The Cava-List: Free Agent Tales
Since the regular season wrapped up, the Cavaliers have a been a busy ballclub – making a coaching change, winning the NBA Lottery and tabbing Anthony Bennett with the top pick (as well as Sergey Karasev and Carrick Felix with their next two selections).
In July, the Cavs made a big splash in the free agent market – landing guard Jarrett Jack, forward Earl Clark and two-time World Champion and former All-Star center, Andrew Bynum.
In today’s Cava-List, we’re going to look back on some of the more interesting free agent acquisitions by the franchise over the decades. Some are clustered by Class – i.e. the free agent class of 2005 – and two of the players on the list were guys the Cavaliers re-signed.
The lineup isn’t based on these players’ success or the numbers they posted after signing with Cleveland. That’s not how the Cava-List works. It’s simply a rundown of the more cool and/or colorful characters that the Wine and Gold have inked over the years …
10. Leon Powe – After a successful career at Cal – leading the Pac-10 in scoring and rebounding as a junior after suffering a season-ending knee injury as a sophomore – Leon Powe was taken by the Nuggets in the second round of the 2006 Draft. On Draft night, he was traded to Boston, where he eventually helped the Celtics win the 2008 NBA Championship. After his title-winning season in Boston, Powe signed a free agent deal with the Cavaliers on August 12, 2009. Powe never re-discovered his Celtic magic with Cleveland – playing in just 34 games over two seasons – averaging 4.4 points and 2.9 points before being waived in February, 2011.
9. Mark West – After being waived by the Mavericks and Bucks, Mark West signed with the Cavaliers on November 25, 1984. The bruising big man from Old Dominion went on to play five seasons with Cleveland – four straight from 1984-88 and returning for the 1996-97 campaign. During his first four-year stint, West improved his scoring average from 3.9 ppg to 8.5 ppg. But maybe more importantly, West was a tough, skilled, durable backup to Brad Daugherty. He was traded to Phoenix – along with Kevin Johnson – in the trade that brought Larry Nance to Cleveland. West flourished in Phoenix, playing in all 82 games for six straight seasons and making 11 playoff appearances – including a trip to the NBA Finals in 1993.
8, 7. Jamario Moon and Anthony Parker – Teammates in Toronto, Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon signed with the Wine and Gold within two weeks of each other in the summer of 2009. Although they played most recently in Toronto, both took vastly different routes to reach Cleveland.
Parker was originally drafted by the Nets in 1997, but immediately traded to the Sixers. His first stint in the NBA lasted only 55 games before the Bradley grad went overseas to ply his trade with the international powerhouse, Maccabi Tel Aviv, where he won five Israeli National Cups, three European titles and was voted two consecutive times Euroleague MVP. He re-established his NBA career with Toronto in 2006 before signing with the Cavs in 2009. A.P. played three seasons in Cleveland, starting 204 games and averaging 7.7 ppg along the way. A consummate pro, Parker’s veteran leadership helped keep a struggling Cavaliers club together through a tough couple seasons.
Before NBA stints with the Raptors and Heat, Jamario Moon logged time in the CBA, the USBL, the D-League, the Mexican LNBP and with the Harlem Globetrotters. The high-flying forward played 101 games with the Wien and Gold – averaging 4.8 ppg and serving as a defensive specialist – and was part of Cleveland’s 2010 Playoff run. But the one-time winner of the Austin Carr Good Guy Award also brought some character to the club – whether it was good-naturedly breaking rookie Danny Green’s chops on the team plane, organizing pre-game dance routines at The Q or simply walking around the locker room in his trademark cowboy boots.
6. Bobby Phills – The late, great Bobby Phills was drafted No. 45 overall by the Bucks out of Southern University in 1991 but was cut before he ever played a game in Milwaukee. He signed with the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the CBA, where he starred before being signed by the Cavaliers in mid-March of the 1992 season. Phills struggled through his first two seasons in Cleveland, but eventually became the cornerstone of Mike Fratello’s defensive-minded squad – averaging double-figure scoring in his last three years. Phills was part of five playoff appearances during his six-year stint with the Cavaliers. In 1997, he signed as a free agent with the Charlotte Hornets. But on January 12, 2000, while racing teammate David Wesley, Phills’ Porsche crossed into oncoming traffic and he was killed in the crash. His No. 13 was the first uniform number Charlotte ever retired as a franchise.
5, 4, 3. Larry Hughes, Damon Jones and Donyell Marshall – Looking to make a big splash to put the Cavaliers into the postseason for the first time since 1998, then-GM Danny Ferry inked a triumvirate of free agents during the 2005 offseason – guard Larry Hughes and forward Donyell Marshall on August 2 and sharp-shooting guard Damon Jones less than a month later.
After being drafted by Philadelphia in 1998, Hughes played with Golden State and Washington before signing on with Cleveland. He got off to a strong start in his first year in Cleveland, but a hand injury sidelined him 28 games into the season. He came back late in the 2005-06 campaign and played 11 postseason games in the Cavaliers return to the Playoffs. He played in 70 games the following season, but the tragic death of his younger brother derailed him as Cleveland made its first-ever run to the NBA Finals. Boobie Gibson – who had a game for the ages vs. Detroit in Game 6 of the ECF – usurped Hughes role and he never really found his footing with the Cavaliers after that. The following February, he was part of a blockbuster three-team trade that sent him to Chicago.
Donyell Marshall, already a 10-year vet when he signed with Cleveland, was one the NBA’s original stretch-4’s and still holds the record for three-pointers made in a game. He averaged 9.3 ppg in his first season with the Cavs, but his numbers decreased through his three-year stint with the Wine and Gold. Marshall, one of the league’s true good guys, had his best game as a Cavalier when they needed it most – going 6-for-10 from beyond the arc, netting 18 points to clinch the 2007 Eastern Conference semifinal series against New Jersey. Cleveland would eventually ride that wave into the Finals. Marshall played part of three seasons in Cleveland before being part of the aforementioned mega-trade in February 2008.
When it comes to big shots in the postseason, Damon Jones goes down in the all-time annals of Cavalier history. The affable and immodest Jones had made some big shots during his time with Miami, but none bigger than the one he drilled to give the Cavs their first playoff series win in 13 years. In Game 6 against Washington in the first round of the 2006 Playoffs, the self-professed “best shooter in the world” came off the bench cold in overtime, took a Larry Hughes feed in the left corner and drilled a game-winning 20-footer in the closing seconds to clinch the series. Jones was traded to Milwaukee as part of the Joe Smith trade in August 2008.
2. Hot Rod Williams – Every Cavalier fan worth his weight knows about Hot Rod Williams’ accomplishments in a Cavs uniform: nine rock-solid seasons with Cleveland, never averaging less than double-digit scoring and serving as a huge part of one of the golden eras of Cavalier basketball. But the invaluable sixth-man from Tulane almost got away as a restricted free agent in 1990.
The Cavaliers obviously matched Miami’s seven-year, $26.5 million dollar offer sheet, keeping Hot Rod in Cleveland for four more extremely productive years. But not before Williams uttered one of the greatest lines in free agent history …
“As of right now, I’m a Heat.”
1. World B. Free – The last name on the list also made a huge mark on Cavalier history. Some have even posited that World B. Free saved basketball in Cleveland. In his four-year run, World averaged 23.0 ppg – 26.3 ppg in the memorable 1985 playoff series with Boston. And he looked good doing it.
Like Hot Rod, Free almost got away as a restricted free agent. But new owners George and Gordon Gund wanted to retain the colorful guard – and they wanted to make a big splash doing it.
They did exactly that, inking Free to a free agent deal in dramatic fashion. How dramatic?
It’s best to hear it in World’s words …
“What happened was, I was becoming a free agent. And the Gund brothers had just got the team and said that they were going to do something special.
I was back in Brooklyn. And I remember them calling my agent and my agent telling me they’re going to send a private jet. So, I thought: ‘Private jet? I’ve never been in a private jet before.’ But if they wanted to send a private jet, that was fine. So I got on the jet that flew into Cleveland. So now I’m thinking somebody will just pick me up and drive me down to the Coliseum.
But they bring me from the private jet out to this here HELICOPTER. I’m walking outside, looking at this helicopter – and it looked like one of those cartoon helicopters, like you’d wind a rubber band to make it fly. The propeller is going around and it’s a two-seater – me and the pilot.
The first thing I did was kiss my girlfriend. Because I didn’t think it was going to make it. (I didn’t even like flying in airplanes!)
So I’m up here in the air. I’m strapped in, the pilot and I are next to each other. And when the helicopter took off and got up in the air, I couldn’t hear the pilot, so he gave me a headset. I put it on and we’re flying over the trees – (very closely!) – and I asked him: ‘How long have you been flying?’ And he said, ‘I just got my license yesterday!’
So I said: ‘They must not want me to sign this contract – and that’s OK. Maybe you should just go back!’ But he was laughing and he said: ‘Just kidding.’
So we got there to the Richfield Coliseum and it seemed like there were a thousand people out there. So we were coming down and I looked down and saw this red carpet down there. And he landed it perfectly right by the carpet. So I jump out, walk over and down the red carpet. The reporters and everybody was out there congratulating me.
And that’s what happened. I signed my contract that day.
I don’t think anyone else has done that in NBA history! And I asked all around the league. Dr. J, Michael Jordan – they all knew about it. It was crazy.”