Starting next season, center Zydrunas Ilgauskas will not be suiting up for the Cleveland Cavaliers for the first time in his entire career. He has chosen (to borrow a now-notorious phrase) to take his talents to South Beach and team up with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh.
The departure of LeBron James is certainly still fresh in the minds of Cleveland fans, and that betrayal - or whatever you want to call it - will sting for a long time. Some might think that Ilgauskas' move to Miami is just adding salt to the wound, but I couldn't be happier for the guy.
He has always taken the fortunes and misfortunes of the team in stride, doing his business despite whatever chaos was surrounding him. It's how he's managed to play 707 games over his career, amassing 10,142 points and 5,559 rebounds through major injuries, surgeries, and some downright awful teams.
While LeBron left Cleveland with unfinished business and a questionable playoff effort in 2010, Ilgauskas will leave the team as one of the most beloved players in Cavs history. Through all of his injury troubles, Big Z gave the organization everything he had for 14 years, enduring the painful rebuilding years to be rewarded with seven years alongside LeBron James, which included a trip to the NBA Finals in 2007 and back-to-back 60+ win seasons.
There is no doubt that there will be people mad at Ilgauskas for bolting to play with those three superstars, but it's a misguided anger, residual hatred from the way in which LeBron left. Ilgauskas cited the fact that he was going to chase his dream for an NBA title, knowing full well that the Cavaliers are about to enter a rebuilding mode. For a guy at the end of his career - one, maybe two years left - Ilgauskas can still offer some production to a contending team, and he deserves that chance. The Cavs aren't in the business of running some kind of prison here.
While any Cavaliers fan would have been fine seeing Z go for a title with just about anybody but the Heat, those same fans will end up having conflicted rooting interests because it will be impossible to want to see Ilgauskas fail. He is too good of a player and person to hate simply because he is on the other team. The big, lovable Lithuanian deserves our support.
So long, Z, and good luck.
One final thought: Imagine, for a second, what will happen when the Heat visit Cleveland for the first time. What will LeBron James think when Z gets a standing ovation and James gets booed and harassed into needing extra security?