With Cleveland facing Detroit today and struggling to hold off New Jersey for the Eastern Conference’s 8th and final playoff spot, the New York Post’s Peter Vescey takes a dim view of Cavs center Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas should be mortally ashamed campaigning for Knicks’ citizenship while his Cavaliers are staggering incoherently to the playoff/lottery finish line. It doesn’t get much more pitifully disloyal. Adding in his next breath he prefers to remain with Cleveland doesn’t begin to diminish such sorry selfishness.
You’d think LeBron James tightening the screws on Dan Gilbert last week would’ve swayed the rising free agent to keep his “self-centered” thoughts to himself. At least until his season is over, anyway; we’re only talking a matter of days the way things are looking, losers in five of seven and 6-12 in their last 18.

You’d think a public and passionate endorsement by the team’s franchise player to enroll him would’ve been good enough collateral for Ilgauskas (above) to take to the bank. As filthy rich as the Cavs’ new majority owner is, he can’t afford to disrespect the wishes of one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people.

You’d think Gilbert would have to fold under this pressure; either pay Ilgauskas now or really pay three years from now when James becomes an unrestricted free agent.

You’d think he’d have to bend over backwards to keep James in a good mood. On the other hand, Gilbert surely is taking into account that the policy concerning contracts is about to change radically in favor of the owners; seven-year maximum guarantees are expected to expire in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, sliced to as few as four.

Clearly, this is why the Sonics aren’t in any great shakes to re-sign Ray Allen for more than four years at almost $70 million and the Cavs aren’t jumping through hoops to re-up Ilgauskas and so on.

Of course, there’s another fairly good explanation, I submit, why Gilbert is shilly-shallying about financially committing to his medical center. For the edification of the Knicks (beat writers, too) and other prospective suitors, Ilgauskas’ plethora of pre-existing foot problems is un-insurable.

Yes, he’s been healthy in that regard for the last three seasons, but he’ll be 30 June 5. Obviously, doing big business with Ilgauskas will be ridiculously risky unless he’s willing to split the stake in some shape, manner or percentage. The only team we’re confident won’t go for anything approaching an Alonzo Mourning-no fault contract is the Nets.

As for the Knicks, after trading Marcus Camby and Antonio McDyess, who were caught up in similar restorative circumstances, it’d be just their luck to give Ilgauskas a sweetheart deal and have him fall apart along the dotted lines in the first week of training camp.