The Cava-List: Top Short-Timers
Throughout the four-plus decades of the Cavaliers franchise, the Wine and Gold have seen their share of stars. But like any NBA team, they’ve had their share of revolving-door role players that have come and gone. For every Austin Carr or Zydrunas Ilgauskas, there’s a half-dozen Bruno Sundovs and Milt Palacios.
In today’s Cava-List, we take a look at some of the short-timers that have come through The Q and Richfield Coliseum over the years. The players on this list didn’t transform the organization or put up big statistics. Some of them were just guys that Cavalier fans loved to root for. Some had just a single game in the sun. All played 82 games or less in a Cleveland uniform.
It only took Nate Thurmond 114 games (plus 14 playoff contests) to get his No. 42 retired in the rafters. It took these players far less time to get their names etched on the initial Cava-List …
10. Tim Kempton (1993-94) – Yes, we’re starting the list with Tim Kempton – a player younger Cavalier fans (and even some older ones) have never heard of. The red-headed center from Notre Dame actually played in the league for eight years, suiting up for nine teams. In 1994, in Mike Fratello’s first year as Cleveland’s head coach, Kempton joined the short-handed Cavaliers with four games remaining in the regular season after Larry Nance and Brad Daugherty suffered career-ending injuries early that year. Kempton played a whopping four regular season games and three playoff games (averaging 8.7 ppg) as the Cavaliers got swept 3-0 in the first round by the Bulls.
9. Billy Thomas (2007-08) – Billy Thomas only played seven regular season and three playoff games with the Wine and Gold. But he had one of the best nights an NBA journeyman can have on a snowy Friday night after inking a 10-day contract just so the Cavaliers would have enough players to fill out the bench. The day before, on February 21, 2008, Cleveland made a massive trade to acquire Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak, Joe Smith and Delonte West. With those players in the stands and only nine Cavs on the bench, Thomas canned three three-pointers in a thrilling 90-89 win over the Washington Wizards at The Q.
8. Edgar Jones (1984-85, ’85-86) – A one-time Slam Dunk Contest participant with San Antonio, Edgar Jones was known as much for his basketball acumen as his frenetic style of play and toothless grin. Jones played a total of 79 games with George Karl’s Comeback Cavs, not including the four games in which Cleveland gave the eventual NBA Champion Boston Celtics all they could handle in their first round playoff matchup. Jones didn’t light the basketball world on fire with the Cavaliers, but no fans who watched him then have forgotten about him now.
7. Scot Pollard (2006-07) – Like Jones, veteran center Scot Pollard was known as much for his odd look as his basketball skills – sporting a sweet Mohawk down the stretch for a Cavalier squad that would eventually reach the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. Pollard also made news locally for an ill-advised on-camera message to kids, but that was just par for the course for one of the Cavaliers all-time colorful characters.
6. Eric Williams & Tony Battie (2003-04) – Williams and Battie (along with Kedrick Brown) arrived in a trade with Boston for Ricky Davis, Chris Mihm and Yogi Stewart in mid-December, 2003. Both players helped the young Cavaliers get their season back on track – providing veteran leadership and toughness. The 31-year-old Williams averaged 9.6 ppg in his 50 games with Cleveland; Battie, 5.4 ppg in 27 contests. But Battie’s real value to the Cavaliers would come after the 2003-04 season, when GM Jim Paxson dealt him to Orlando for Drew Gooden and an unknown Brazilian big man named Anderson Varejao.
5. Shaquille O’Neal (2009-10) – The Diesel was already a Hall of Famer when he arrived in Cleveland via an offseason trade with Phoenix (in exchange for Sasha Pavlovic and Ben Wallace). Shaq averaged 12.0 points and 6.7 boards per contest with the Cavs, but was a shadow of his former dominant self in his one season in Cleveland. He did add to the Cavaliers’ star power, but he missed 29 games that season and was rusty in the Wine and Gold’s abbreviated playoff run.
4. Dan Majerle (1995-96) – The man known as “Thunder Dan” played in all 82 games for the Cavaliers after being acquired from the Suns in a deal that sent fan-favorite Hot Rod Williams to the Valley of the Sun. Majerle averaged double-figures with Cleveland – as he had in seven previous seasons with Phoenix – and improved his average in that year’s postseason, averaging 16.7 ppg, albeit in a three-game sweep by the Knicks. After leaving Cleveland as a free agent after the ’96 season, Majerle played six more seasons with the Heat.
3. Ben Wallace (2007-08, ‘08-09) – The former four-time Defensive Player of the Year played parts of two seasons with Cleveland. He was part of a blockbuster trade in 2008 [see: Billy Thomas, No. 9] and was part of another one year later [see: Shaquille O’Neal, No. 5]. Big Ben averaged nearly seven boards per contest in his stint with the Cavaliers and was an invaluable defensive piece of Mike Brown’s squad that won 66 games in 2008-09 and played in a total of 27 postseason games with Cleveland. In the 2009 offseason, the four-time All-Star was released by the Suns and returned to the Pistons as a free agent.
2. Ronald “Flip” Murray (2005-06) – Like many of the Cavaliers on this list, Murray was acquired midway through the season to fortify Cleveland’s playoff roster. Murray arrived via a deal that sent point guard Mike Wilks to Seattle, and he made an instant impact – playing in 28 games down the stretch, starting 25, as the Wine and Gold reached the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons. A favorite of then-P.A. announcer Ronnie Duncan, Murray averaged 13.5 ppg in the regular season and 8.1 ppg in 13 playoff games with Cleveland.
1. Baron Davis (2010-11) – Although Baron Davis played just 15 games with the Wine and Gold in one of the team’s most dismal seasons, he left a lasting impact on the squad that it’s still benefitting from today. Always one with a flair for the dramatic, Davis – acquired in a deal with the Clippers for Mo Williams – provided that in his first game after the trade, helping Cleveland shock the Knicks in New York in his Cavalier debut. Davis’ dramatics continued on March 29 of that season, when he led the Cavs to a huge upset of LeBron James and the Miami Heat before a frothing crowd at The Q. Davis, who sported No. 85 in memory of his grandmother, gave a team that lost 26 straight earlier that season a bit of hope headed into the future. Of course, no one could have predicted how much hope his acquisition would provide.
The deal that brought Baron also included the Clippers’ unprotected first-rounder in the 2011 Draft. In that summer’s NBA Lottery, the Cavaliers won the No. 4 pick with their own choice (which turned out to be Tristan Thompson) and – with just a 2.8 chance of winning with the Clippers pick – took the Lottery’s top prize in dramatic fashion. That No. 1 pick, naturally, was Duke freshman Kyrie Irving. And all he’s done in two seasons is win Rookie of the Year honors as a freshman and All-Star honors as a sophomore.
And for those reasons, Baron Davis – the gift that keeps giving – is atop this list as the top short-timer in Cavaliers franchise history.