In 2010, Zydrunas Ilgauskas was conflicted.
He’d played for the Cavaliers his entire career and felt comfortable in Cleveland. But he’d also grown close to LeBron James and wanted to win a title before his career ended.
Ultimately, Ilgauskas followed LeBron to Miami that summer, and the Heat fell in the Finals to the Mavericks.
Now, with LeBron back with the Cavaliers – who were championship favorites even before trading for Kevin Love – Ilgauskas doesn’t have to choose between his multiple desires.
But there’s an obvious catch: He’s 39 and has been retired three years. Not that he’s letting that get in his way.
At 41 and after six years of retirement, Boston Celtics legend Bob Cousy returned to play seven games for the Cincinnati Royals. That’s the only precedent for Ilgauskas.
John Long was 40 when he came back for the Raptors and 1996, and he hadn’t played in the NBA in five years, but he spent the middle year out playing in the CBA. Michael Jordan had been retired for three years when he returned with the Wizards, but he was just 38. More recently, a 38-year-old Rasheed Wallace had been retired two years when he came back with the Knicks.
So, it’s not impossible for Ilgauskas to come back. It’d be a really nice story, and I’m sure he and LeBron would enjoy reconnecting. The Cavaliers could use a little more center depth, too.
But there are so many complications, including the small matter of pulling Ilgauskas’ retired jersey from the rafters or giving him a new number. But the bigger issue – a player of Ilgauskas’ age proving himself NBA-ready – stands above the rest.
I hope this happens. I’d be shocked if it does.