Cavaliers Have Always Gotten the Point

March 15, 2012
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Kyrie Irving
Over the existence of the franchise, the Cavaliers have been strong at certain positions. But it’s almost irrefutable that the one spot where Cleveland has been blessed with its most success has been the point guard position.

At the all-important lead guard position, the Cavs have boasted All-Stars and franchise icons, record-holders, league leaders and a Rookie of the Year favorite. When it comes to the player often called the offense’s “head of the snake” – the Wine and Gold have had an embarrassment of riches.

The Cavaliers intended point guard in their inaugural season of 1970-71 was Johnny Egan. The 11-year veteran was one year removed from winning the NBA Championship with the Lakers, but according the that year’s Cavs media guide, still worked as a carpet salesman in Hartford, Conn. during the off-season.

John Warren eventually led the 15-67 Cavaliers in assists with 347, but he also shot and scored on the wrong basket that same season.

That notwithstanding, the point guard position for the Cavaliers can’t be looked at chronologically. Any discussion essentially begins and ends with the man whose No. 25 hangs in The Q’s rafters – William Mark Price.

Mark Price is the standard bearer of Cavalier point guards. Too small and too slow out of Georgia Tech, Price went on to play nine stellar seasons for the Cavaliers, asserting himself as one of the organization’s all-time greats.

In 582 regular season games with Cleveland, Price averaged 16.4 points and 7.2 assists per game. The sleepy-eyed six-footer also saved some of his best performances for the biggest moments and biggest games.

Price averaged 17.4 points and 6.9 helpers in 47 playoff games. In four All-Star appearances, he boasted a 13.5 ppg average, saving his best for last. In the 1993 All-Star Game, he totaled 19 points, going 6-for-9 from three-point range. In the 1994 mid-season classic in Minneapolis, Price went 8-for-10 from the floor – 2-of-3 from long distance – for 20 points.

On the day before both All-Star Games, he won back-to-back Three-Point Shootouts.

Price is the franchise’s all-time leader in three-pointers made (802) attempted (1,960). He’s the Cavaliers all-time assists leader with 4,206. He has the top three free throw shooting seasons in Cavaliers history and shot a jaw-dropping .936 from the stripe from 1991 to 1995.

He was First Team All-NBA in 1992-93, and Third Team in three other seasons

Of course, Mark Price matriculated at the school of another great Cavaliers point guard, Lenny Wilkens.

Fans who remember Wilkens exclusively as a Cavs coach forget how good he was as a player in his two years in Cleveland – averaging 18.5 ppg in two seasons and earning All-Star honors midway through his first. And as important as his on-court exploits were, Lenny was equally valuable in the locker room – teaching youngsters like Austin Carr, Jimmy Cleamons and Campy Russell the finer points of life in the NBA.

Lenny’s departure paved the way for the Miracle of Richfield guard duo of Cleamons and Clarence “Foots” Walker to flourish.

Neither player had a scorer’s mentality and that was just fine on a Bill Fitch-coached team that boasted two “lines” of players – and plenty of scoring punch with each unit.

“Footsie” – the first Cavalier to record a triple-double – spent six years in Cleveland, making three playoff appearances. Cleamons, a former Buckeye, signed as a free agent with the New York Knicks. The Wine and Gold received 32-year-old Clyde Frazier as compensation.

After the Miracle team went its separate ways, the Cavaliers franchise struggled through some tough years. The Stepien Era didn’t do many things right, and for the most part, that included finding a solid point guard.

Geoff Huston, however, did manage to emerge from the pack. The Brooklyn native, acquired from the Mavericks in 1981, spent five years in Cleveland, posting decent numbers. But Huston’s claim to fame came on January 27, 1982 when he dished out 27 assists – a team record that stands to this day.

Huston was waived by the Cavs in 1984 – turning the reigns over to zaftig point man, John Bagley.

Like Huston, Bags spent half a decade running the point in Richfield. He led the Cavaliers to the postseason during George Karl’s dramatic run in 1985-86 and made two more playoff appearances with Boston in the late ‘80s.

Bagley begat Mark Price, whose emergence in the 1986-87 season changed the face of the franchise – and the point guard position.

Price’s presence – while giving the squad unprecedented stability at the “one” – also served to stifle some stellar point guards who couldn’t supplant him.

One year after welcoming the bumper rookie crop of Price, Brad Daugherty, Ron Harper and Hot Rod Williams, the Cavaliers tabbed point guard Kevin Johnson with the 7th overall pick out of Cal.

The lightning-quick Johnson showed flashes of greatness during that first season, but never made it through his rookie season in Cleveland. He was dealt – along with Mark West and Tyrone Corbin – to Phoenix for Larry Nance and Mike Sanders.

All Johnson did after leaving Cleveland was make 11 straight postseason appearances with the Suns – leading them to the NBA Finals in 1992-93. In March 2008, Johnson was elected the mayor of his hometown Sacramento.

With Johnson gone, the Cavs flirted with several backups to Price – some who worked out well and some who didn’t.

Steve Kerr and John Battle were combo-guards who spent some quality years with the Cavaliers – splitting six postseason appearances between them. Darnell Valentine was a serviceable stop-gap whereas John Morton – the 25th overall pick of the 1989 Draft – served as a sizeable disappointment.

In fact, no guard was able to unseat Price until the Cavaliers chose Terrell Brandon in 1991.

Like those before him, the affable Brandon waited his turn behind Price – still managing to see action in all 82 games in his first two seasons. But by 1994-95, the Cavaliers could keep the former Oregon standout in the shadows no more. Before Training Camp in 1995, the Cavs sent Price to the Bullets for a first-round pick and turned the keys over to Brandon.

Brandon, a quality player on the court and quality person off it, took the team and ran – averaging 19.4 ppg over his final two years in Cleveland. He made the All-Star team in each of his two final seasons, but was part of the Shawn Kemp blockbuster that saw him land in Milwaukee when the smoke cleared.

With Brandon gone, the Cavaliers kept the hits coming. In the next Draft, they tabbed Stanford point guard Brevin Knight with the 16th overall pick. And that same season, Knight joined three Cavaliers on the 1998 All-Rookie team at All-Star Weekend in New York.

Knight would go on to play four years in Cleveland. He played 12 NBA seasons and is now the color analyst for the Memphis Grizzlies.

In the spring of 1999, the Cavaliers dealt their first rounder from 1996, Vitaly Potapenko, to the Celtics for Andrew DeClercq and a first-rounder in that June’s Draft. With that pick, the Wine and Gold took Andre Miller from Utah.

Miller was a departure from point guard of the past. He was a big guard – not especially quick, but extremely crafty. Miller was the model of consistency, missing just a single game in his three years in Cleveland. In 2001-02, on a team that won 29 games, he led the NBA in assists.

After three very successful seasons in Cleveland, in which he averaged 14.5 points and 8.2 assists per contest, Miller was dealt to the Clippers for Darius Miles.

We all know how that trade worked out.

During the team’s ultra-successful playoff seasons of the mid-to-late-2000’s, the point guard position went through several incarnations. J.R. Bremer begat Jeff McInnis who begat Eric Snow. Despite several seasons in the sun, the Wine and Gold didn’t get their man until swinging a three-team deal for Milwaukee’s Mo Williams in 2008.

That season, Williams made the Eastern Conference All-Star Squad. But his postseason struggles were well-documented.

Fifty-six games into the 2010-11 season, with the Cavaliers beginning to re-tool for the future, Williams – along with Jamario Moon – was shipped to the Clippers in exchange for Baron Davis and L.A.’s lottery unprotected first round pick.

We know how that trade turned out, too.

On a dramatic night in Secaucus, New Jersey, the Cavaliers won the rights to the top overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. And by the time June rolled around, it was already a no-brainer.

The Cavaliers selected Duke’s Kyrie Irving – who might prove to be the best of the bunch. In his rookie season, he’s easily leading his freshman class in scoring (18.5 ppg) and is second in assists (5.4 apg). He’s had dramatic game-winners against Boston, Sacramento, Dallas and Detroit.

In the Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star Weekend in Orlando, he was named MVP after going 8-for-8 from three-point range to finish with 34 points. After playing just 11 games in college, in 37 games as a professional, he’s topped the 20-point plateau 20 times.

He’s still 19 years old.

The Cavaliers organization hasn’t had all the luck during its four-plus decades of existence. But they have had it good when it comes to the point. And the future looks even better.