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Will Ilgauskas' return to Cleveland spell the end for Darnell Jackson?
For the second time in the last few months, Darnell Jackson finds his fate as an NBA player in the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ front office.
Last time — in January, when Jackson and three other Cavs faced the possibility of losing their roster spots when the league’s guaranteed contract day expired — Jackson was spared and stuck with the Cavs. More important for his financial future was the fact that their decision to keep him meant he was guaranteed to earn the $736,420 mapped out for him during the second year of the two-year deal he signed as a rookie.
This time, it appears that Jackson’s luck has run out. Saturday, the club announced that it was recalling Jackson from the NBA’s “D-League,” where he played two games — both starts — with the Erie BayHawks. During those games, Jackson averaged 41.5 minutes per contest and an eye-opening 33 points and 12 rebounds per game.AP Photo: Darnell Jackson, far left, watches with teammates during a recent Cleveland loss.
With numbers like those — against legitimate talent and potential future-NBA players — it’s no wonder that the Cavs yanked him back. They like Jackson. Always have. And I firmly believe that they would love to find a way to secure a roster spot for him. Therein lies the problem.
Last month, just before the NBA Trade Deadline, the Cavs pulled off a deal that sent Antawn Jamison to Cleveland and Zydrunas Ilgauskas to Washington. Washington, however, quickly bought out Big Z’s contract, freeing him up to sign with another team as a free agent at some point down the road. This was all part of the Cavs’ plan and it now appears that they’re close to getting the big fella back. Ilgauskas’ agent told ESPN Monday night that his client would make a decision about multiple offers from Cleveland sometime this morning.
But Z’s return might come at the expense of Jackson’s roster spot.
The Akron Beacon Journal reported Thursday that in order for the Cavs to make room for Z’s return, one of three players — Jackson, North Carolina rookie guard/forward Danny Green or point guard Sebastian Telfair — would have to be cut.
Because Jackson plays in the post and therefore would scoot a spot farther down the Cavs’ bench to make room for Ilgauskas, he’s the most likely player to go in the pure business sense of the move. Then again, Telfair’s been trouble everywhere he’s been and has yet to live up to the hype that followed him out of high school and into the NBA Draft. So maybe he’s the guy who should go.
Never before has a former Jayhawk in the NBA seen this side of basketball as a business so clearly. Sure Darrell Arthur was traded several times on Draft Night in 2008, but that didn’t really have the same impact on him that this surely is having on Jackson. Arthur knew he’d end up playing somewhere and hadn’t yet settled in anywhere so moving around — from team to team as nothing more than rights to a contract — was not all that difficult for him to do.
Speaking of Arthur, anyone notice his 16-point, 13-rebound performance on Saturday in Memphis’ 123-107 victory over Golden State? What’s more, Arthur, who’s played in just 20 games and is averaging 11 minutes per contest, racked up those numbers in just 26 minutes on the floor.
Monday was the first day that Ilgauskas was eligible to return to the Cavs and all signs point to him accepting an offer today and joining the team on Wednesday. With prized offseason signing Shaquille O’Neal still sidelined, the Cavs need Z’s size and experience. This is a guy who has tons of playoff experience under his belt. This is a guy who still has enough game to impact a team’s run. This is a guy who can help LeBron get that title he so desperately covets.
It’s a good move for the Cavs. A good move for Ilgauskas. Too bad it might come at the expense of such a good guy.
Cleveland Plain Dealer Photo