilled to be in Cleveland as Ferry and coach Mike Brown are to have him here.
We’re talking about a 20-point, eight-rebound guy who can make 3-pointers or put the ball on the floor and get to the basket, all without keeping the rock in his hands very long. That’s ideal for a Cavaliers team that already has LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal and Mo Williams.
“He’ll bring a different dynamic to our basketball team that will make things really exciting,” Ferry said.
“We’ve been working to get Antawn for a while. He really fills a need for us and, in our opinion, the transition will be somewhat seamless. … We’ve had some great battles over the years. He’s someone who has always impressed Mike, myself and everyone in our organization.”
How Brown will ultimately use Jamison — there’s a chance he could play tonight in Charlotte — is a story for another day, but that doesn’t mean the coach hasn’t already thought about it.
“For a little bit, it was, ‘I’m going to start him,’” Brown said. “After about five hours of feeling that way, it was, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to do that.’
“No matter what role I give him, he’s going to do his best to help us win,” the coach added. “That’s something we’ve already talked about.”
In his own quiet, professional, understated way, Ilgauskas did the same thing throughout his tenure in Cleveland, which included suffering through a miserable 17-65 season the year before James arrived.
When O’Neal came to town this summer, Ilgauskas came off the bench for the first time in his career without a peep of complaint.
He was extremely hurt and upset when Brown didn’t play him —for the first time in his career when he was healthy —on the night he was slated to break Ferry’s team record for games played, but he voiced his displeasure in a quick interview and moved on.
Whether that fiasco might ultimately keep Ilgauskas from re-signing with the Cavaliers, only he really knows, but there’s no doubt the Cavaliers would love to have Big Z back, even if Ferry can’t come out and say so because it could be viewed as tampering.
“He’s part of the Wizards right now,” Ferry said. “I don’t know what their intentions are and I don’t want to comment on their team and their players.”
However, with Jamison —and even more so if Ilgauskas returns —the Cavaliers now seem better positioned to win a championship than at any time in the franchise’s 40-year history.
Ferry is elated by that, though the thought of not getting it done, just like having to trade Ilgauskas, is enough to make him ill.
“It stunk three years ago,” Ferry said of the NBA Finals sweep by San Antonio, “it stunk two years ago and it stunk last year. It would be awful (not to win it all) this year.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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