Hawks want Ilgauskas to soar with them

The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t the only Eastern Conference contenders who will try to sign Zydrunas Ilgauskas(notes) once he becomes a free agent.

So will the Atlanta Hawks.

And they might go to some unusual lengths to do so.

“Anything I had to do to get a guy like that, I’d do it,” Hawks center Al Horford(notes) said. “If I have to buy him lunch, go watch his kids, anything. He’s the kind of guy that can help us once the playoffs come around.”

Ilgauskas is expected to soon reach a buyout agreement with the Washington Wizards. Once he clears waivers and becomes a free agent, any team can sign him – except for the Cavaliers who will have to wait 30 days to bring him back because they traded him to Washington.

Despite the long waiting period, Ilgauskas is widely expected to return to Cleveland, the only team he’s played for during his 12-year NBA career. A league source also said Monday that the NBA won’t block Ilgauskas’ return unless there’s evidence of a prearranged deal before the trade. The Los Angeles Times reported Sunday that the NBA told teams that the Cavs wouldn’t be able to sign their longtime center.

Still, the Hawks intend to at least make a pitch to Ilgauskas. They have their midlevel exception ($5.9 million) available – in addition to their biannual ($2.1 million) and veteran ($1.3 million) exceptions – though it is unknown how much they are willing to spend.

The Hawks will likely try to sell Ilgauskas on the minutes they’d have available for him to play. Ilgauskas lost his starting job to Shaquille O’Neal(notes), and the Cavs landed Antawn Jamison(notes) in their trade with Washington. J.J. Hickson(notes) and Anderson Varejao(notes) are also in the team’s rotation at the power forward and center positions.

With Atlanta, Ilgauskas would probably have to share minutes only with Horford, Josh Smith(notes) and Zaza Pachulia(notes). Pachulia is the only true center of the three, and he’s struggled. Veterans Joe Smith(notes) and Jason Collins(notes) have seen little playing time.

“I don’t know how much he’d play back there,” said Joe Smith, who played with Ilgauskas in Cleveland. “… It depends on what he is looking for at this point in his career. If he is looking for a lot of playing time or whatever, I think we have a chance to do something special.”

If the Hawks wanted to start Ilgauskas, Horford could move back to power forward. Josh Smith would have to switch to small forward and Marvin Williams(notes) would likely go to the bench.

“I’d be a lot more comfortable,” Horford said. “That’s a position that I’d play with more guys my size. It would come easier for me.”

Still, the Hawks also concede they’ll have a difficult, if not impossible, time convincing Ilgauskas not to sign with Cleveland.

“It will be kind of tough knowing that he is coming from the best team in the league to coming to play with us,” said Joe Johnson(notes), the Hawks’ All-Star guard. “I could see him coming to Cleveland before he comes to us. That’s just my opinion and how I feel about it, but we’d love to have him.”

Added Johnson, “I would give him a call if it bettered our chances of getting him.”

The Hawks have struggled of late and entered Monday having split their last 10 games. On Sunday, they blew an 18-point lead in Golden State. Adding Ilgauskas, as wishful thinking as it might be, would give them another weapon to steady their offense.

“We’re an unpredictable team,” Johnson said. “Some nights we will come out and look like the best team in the league. A lot of other nights we just come out and are mediocre. It’s up to us to find out how good we want to be. I don’t think we bring it every night. I think we can be a lot better than we are.”

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