Tall Tales from Draft Day

June 26, 2012
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Throughout the four-plus decades of the franchise’s existence, the Wine and Gold have seen their share of the good, the bad and the ugly in the NBA Draft. There have been big names like Austin Carr and Kyrie Irving and no-names like Steve Skaggs and Carven Holcombe.

Over the years, owners, GMs and coaches have whiffed on some picks and uncovered some of the franchise’s diamonds in the rough. Late Junes in Cleveland have been a long, strange trip for local basketball fans.

This year, the Cavaliers look to reload through the Draft, where they have four of the top 34 picks. Cleveland landed a pair of aces last summer and can expedite their return to the postseason with another solid night on Thursday.

While we’re on the clock, let’s take a look at the weird, wild history of Cavalier drafts …



Before the Cavaliers ever took part in an official NBA Draft, they had to field a squad – so in the 1970 Expansion Draft they put together a team of players – some notable (Bingo Smith, Johnny Egan, Walt Wesley) and some not (Bobby Lewis, Don Ohl).

One player – Butch Beard – was drafted twice before he ever arrived in Cleveland.

He was chosen No. 10 overall by the Atlanta Hawks in 1969, but was then selected by a higher power – Uncle Sam – one year later. With the Vietnam War raging, Beard was drafted, but luckily served his stretch at Fort Knox. When he was done, the Cavaliers chose him with their first pick in the Expansion Draft. He played 83 games with Cleveland, made the All-Star team in 1972 and was eventually part of the 1974-75 World Champion Golden State Warriors.

 



FitchThe original head coach of the Cavaliers was Bill Fitch, a Midwestern guy and former Marine Corps drill instructor who liked players from the rough-and-tumble Big Ten. Of the first five Cleveland drafts, three of their top picks – John Johnson (Iowa), Jim Brewer (Minnesota) and Campy Russell (Michigan) – were Big Ten guys.

Before he was done, Fitch had drafted 15 players from the Big 10 and 11 players overall from schools in Ohio.

In the Cavaliers history, the Big 10 has provided the most first-rounders: (Johnson, Brewer, Russell, Tim McCormick {1984, No. 12 overall, Michigan}, Jamal Crawford {2000, No. 8 overall, Michigan} and Shannon Brown {2006, No. 25 overall, Michigan State}).

The Cavaliers have spent more first round picks on former Wolverines than from any other college. However, the last Ohio State player drafted by the Wine and Gold was Jim Ellinghausen in the 8th round, No. 166 overall pick in 1980.

 



The Cavaliers Miracle of Richfield team had its share of colorful characters, including John Lambert, who was Cleveland’s top pick – No. 15 overall – out of Southern California in 1975.

Lambert had matinee idol good looks, but when he finally reached the screen, his chiseled features were never seen. Lambert played six seasons with the Cavaliers and also played a “Sleestack” on the appropriately short-lived pre-historic children’s show, “Land of the Lost” – (which was remade with Will Ferrell in 2009).

At least he didn’t get cast in the role of “Chaka.”

 



In 1977, the Cavaliers drafted a scrappy guard from Rutgers by the name of Ed Jordan.

Of course, he now goes by "Eddie" Jordan – and he faced his former team in the First Round of the Playoffs in three consecutive seasons as head coach of the Washington Wizards. Jordan went on to coach the Sixers in 2009-10 before being replaced by Doug Collins this past season.

 



ACThe Cavaliers used their first ever No. 1 overall pick on Notre Dame’s prolific scorer, Austin Carr.

The Wine and Gold didn’t use another first round choice on a member of the Fighting Irish until 1979, when they used their first two picks on Golden Domers. The first pick – Bruce Flowers – played one year in Cleveland, averaging 4.9 ppg in 53 contests. That year's second-rounder played two seasons with better numbers, but went on to bigger and better things after leaving the Buckeye State.

That man was Bill Laimbeer, and his coach for 41 games for Cleveland in 1981-82 – Chuck Daly – must have seen something he liked. The two won a pair of World Championships with the Detroit Pistons.

(Laimbeer, coincidentally, also once played a Sleestack on “Land of the Lost.”)

 



In 1985, the Cavaliers selected a homegrown player, Charles Oakley – the rugged forward from Virginia Union. But Oak, who played high school ball at Cleveland's John Hay High, never donned a Cavs uniform. Instead, he was shipped to Chicago for the rights to Memphis State forward, Keith Lee.

Lee played two years with the Cavaliers, averaging an underwhelming 6.7 points per contest in 125 games. Oakley went on to win multiple NBA Championships with the Bulls, was an All-Star in 1994 and twice led the league in rebounding.

 



By now, most fans are familiar with the infamous “Stepien Rule” – which essentially forbids teams from trading first round draft picks in back-to-back seasons. In the early 80s, Stepien and the Cavaliers “brain trust” made a series of questionable trades that precipitated that NBA rule – and inadvertently put extra first-rounders in Gordon Gund’s pocket when he purchased the franchise.

WorthyThe deals and their consequences included …

- trading Butch Lee, along with Cleveland’s first-round choice in 1982 to the Lakers in exchange for Don Ford and the Lakers top pick, guard Chad Kinch. The pick L.A. acquired in 1982 turned out to be the No. 1 overall – future Hall of Fame forward James Worthy.

- acquiring guard Mike Bratz from the Dallas Mavericks for a 1984 first rounder who turned out to be Sam Perkins.

-sending Bill Robinzine along with a 1983 first round draft pick (that became Derek Harper) and a 1986 first-rounder (Roy Tarpley) to Dallas in exchange for Richard Washington and Jerome Whitehead.

-dealt Chad Kinch – along with a 1985 first round pick (that became Detlef Schrempf) –to the Mavericks in exchange for guard Geoff Huston and a 1983 third-rounder (Larry Anderson).

 



If the 1985 Draft featured a big blunder by missing out on Oakley, the Cavaliers made up for it the next season, swapping forward Roy Hinson – their 1983 first round pick – and $800,000 for the rights to the top pick in 1986: Brad Daugherty.

Seven picks later, the Cavaliers selected high-flying two-guard Ron Harper from Miami of Ohio.

And later that day, they made a deal with Dallas for the No. 25 pick – a smallish, slowish guard from Georgia Tech named Mark Price.

Daugherty went on to be a five-time All-Star, but four of the next six players chosen in that Draft attained infamy in a less productive way.

Maryland's Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose before ever playing a game for the Celtics and William Bedford, Chris Mashburn and Roy Tarpley had more than their share of off-the-court problems before their forgettable careers came to a close.

 



The 1987 Draft produced a pair of political picks. The Cavaliers top pick in that Draft was a point guard from California named Kevin Johnson. K.J. played just one year with Cleveland, but went on to a productive career with the Suns. He is currently the mayor of Sacramento, fighting to keep the Kings in California’s capital.

Forty-five selections later, the Cavaliers tabbed Chris Dudley, who played 16 seasons in the NBA (three in Cleveland). Nine years after he retired, Dudley – whose father was the U.S.’s Ambassador to Denmark during the Nixon and Ford administrations – ran for governor of Oregon. He lost by a single percentage point.

 



IlgauskasTen years after choosing the most prolific big man in franchise history, the Cavaliers hit big with another center that would also be selected multiple times to play in the mid-season classic, Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

Big Z would go on to make two All-Star squads and be the first big man to lead Cleveland to the NBA Finals – going eight years between Playoff appearances. He left this offseason as the Cavaliers’ all-time games-played leader, surpassing former GM, Danny Ferry.

 



Although Ilgauskas was chosen in 1996, foot surgery kept him from playing his rookie season. So in 1997, he joined the Cavaliers trio of picks – Derek Anderson, Brevin Knight and Cedric Henderson – in a lineup that produced four players in the Schick Rookie Game at the All-Star Game in New York that year.

Z was named MVP of that contest, netting a game-high 18 points. Ilgauskas was also one of three rookies to play in all 82 games (81 starts) that season. Later that year, Z went on to great success against Indiana's Rick Smits in the First Round of the Playoffs – averaging 17.2 points and 7.5 boards per game against the veteran center.

 



LangdonIn 1999, the Cavaliers had a bittersweet Draft. They had the 8th and 11th overall picks. One, Andre Miller, would go on to have a stellar NBA career that is still productive to this day. The other, Trajan Langdon, didn’t find success until he left the country.

Miller, most recently the backup point guard in Denver, is still the only Cavalier ever to lead the league in assists – doing so three years after being drafted.

Langdon struggled in three seasons with the Cavaliers, averaging just 5.4 ppg in 119 contests. But the Alaskan Assassin did have some success overseas. He was named Finals MVP after winning the Euroleague Title with CSKA Moscow. Two autumns ago, the erstwhile “Alaskan Assassin” scored 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting as CSKA Moscow topped the Cavs, 90-87, in a preseason matchup.

 



In the Cavaliers’ first Draft of the 21st century, the 2009-10 Sixth Man of the Year was a Cleveland Cavalier for less than an hour.

Michigan sharpshooter, Jamal Crawford, was tabbed with the No. 8 overall pick. But before the night was over, the Cavaliers swapped him for the player one pick earlier by the Bulls – center Chris Mihm from Texas.

Crawford has played for four squads, most recently the Atlanta Hawks. Mihm made the All-Rookie Second Team and played four years with the Cavs – averaging a modest 7.1 points and 5.0 boards in 207 games. He’s probably best remembered on the North Coast for then-coach John Lucas’ raspy mispronunciation of his last name.

 



The Cavaliers had another tough Draft night in 2001, when Lucas used the No. 8 overall pick on a raw seven-footer from Oak Hill Academy – DeSagana Diop. The Senegalese center was dubbed “Baby Shaq” by Lucas, but never came within a fraction of living up to that moniker.

After three frustrating seasons in Cleveland, the good-natured big man signed with Dallas, where he eventually got within a game of an NBA title. He played in New Jersey, returned to Dallas and currently plays in Charlotte for Paul Silas, his coach during his last two seasons in Cleveland.

 



With the Cavaliers looking to build off a strong Draft in 2003, they went for a versatile senior from Oregon named Luke Jackson with the No. 10 overall selection in 2004.

Anderson VarejaoJackson, a two-sport star in Eugene, never found his footing with the Cavaliers – or in the NBA, for that matter. He played just 46 games in two years with Cleveland, averaging 2.7 ppg.

But that Draft proved to be very beneficial for the Cavaliers, who traded Tony Battie and two future second rounders for Drew Gooden, Stephen Hunter and Orlando’s second-rounder, an unknown Brazilian big named Anderson Varejao.

Instead of serving as apprentice for that year’s No. 1 overall pick – Dwight Howard – the Wild Thing went on to become a Cavaliers fixture and local star. Varejao was named All-Defensive second team in 2010, is among the franchise’s rebounding leaders and, as Cleveland’s starting center again this year, played at an All-Star level before an injury abbreviated his season.

 

 



In 2006, the Cavaliers tabbed Michigan State's Shannon Brown in the first round and discovered Daniel Gibson in the second.

Brown battled nagging injuries throughout his rookie season and occasionally showed glimpses of the off-the-charts athleticism that made him the No. 25 overall selection as a sophomore. Part of a deadline deal later that season, Brown made two more stops before finding a home in L.A. – where he won two titles with the Lakers. He played in only 38 games with the Cavs.

Daniel GibsonGibson – the No. 42 overall selection – made himself a household name by the end of his rookie season, gaining momentum through each round of the 2007 NBA Playoffs. In the deciding Game 6 against Detroit in the Eastern Conference Finals, Gibson scored 19 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter and propelled Cleveland into the NBA Finals.

Gibson remains one of the top three-point shooters in the league and an integral part of the Cavaliers backcourt rotation.

 



In 2011, after suffering through one of the toughest campaigns in franchise history, the Cavaliers went into the Draft Lottery in Secaucus, N.J. with two lottery picks – the second acquired via a trade that sent Mo Williams and Jamario Moon to the Clippers in exchange for their unprotected first-rounder.

After finishing 19-63, the Wine and Gold had a 19.9 percent chance of landing the top pick. They had a 2.8 percent chance with L.A.’s.

But on May 17, Nick Gilbert – the 14-year-old son of Dan Gilbert – stepped into all-time Cavaliers’ lore.

Nick, who represented the Cavs on stage, is the 2011 National Children’s Tumor Foundation Ambassador and has boldly battled this disease his entire life. Resplendent in a sport coat, stylish specs and a Cavaliers bowtie, Nick etched the phrase “What’s not to like?” into Cleveland’s sports vernacular.

The reason the rhetorical question will live on is because of that night’s end results – with the Cavaliers capturing the No. 4 overall pick with their selection and shocking the NBA world by landing the No. 1 with the Clippers’.

Kyrie IrvingThose picks, as we now know, turned into Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson.

All Irving did in his first year in Cleveland was win the Rookie of the Year Award in a landslide after one of the best freshman seasons in team and league history. Thompson was All-Rookie second team, starting 25 games while ranking as one of the top rookie rebounders in his class.

 



The Cavaliers will have a quartet of picks to work with on Thursday, but their Draft bounty doesn’t end there.

Moving forward, in 2013, the Cavs have their own first round pick, plus Miami’s first rounder (1-10 protected) and the right to swap that pick with the Lakers pick (a stipulation in the Ramon Sessions deal). Cleveland also has a chance to get Sacramento’s pick (1-13 protected), plus the Cavs’ own second-round pick as well as Orlando’s second-round choice.

In 2014, the Wine and Gold get their own first round pick and may have Miami’s (1-10 protected) if it wasn’t already received in prior year and/or Sacramento’s if not already received in prior year (1-12 protected). Again the Cavs have their own second round pick plus Orlando’s second round pick.

In 2015, the Cavs have their own first rounder, plus Miami’s and/or Sacramento’s protected picks if they haven’t yet received them.

And in 2016, Cleveland has its own first round pick and again may have Miami’s and/or Sacramento’s first rounder if not received, plus the Cavs’ own second round pick.


Suffice to say: Thursday evening should mark a fun Draft night for the Wine and Gold.

The first of many.