Ohio Players

by June 11, 2007
7

The Cleveland Cavaliers franchise was established in 1970, meaning it’s only a year older than I am. And all things considered, I had a better first year than the Cavs did. The expansion franchise finished with an league-worst 15-67 record behind head coach Bill Fitch and a bunch of players you’ve never heard of (including the wonderfully named McCoy McLemore). Their leading scorer was Walt Wesley (17.7 ppg), and the closest thing they had to a Hall of Famer was Larry Mikan—George’s son—playing in his only NBA season. About the only thing they had going for them was their wine and gold uniforms. Even the arena was rough—Cleveland Arena was built way back in 1937, and probably didn’t have many modern amenities (then again, neither did Boston Garden).

Hopes were higher for the second season, as the Cavs drafted Notre Dame star Austin Carr first overall. But he only played in 43 games as a rookie due to injuries, and the Cavs finished 23-59, still rock-bottom in the Central. They had a thing for alliteration if not basketball—Wesley was teamed with Butch Beard, John Johnson and Rick Roberson. McLemore, tragically, had moved on.

Anyway, what follows is a (sort of) brief history of the franchise. Act like you know:

• 1972 — In the fourth round, the Cavs select Hank Siemiontkowski from Villanova. Now that would be a throwback jersey worth having.

• 1974 — Austin Carr is named an All-Star in 1974. And for the ’74-75 season, the Cavs leave Cleveland Arena for the shiny new confines of Richfield Arena 30 miles out of town, and celebrate by posting their first 40-win season (40-42). Bill Fitch is still the coach.

• 1976 — And for good reason, apparently. 35-year-old Akron native Nate Thurmond is acquired from the Bulls and leads the Cavs to a 49-33 record, the Central Division title, and their first-ever playoff appearance. They go on to beat the Bullets in the first round—the “Miracle of Richfield”—before losing to the Celtics in the next. When you’re calling a first-round series win a “Miracle,” you’re probably not aiming high enough. Thurmond’s number 42 is eventually retired by the Cavs, despite his only playing 128 total games for them.

• 1977 — The Cavs acquire Hall of Fame point guard Walt “Clyde” Frazier from the Knicks as compensation for the free agent signing of Jim Cleamons. This just two seasons after he was the All-Star MVP. Clyde plays only three partial seasons for the Cavs—51, 12 and three games—before being put on waivers and retiring. Probably due to acute embarassment.

• 1979 — The Cavs go 30-52, Fitch resigns, and is replaced by Stan Albeck. In the third round of the Draft, they pick a bruiser from Notre Dame by the name of Bill Laimbeer (who goes off to play in Italy for a year).

• 1980 — The team is sold to Ted Stepien, who rapidly proves to be one of the worst owners in professional sports history. He fires coaches in rapid succession, trades first-round picks like they were baseball cards (actually leading to an NBA rule banning the trade of first-round picks in consecutive years) and proposes the Cavaliers be renamed the “Ohio Cavaliers.” Somehow he isn’t shot, or at least punched repeatedly in the face. Oh yeah, one of those first-round picks became James Worthy. Oops.

• 1981 — Austin Carr’s number 34 is retired.

• 1982 — The Cavs finish 15-67 in ’81-82, losing their final 19 games (and go through four coaches in the process). Combine that with five straight losses to open the ’82-83 season (under new coach George Karl), and that’s an NBA record 24 straight losses. Attendance crashes, and Stepien threatens to move the team to Toronto and rename them the Towers. Oh yeah, and he trades Laimbeer to the Pistons—which is funny, as the Cavs are then being coached by Chuck Daly (and also feature James “Buddha” Edwards). Once again, Stepien is inexplicably allowed to live.

• 1983 — More alliteration! George and Gordon Gund purchase the Cavs from Stepien in order to keep them in Cleveland and actually run the team like a professional franchise. Wine and gold are out, orange and blue are in.

• 1984 — Foreshadowing? In the seventh round, the Cleveland Cavaliers select Joe Jakubick from Akron.

• 1985 — The Cavaliers select local boy made good Charles Oakley with the ninth pick in the draft, and immediately trade his rights to the Chicago Bulls for Ennis Whatley and the draft rights to Keith Lee. This is not a good trade. Perhaps to ward off Michael Jordan (it doesn’t work) they pick his former college roommate, Buzz Peterson, in the seventh round.

• 1986 — This is how you have a good off-season. The Cavs pull an anti-Stepien trade, sending forward Roy Hinson (the 20th overall pick in 1983) to the 76ers for the first overall pick, which they use on North Carolina center Brad Daugherty. Their other first-round pick that year is another local, Miami of Ohio high-flyer Ron Harper. They also manage to acquire point guard Mark Price through a trade with the Dallas Mavericks, who selected him with the first pick of the second round. And they finally got the services of power forward John “Hot Rod” Williams, a second-round pick in 1985 who spent a season in the USBL while being investigated for point shaving while at Tulane (the charges were eventually dropped). Other new acquisitions include rookie swingman Johnny Newman, guard Craig Ehlo and coach Lenny Wilkens. They go 31-51 and finish in last again, but hey, they’re young.

• 1987 — As a rookie in ’86-87, Harper starts all 82 games, averaging 22.9 points, 4.8 assists and 4.8 rebounds (although Chuck Person wins Rookie of the Year). Another good draft nets them point guard Kevin Johnson, who is later sent to the Phoenix Suns in a five-player deal that brings All-Star power forward Larry Nance to town. It’s one of those rare trades that helps both teams.

• 1988 — The Cavs make the playoffs, only to lose to the Bulls in five. Get used to it.

• 1989 — After a 57-25 season, the Cavs once again square off with the Bulls in the first round of the 1989 playoffs, and once again it comes down to the fifth and final game, this time at Richfield Coliseum (thanks to Cleveland’s overtime win in Chicago in Game Four). You know what happens. Cavs lead with three seconds to go, Bulls inbound, Jordan and Ehlo go up, Ehlo comes down, Jordan stays up, hits game-winning shot at the buzzer. “The Shot” is instant history, as are the Cavs. At the start of the ’89 season, Ron Harper is traded to the Los Angeles Clippers for the rights to Danny Ferry (who refused to play for the Clippers) and Reggie Williams.

• 1990 — On March 28th, Michael Jordan adds insult to injury by scoring a career-high 69 points on the Cavs, while being primarily guarded by Ehlo. Of course.

• 1991 — 241 combined missed games due to injury equals no playoffs. They get Terrell Brandon with the 11th pick of the 1991 Draft—predictably, his career goes on to be injury plagued.

• 1992 — Healthy, the Cavs match their best-ever record of 57-25 and make it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Where they lose. To the Bulls. Again. They draft no one, because they don’t have any draft picks.

• 1993 — 54-28 (including a 12-1 February), second in the Central, playoff loss to the Bulls. You know, the usual. Wilkens resigns to coach the Hawks in what amounts to a trade, as he is replaced by former Hawk coach Mike Fratello.

• 1994 — Playoffs, first-round Bulls sweep. The ’94-95 season opens with the team back in downtown Cleveland at the new Gund Arena (and wearing hideous new sky-blue uniforms). Fratello introduces the slow-down-so-much-fans-fall-asleep offense in order to keep the team competitive. Sort of. Making the ball-shattering-the-net logo somewhat appropriate, I suppose.

• 1997 — DE-FENSE! They allow just 85.6 ppg, an NBA record, but miss the playoffs due to a final-game loss to the Washington Bullets. GM Wayne Embry blows up the team in the offseason, bringing in (among others) Shawn Kemp. Somehow it seems like a good idea to pay him $100 million. They snag Derek Anderson and Brevin Knight in the first round, and with the 45th overall pick they select Cedric Henderson, who doesn’t do much on the court, but later goes on to coin the term “chillin’ list.” Oh yeah, and the ’97 All-Star game is at the Gund. Michael Jordan has the first-ever triple-double in All-Star history, but the MVP goes to Hornets sharpshooter Glen Rice, who scores 20 points—in the third quarter. The Cavs are repped by point guard Terrell Brandon in the big game, Vitaly Potapenko in the Rookie Challenge, and Bob Sura in the Slam Dunk Contest.

• 1998 — Shawn Kemp becomes the Cavs first-ever All-Star starter in New York—and racks up 12 points, 11 boards and four steals in the game. He also sets a Gund Arena record with 20 rebounds on January 20th.

• 1999 — Five games into the lockout-shortened season, starting center Zydrunas Ilgauskas breaks his foot for the first time. The Cavs miss the playoffs, and Fratello is fired. Z misses the entire ’99-00 season as well, and Kemp leads the team in scoring and rebounding. In the ’99 draft they take Utah point guard Andre Miller 8th (good pick), and Alaskan shooting guard Trajan Langdon 11th (not such a good pick with Corey Maggette, Ron Artest and Andrei Kirilenko still on the board). Alaskans from Duke, though. Worth revisiting.

• 2000 — In the off-season following the ’99-00 season, the underachieving (and often bizarre-acting) Kemp is dealt to the Blazers for a package including Gary Grant, Clarence Weatherspoon and Chris Gatling. The Cavs miss the playoffs for the third straight season, but don’t miss Kemp all that much. With their sole draft pick they select Michigan guard Jamal Crawford with the eighth pick, who they immediately trade for Texas center Chris Mihm.

• 2001 — New coach (John Lucas), same results (29-53). Yuck. They draft their first high schooler—center DeSagana Diop (with Joe Johnson, Richard Jefferson and Zach Randolph still on the board), with the eighth overall pick (their third-straight year picking eighth). They use the 20th pick on another center, North Carolina product Brendan Haywood (ahead of Jamaal Tinsley, Tony Parker and Gilbert Arenas).

• 2002 — Having traded away leading scorers Lamond Murray and Andre Miller, the Cavs put all their eggs in the basket of lottery pick DaJuan Wagner (taken ahead of Nene, Amare Stoudemire and Caron Butler)—who winds up missing much of the season with an unprecedented and downright weird assortment of injuries and ailments. (Although they do scoop up a second-round prize in hirsute Duke forward Carlos Boozer.) They start looking ahead early to the next draft and…

• 2003 — LeBron James! The Akron high school god falls in the Cavs laps as they win the lottery (thanks in part to an abysmal 17-65 record). Gordon Gund doesn’t recover his sight or anything, but the May 22 “Miracle of Secaucus” puts the “Miracle of Richfield” in the shade.

• 2004 — LeBron wins Rookie of the Year in a landslide, averaging 20.9 ppg, 5.9 apg and 5.5 rpg. But a 1-11 stretch in March derails a promising season, and the 35-47 Cavs wind up missing the playoffs by a single game. During the offseason, the Cavs tear up the last year of Boozer’s rookie contract with a handshake deal in place for a new contract—and Boozer bolts for the Utah Jazz, who are able to offer him way more money. This is not an act that is looked upon kindly by Cavs fans. Boozer is somewhat replaced with Drew Gooden and Brazilian rookie Anderson Varejao. They use the 10th pick on Luke Jackson (ahead of Andris Biedrins, Al Jefferson and Josh Smith).

• 2005 — LeBron steps his numbers up to 27.2, 7.2 and 7.4, the Cavs finish over .500, and it’s STILL not enough. At 42-40, they’re once again outside looking in (thanks to a tiebreaker held by the New Jersey Nets) as the playoffs begin. Coach Paul Silas is fired shortly after the All-Star break, and they pick up Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall and Damon Jones during the off-season to go with new coach Mike Brown and new GM Danny Ferry, both plucked from the Spurs organization. They have no 2005 draft pick.

• 2006. LeBron averages 31.4 ppg, wins the All-Star MVP, and finally leads the Cavs to the promised land of the playoffs—where they actually move out of the first round, dispatching the Washington Wizards in six games. Facing the Detroit Pistons in the second round, they go down 2-0 before winning three straight, heading back to the Gund needing only one win to move on. They don’t, and get crushed in Game Seven back in Detroit. But they’ve got plans. Big plans. And in the second round of the draft, they grab a young Boobie.

• 2007 — We are all witnesses. For now.

(I used stuff from here, here, here and here. Among other resources.)