Ilgauskas hints retirement could come soon

Oct 9, 2009 - 11:45 PM INDEPENDENCE, Ohio(AP) -- Once March arrives, Zydrunas Ilgauskas knows his legs will throb and his feet will ache.

The West Coast trips, the games on consecutive nights and the grind of a long NBA season that - if all goes well - will include two months of playoffs has Ilgauskas wondering if perhaps this season will be his last.

"I think I still have at least a few good years of basketball left in me, it's whether I would like to do it," the Cleveland Cavaliers center said on Friday. "It gets hard every year mentally and physically. We've been playing long seasons the last few years. It all stacks up."

Ilgauskas, 34, is entering the final year of his contract after spending his entire 11-year career with the Cavaliers.

While Cleveland is primed for another deep run into the postseason, huge questions loom beyond this year.

Shaquille O'Neal is in the final year of his contract and LeBron James could opt for free agency, particularly if the Cavaliers again fall short of an NBA championship. Should James leave, O'Neal would likely follow him out the door.

Ilgauskas wouldn't say how much James' decision will affect his, but he acknowledged he is not interested in another rebuilding project - the Cavaliers missed the playoffs in seven of his first eight years in the league.

"But this team is far away from rebuilding," he said.

Ilgauskas enters the season handling a pair of new roles, father and bench player. He and his wife, Jennifer, adopted a pair of brothers from an orphanage in Ilgauskas' hometown in Lithuania. Around that time, the Cavaliers acquired O'Neal in a trade with the Phoenix Suns, relegating Ilgauskas to the bench for the first time in his career.

The move could benefit both aging centers. O'Neal, 37, is entering his 18th season.

Neither has ever had such a capable complement. The two have combined for 14 All-Star games, nearly 38,000 points and more than 14,000 rebounds during the regular season.

"I don't look at it as taking Z's spot," O'Neal said. "I look at it as us working together. Me and him on the same team, we are the best centers in the NBA."

Ilgauskas' name surfaced this week in trade rumors, something he dismisses since he has been traded "75, no, 77 times since I've been here," he joked. "I would like obviously to stay here, but this is a business. If it comes or not, I'll deal with it. I've expressed my desire always to stay with this team, especially now when we have a chance to win."

Coach Mike Brown said again on Friday he plans to pick his spots to play Ilgauskas and O'Neal together, hopefully creating matchup nightmares for defenses trying to defend a pair of 7-footers. It could leave the Cavaliers slow on defense, though, and defense is what Brown has emphasized since taking over four years ago.

"It'll be deadly because they won't be able to double both of us," O'Neal said. "We'll have two big guys on the boards and Z is a great shooter. He can spread the floor out. If his guy is worrying about what I'm doing, I'll kick it to him and he's going to shoot. If he misses, I'll get the rebound. It'll be fun at times."

Given his frame and his game, Brown believes Ilgauskas could hang around for at least five more years.

"Z could play as long as he wants. I think 7-footers, especially guys that have skill, can play forever," Brown said. "There have been a lot of 7-footers who have played into their late 30s and even early 40s. You can't coach size or teach size. They're going to be big whether they move slow or slower."

Ilgauskas hasn't officially decided on his future, but he's mulling his options.

"The grind gets tougher and tougher each year," he said. "A younger guy is able to recover and bounce back faster. Once you get older, it's not happening for you.

"I don't know what I'm going to do. I guess I'll see how this season goes and how I feel at the end. I'll decide at the end of the year if I feel like playing and what the opportunities are ... I'd love to finish here."

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