By Art Garcia, for NBA.com
Posted Feb 28 2010 11:30PM
Reports that Zydrunas Ilgauskas has made up his mind and is heading back to Cleveland are premature, a source close to the situation told NBA.com on Sunday. Five playoff contenders remain in the mix, along with the favorite Cavaliers, for the 7-foot-3 center who was bought out by Washington last week.
The Nuggets, Jazz, Hawks, Mavericks and Celtics continue to pursue Ilgauskas hard, and he's considering the merits of each situation. Atlanta and Utah has easily the most to spend in the group, having a prorated portion of the mid-level exception ($4.1 million) available if Z decides to sign as soon as Monday.
Denver, Dallas and Boston have the biannual exception to use, with prorates to approximately $1.4 million. Cleveland, which has to wait until March 22 to sign their former two-time All-Star, would have $1.1 million left in its biannual.
The Cavaliers became more desperate to get Z back Sunday with Shaquille O'Neal likely out for at least the rest of the regular season because of thumb surgery.
So of the six finalists, the Hawks and Jazz have a full $3 million more than Cleveland can spend and $2.7 above the biannual competitors. The Heat and Spurs also expressed interest, but Ilgauskas has narrowed his list.
"He's going to make up his mind as his pace," agent Herb Rudoy told NBA.com on Friday. "He's in no rush. He could decide this weekend or sometime next week, but he feels no pressure to rush into a decision."
Cleveland does remain the safe bet based on Ilgauskas' "emotional investment" to the franchise, according to the source. But the Cavs have the least amount to financially invest in Z, who surrendered about $1.5 million to part with the Wizards.
Ilgauskas, a 12-year veteran, spent his entire career in Cleveland before the trade-deadline deal to Washington. The 34-year-old Lithuanian didn't play a game for the Wizards as the buyout was being negotiated.
Cavs star LeBron James has openly campaigned for an Ilgauskas reunion and most in the league remain convinced that's where this is headed. But that hasn't stopped the pitches from those still in the running. Nuggets coach George Karl said Sunday that he's spoken to Z by phone.
Art Garcia has covered the NBA for 10 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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