INDEPENDENCE - Zydrunas Ilgauskas must have a good cell phone plan. He`s been calling or sending text messages to Anderson Varejao at least every other day.
Cavaliers coach Mike Brown will have to use his minutes wisely, but in a different way.
With Brazil native Varejao holding out, front-line starters Ilgauskas and Drew Gooden are likely to see increased minutes, especially with Donyell Marshall starting to show his age and Cedric Simmons hobbled by a bone bruise to his left ankle.
"We`re a little bit shorthanded, obviously, without Andy being here," Ilgauskas said Wednesday at Cleveland Clinic Courts. "But that`s what we have, so we`re going to have to make it work. Guys are going to have to step up."
The 7-foot-3, 260-pound Ilgauskas, who will be backed up by the untested Dwayne Jones to start the season, is one of the guys who are going to be asked to do more.
"I feel good," Ilgauskas said. "I`m healthy. Obviously, though, I can`t last playing 40 or 45 minutes a night."
That`s why Brown will be careful not to ask the 32-year-old to do too much. It is his strong belief that Ilgauskas plays better when he`s on the court for shorter stints, so the last thing Brown wants is for his center to think he has to pace himself in order to stay on the floor for more minutes.
Even more important, Brown doesn`t want to use the 10th-year pro - Ilgauskas missed two other NBA seasons entirely due to foot surgeries - for extended minutes early in the season and risk him burning out in the playoffs.
A year ago, Ilgauskas played 27.3 minutes a night - he was often the first starter to come out of a game, usually around the five-minute mark of the first quarter - and averaged 11.9 points and 7.7 rebounds. In the postseason, those numbers went up to 12.6 points and 9.7 boards in 32.5 minutes.
Gooden averaged 11.1 points and 8.5 rebounds in 28.0 minutes a game during the 2006-07 regular season. In the playoffs, he put up 11.4 points and grabbed 8.0 rebounds in exactly the same amount of time.
With Varejao holding out, Simmons totally unproven and Marshall more of a perimeter player than a banger, Gooden`s minutes figure to go up even more than Ilgauskas` early in the 2007-08 season.
"Those guys` minutes will increase," Brown said of his starters. "But when I say increase, I wouldn`t go any higher than 32 or 33 (a game)."
That would leave about 30 minutes - 15 at center and 15 at power forward - for Marshall, Jones and Simmons to fill on the front line. Simmons has only played four minutes in the exhibition season due to his ankle injury, so Marshall and Jones will likely have to carry the load off the bench early on.
"The season is right here," said Ilgauskas, whose team opens the year next Wednesday against the Dallas Mavericks. "We have to look forward. Otherwise, we`ll get into trouble."
That has not prevented Ilgauskas from calling or text messaging Varejao, though he insists they never talk about the restricted free agent`s ongoing contract negotiations.
"He`s OK," Ilgauskas said. "At some point, he`s going to have to decide one way or another. We hope those guys (Sasha Pavlovic is also holding out) are going to be here, but it`s out of our control."
In a survey of general managers, Cleveland`s LeBron James was predicted to win the league`s MVP award in 2007-08. James, who was also the GMs` predicted MVP a year ago, added No. 1 rankings as best finisher, best small forward and most athletic player in the league.
The Cavs didn`t get much love elsewhere.
No GM picked Cleveland to win the championship (San Antonio was tops with 37 percent of the vote), while only 4 percent picked the Cavs to win the East (Boston and Detroit tied with 26 percent each). In the Central Division, 52 percent of the GMs picked Chicago to finish first, with Detroit getting 41 percent of the vote and the Cavs 7 percent.
Asked to name the most surprising offseason move in the league, 50 percent of GMs chose the trade that sent Kevin Garnett from Minnesota to Boston. The Cavs decision to make "no moves" placed sixth with 8 percent of the vote.
Cleveland`s Hank Egan finished third in the best assistant category with 8 percent of the vote. Utah`s Phil Johnson was first with 27 percent.
The Cavs` Brown was fourth in the best defensive schemes category with 4 percent of the vote. San Antonio`s Gregg Popovich (65 percent) was first.
Finally, injured point guard Eric Snow finished first when GMs were asked what current player would make the best NBA head coach. He got 35 percent of the vote.
Cavs point guard Daniel Gibson will not play in the team`s last two exhibition games due to a strained right hamstring. He did not travel with the team for tonight`s game in Toronto or a Friday game in Boston.
â€¢Â Simmons is listed as day-to-day with a left ankle bone bruise.
â€¢ Snow continues to be sidelined while recovering from knee surgery.
Quote of the day
"Even the dogs smoke over there." - Ilgauskas on the hard-to-breathe air in China.
Noland may be reached at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Â