Ilgauskas can sign as early as Monday

CLEVELAND -- LeBron James hated to see Zydrunas Ilgauskas leave. He'll be one of the first to welcome him back.

"He's a good friend of mine and a great teammate," James said hours before Ilgauskas is eligible to re-sign with the Cavaliers. "If that's the case of him coming back ... I'm excited."

Ilgauskas was dealt to Washington at the NBA trade deadline as part of a three-team deal that brought Antawn Jamison and Sebastian Telfair to Cleveland. Ilgauskas' contract was subsequently bought out and he can resign with Cleveland as early as Monday.

His agent, Herb Rudoy, said he will begin negotiations with Cavaliers GM Danny Ferry immediately. Ilgauskas is in Cleveland and could rejoin the team as early as Wednesday in New Orleans. His first home game would be next Sunday against Sacramento.

"If we can reach satisfactory terms," Rudoy wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press, "Z will return to the Cavs."

Cleveland has patched together a lineup without Ilgauskas. Shortly after the trade, Shaquille O'Neal was lost for the remainder of the regular season with a thumb injury that required surgery. That forced the Cavaliers to rotate Anderson Varejao and J.J. Hickson at center, but it has done little to slow down the best team in the league.

The Cavaliers are 11-1 without Ilgauskas and O'Neal.

"Guys have stepped up," James said. "To not have a true center, guys have played above their height and weight and everyone has gotten the job done."

Cleveland will have to make a roster move to clear room for Ilgauskas. The most vulnerable appear to be rookie Danny Green or second-year forward Darnell Jackson. Neither has played much with the veteran team and both have spent time in the NBA Development League this season.

Telfair hasn't appeared in a game since the trade and coach Mike Brown doesn't foresee that changing, but Telfair has an option for next season at nearly $3 million.

"If anyone comes in here, we'll have a roster situation we're going to have to look at," Brown said. "Once someone tells me 'Z' is coming back, I'll start to figure out who he will replace."