When you think of the NBA draft as a Cleveland Cavaliers fan, the first name that often pops into your head is LeBron James. In 2003, the Cavs won the lottery and the right to pick a high school player that was essentially home grown, and was guaranteed to be a superstar.
While LeBron was certainly the greatest pick in Cavs history, you could argue that their best draft was nearly 20 years prior.
While I’ve always followed the Cavaliers, they never really became my team until that 1986 draft. I had listened to Joe Tait and the Cavs for years with my Dad on an old Zenith cabinet AM/FM radio, listening to “BINGO!” Smith and Austin Carr and Mike Mitchell and World B. Free over the years. I was a huge fan of Roy Hinson, but there was nothing stand-out about him back in the day, at least to the league.
Sure, he averaged 20 a game, and eight boards a game, but the star of that team was World B. Free, and those Cavs really weren’t all that good. The Cavs had drafted Mel Turpin in the infamous Michael Jordan draft, then followed that up by drafting Charles Oakley, only to trade him to the Bulls for Keith Lee later that night.
It was ugly.
But the NBA draft started for me, in many ways, in 1986, when the Cleveland Cavaliers traded away Roy Hinson to the Philadelphia 76ers for the rights to the #1 pick. While Hinson was an up-and-comer, and had some really good numbers…as mentioned before…I don’t think anybody saw that trade coming. With that pick, they chose Brad Daugherty.
I was irritated they didn’t choose Len Bias. It wasn’t the first, or the last time I thought, “boy, I’m glad I’m not the GM.”
What’s amazing to me to this day is that the Cavs didn’t have to trade their very own first round pick in that deal, which I believe was a compensatory pick from the Ted Stepien era. With that pick, the #8 that year, the Cavaliers selected Ron Harper, a flashy guard from the University of Miami that many compared to a similar player to Michael Jordan (I wanted Brad Sellers that year…again…not the GM).
The Cavs weren’t done that year.
They ultimately traded for Mark Price, whom the Dallas Mavericks drafted with the 25th pick, then drafted Johnny Newman with the 29th pick.
In one draft, the Cavs had created an incredible foundation for a team, and what’s really interesting about those picks is that they came with the team lacking a head coach…and a GM. Perhaps the lack of voice led them to make the simple and correct picks.
On top of those four fantastic picks, the Cavs had a fifth rookie to add to the equation in John “Hot Rod” Williams, with whom the Cavs had selected in the second round of the 1985 draft. Williams was a star player for Tulane who had been indicted for point shaving. He sat out the ’85-’86 season because of the trial, and joined the Cavs as a rookie during that 1986 season.
It was an amazing time to be a Cavs fan.
A couple of weeks after the draft, the Cavs had Wayne Embry and Lenny Wilkens in place, and the rest of that era took off from there.
Harper averaged 23 points per game that year, while “Hot Rod” and Daugherty averaged 15 and 16 points per game on top of that. Price was slower to come along, but the foundation was there, and the Cavs had turned their organization around.
They added Craig Ehlo later on in the 1986-1987 season, and had really set up the foundation for their team of the future.
It was brilliant.
Think about how hard it is to hit on draft picks at any level. So many drafted players barely become serviceable NBA players, let alone bona fide all-stars. While you can argue that the longevity of those players in that 1986 draft minus Mark Price and Harper (ultimately with the Clippers…idiotic) is questionable, the Cavs were locked and loaded for the next several years.
The following year, the Cavaliers drafted Kevin Johnson, another point guard who many were high on. The Cavs then dealt Johnson the following year for Larry Nance, Mike Sanders and a first round pick. Sure, the Cavs gave away a lot, including a pick that turned into Dan Majerle, but the Cavs had rebuilt their team into a really nice foundation.
Past that 1986 season, there were the Terrell Brandon’s (1991) and the Zydrunas Ilgauskas’s and the Andre Miller’s and the Barlos Boozer’s, but there were also the Chris Mihm’s and the Dajuan Wagner’s and the DeSagana Diop’s to counterbalance them.
In other words, there was nothing special.
Then came 2003, and it was kismet.
Hometown hero (from Akron).
All was made right from years and years of bad drafts and middling picks.
I don’t want to get into the LeBron era much, but the Cavs spent the rest of his tenure doing odd things to put players around him, none of which worked. There was nothing special about their drafting of that era, but LeBron was special.
The post LeBron era brought the Cavs many high draft picks, including two #1’s. Kyrie Irving came in 2011, and then Anthony Bennett last year. While there are people that argue that Kyrie isn’t a tried and true star in this league, there are many that believe he is, or can be. Bennett was a bust, but I believe there is hope there, should his talents be fostered. Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson have skills as well, but as of now, it’s safe to say we haven’t seen anything as special as 1986.
Of course, the Cavs again have the #1 pick in 2014, and sitting at the top of that draft are two or perhaps three players that could be special. There are nine or ten players in the draft, overall, that I believe could be the foundation of the NBA for years to come.
The question is, can the Cavaliers, who are led now by David Griffin, David Blatt and owner Dan Gilbert, put together a draft that transcends their past. Can the Cavs turn their roster into a semblance of a team that can not only get into the playoffs, but win for years to come.
How will they do that?
Will they just take the #1 pick, then their high #2 pick, and add them to the mix, hoping Blatt and Tyronn Lue can mesh them the way Lenny Wilkens did all those years ago? Will they trade down and acquire to potential all-star pieces, forgoing the potential of an Andrew Wiggins or a Jabari Parker?
Will they deal their picks for established all-stars, and try and mesh them into a Big 2 or Big 3 of their own?
Who knows at this point, but it should be a fun night all around. Let’s just hope this draft is more 1986 or 2003, and less…well…the rest.