MIAMI (AP) _ For the Miami Heat, the first priority of the summer was the big moves, the names like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
It's been all about big men since.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas became the third center to sign with the Heat in less than 24 hours on Saturday, July 17, completing a deal he agreed in principle to about five days earlier. On Friday, July 16, the Heat completed contracts with returning Miami veteran Joel Anthony and rookie draft pick Dexter Pittman. And Miami's next move is expected to be the re-signing of another 7-footer, Jamaal Magloire.
That's roughly 28 feet of centers in all, with the 7-foot-3 Ilgauskas standing taller than everyone else on Miami's now-bursting depth chart at center. The Lithuanian _ who was drafted by Cleveland in 1996 and has never suited up for any other NBA club _ is 12th among all active players with 1,269 blocks, and 21st among current players in rebounds with 5,904.
“As we continue to shape our roster, we have filled a key position with the addition of Zydrunas,'' Heat president Pat Riley said in a release. “He is a two-time All-Star, a proven rebounder, and a great shot blocker. His place in NBA history is already clear, and we are pleased to be able to add a seasoned veteran of his caliber to our roster.''
Ilgauskas averaged 7.4 points and 5.4 rebounds last season for Cleveland, playing as a backup behind Shaquille O'Neal. He was part of a three-way midseason trade and ended up in Washington, which bought out his deal without Ilgauskas ever playing a second for the Wizards. After the NBA's mandated 30-day waiting period, Ilgauskas returned to Cleveland.
But when James announced his decision to join Miami, it seemed almost certain that Ilgauskas would follow. To him, it made sense for three reasons: His wife Jennifer has plenty of family in South Florida, James wanted him to join the rebuilt and suddenly loaded Heat roster, and Ilgauskas is still chasing his first championship ring.
“LeBron gets a lot of the credit for this one,'' Wade said.
Ilgauskas is the ninth player to sign with Miami for the coming season. After Magloire, the Heat are expected to add Juwan Howard and Carlos Arroyo in the coming days, and it seems possible that free agent James Jones _ who was with Miami last season _ could also return. Free agent point guards Keyon Dooling and Chris Quinn, both former Miami players, are targets as well.
Pictured above is Zydrunas Ilgauskas.