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Lightning Strikes Thrice for Embry, Cavs in Bountiful 1986 Draft
The Cavaliers historically bountiful Draft of 1986 started out with the Cavaliers having just the 8th overall selection after finishing with 53 losses the previous season.
Gene Littles took over for George Karl in 1985-86 as the Cavaliers limped to the finish line with 11 losses in their final 15 games.
Atop the previous Draft, the Cavs selected Cleveland native Charles Oakley with the 9th overall pick, but immediately dealt him to Chicago for Keith Lee. But that year’s incoming class wasn’t all bad. After tabbing Calvin Duncan with the 30th overall pick, the Cavaliers had struck gold with a kid named John Williams from Tulane at No. 45 – they just didn’t know it yet.
Harry Weltman was replaced by Wayne Embry, who took the job just in time for the 1986 Draft. And his deals leading up to that Tuesday in June altered the franchise forever.
Embry didn’t wait long to begin dealing, sending high-flying forward Roy Hinson along with $800,000 to the 76ers for the rights to the top pick in 1986 – a pick Philly acquired seven years earlier when they sent Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, Kobe’s father, to the Clippers.
Despite an outstanding college career at North Carolina, Brad Daugherty wasn’t the sexy pick at the top of that year’s Draft, but he was the obvious pick for Cleveland. As it turned out, the Celtics would take the late Len Bias out of Maryland at No. 2. Two days later, Bias tragically died of a cocaine overdose. Three of the next five picks – William Bedford, Chris Mashburn and Roy Tarpley – also struggled with personal problems before their careers came to a close.
Seven picks after selecting Daugherty, the Cavaliers snagged a skinny swingman from Miami (OH) named Ron Harper – the MAC’s Player of the Year. The Dayton native came to Cleveland having shattered several school and conference records while leading the RedHawks to the NCAA Tourney as a senior.
When the Second Round came, Cleveland’s newly-minted GM pulled another rabbit out of his hat – sending a 1989 Second Rounder (Jeff Hodge was later selected) to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for a small-ish, slow-ish, sleepy-eyed sharpshooter from Georgia Tech named Mark Price.
At No. 29, with their own pick, the Cavaliers drafted Richmond swingman Johnny Newman – and rounded out that year’s class, for the record, with Kevin Henderson (50, Cal State Fullerton), Warren Martin (73, North Carolina), Ben Davis (96, Gardner-Webb University), Gilbert Wilburn (119, New Mexico State) and Ralph Dalton (142, Georgetown).
Less than three weeks later, Embry signed the man charged with developing his bumper crop of young talent – and again he hit a bullseye, hiring Lenny Wilkens – who’d spent part of his Hall of Fame playing career with the Cavaliers and won a title with Seattle as coach – as the 10th head coach in team history.
As a team, the young Cavaliers took their lumps that year – finishing 31-51 – but it was obvious that all this group needed was time.
Harper led the squad in scoring at 22.9ppg, with Daugherty – the team’s leading rebounder at 8.1rpg – right behind at 15.3ppg. That team would be galvanized by the previous season’s pick and the team’s third-leading scorer, Hot Rod Williams, and a January free agent acquisition named Craig Ehlo.
Both Daugherty and Harper were named to the league’s All-Rookie First Team, with Harper being edged out for Rookie of the Year by Indiana’s Chuck Person.
Lenny’s squad showed signs of what they were destined to become the following season – posting a 42-40 mark, best since the Miracle squad. And midway through the campaign, Embry engineered another franchise-altering deal – sending 1987’s No. 7 overall pick, point guard Kevin Johnson, along with forwards Mark West and Tyrone Corbin to the Suns in exchange for forwards Larry Nance and Mike Sanders.
In the long-term, Nance would reach two All-Star Games three All-Defensive Team nods with Cleveland. In the short term, he helped the Cavs win 11 of their last 13 games in a final flurry to reach the Playoffs.
The up-and-coming Cavs fell to Michael Jordan and the Bulls in five First Round contests, setting the table for an Eastern Conference rivalry for the ages.
The following year, Cleveland won a franchise-record 57 games – including 22 straight at the Coliseum. The squad boasted four All-Stars: Price, Daugherty, Nance and Lenny Wilkens as coach.
But that season ended with Jordan splashing home the game- and series-winning shot over Ehlo in an iconic moment that ended the Cavaliers season and created an NBA legend.
Less than a month into the following season, with the Cavaliers unexpectedly dealing Harper and a pair of first rounders in exchange for former Duke star Danny Ferry and journeyman forward Reggie Williams. He would go on to win five combined NBA Championships with the Bulls and Lakers.
Despite the Bulls roadblock, Daugherty and Price proceeded to have prolific careers with the Cavs.
Daugherty – whose No. 43 was retired on March 1, 1997 – is still the only player in franchise history to averaged at least 20 points and 10 boards in a season, doing so in three straight campaigns (1990-93) and was named an Eastern Conference All-Star in each year – one of five career nods to the midseason classic.
The Cavs reached the Playoffs in all but two of Daugherty’s seasons with the franchise and despite having his career cut short at just 28 by a herniated lumbar disc still ranks 3rd in points scored, 6th in scoring average, 5th in field goals made and attempted, 2nd in field goal percentage, free throws made and attempted, 6th in offensive rebounding, 2nd in defensive rebounding and 3rd overall.
Price – whose No. 25 was retired on November 13, 1999 – retired as one of the greatest pure shooters in NBA history from both the stripe and beyond the arc. Price was named an Eastern Conference All-Star four times (1989, 1992-94) and is the only Cavalier besides LeBron James to make the All-NBA Team, including First Team in 1992-93.
Aside from 1990-91, when an ACL injury limited him to just 16 games, the Cavaliers made the Playoffs or won at least 42 games in every year that Price was a starter. The Oklahoma native led the league in free throw shooting twice and won the Three-Point Shootout in back-to-back seasons.
Price is the franchise’s all-time leader in free throw percentage, 5th in all-time scoring and ranks second to only LeBron James in three-pointers made and attempted, steals and assists.
Just for icing on the cake – and to prove once again that Wayne Embry is truly a basketball genius – it’s worth noting that Johnny Neman (remember, the Cavs 1986 pick at No. 29) played more games than any of the three uber-accomplished guys from the same class.
Newman – who came to the pros after leading his Spiders past Charles Barkley and Auburn in the NCAA Tournament – played just 59 games for Cleveland as a rookie, but would go on to appear in exactly 1,100 more with nine different teams (including another stint with the Cavs in 1998-99) before wrapping up his 17-year career with the Mavericks in 2001-02, having piled up 12,740 points.
A five-time NBA All-Star, NBA Champion, two-time NBA Executive of the Year – and inaugural member of the Cavaliers Wall of Honor – Wayne Embry has proven over and over again why he’s a Hall of Famer and hoops legend. And one of the brightest moments on his sterling resume came on a June afternoon back in 1986.