Cleveland Sports Franchises: Cleveland Cavaliers
April 13, 2011 1 Comment
The Cavaliers first began play in the NBA in 1970, as an expansion team under the ownership of Nick Mileti. Playing their first season at Cleveland Arena under head coach Bill Fitch, they compiled a league-worst 15-67 record. However, the following seasons saw the Cavaliers gradually improve their on-court performance, thanks to season-by-season additions of talented players such as Bingo Smith, Jim Chones, and more. In the 1975-76 season, with newly acquired Nate Thurmond, Fitch led the team to a 49-33 record and a division title. Making their first ever playoff appearance, the team clinched their first Central Division title, and won their first round series against the Washington Bullets before falling to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. Cleveland won 43 games in the next two seasons, but both years resulted in early playoff exits. After a 30-52 season in 1978-79, Fitch resigned as head coach.
After a brief period of ownership shifts and threats of relocation, the Cavs hired George Karl as head coach, and finally returned to the playoffs in 1985, only to lose to eventual Eastern Conference champs, the Boston Celtics. In 1986, Karl was fired after 66 games, capping off a long period of frequent coaching turnovers in the organization. In a seven season period, the Cavs had 9 head coaches. The only playoff appearance during this time was the aforementioned ’85 seasons under Karl.
In 1986, the Cavaliers acquired Brad Daugherty, Mark Price, Ron Harper, and Larry Nance. These players formed the core of a team who, under the direction of new head coach Lenny Wilkens, went to the playoffs eight times in the next nine years, including three 50-plus win seasons. In 1989 and 1992, the resurgent Cavs faced a Michael Jordan-led Bulls team, and fell to them in exciting 5 and 6 game series, respectively.
Soon after this, the Cavaliers entered a period of decline. With the retirements and departures of Nance, Daugherty, and Price, the team lost much of its dominance and were no longer able to contest strongly during the playoffs. After the 1992-93 season, in which the Cavs racked up a 54-28 regular season record but suffered an early exit from the playoffs in the semi-finals to the Bulls, Wilkens left Cleveland to coach the Atlanta Hawks.
Following the hiring of Mike Fratello as head coach starting with the 1993-94 season, the Cavs became one of the NBA’s best defensive teams under the leadership of pointguard Terrell Brandon. But the offense, which was a half-court “slow down” tempo installed by Fratello, met with mixed success. Although the Cavaliers made regular playoff appearances, they were unable to advance beyond the first round.
The Cavs would miss the playoffs for the first time in five years in 1997 going just 40 and 42. The next season was the beginning of a blunder-filled decade for the Cavs. In the 1996 draft the Cavs selected Vitaly Potapanko with the 12th pick, passing on Kobe Bryant who was selected next, they also drafted Zydrunas Illgauskas that year with pick 20. That same off-season the Cavs would trade Brandon in part of a three-team deal which landed them Shawn Kemp.
Initially the Kemp trade looked like it might benefit the Cavs, they got back to the playoffs but lost in four to Indiana, and they won 47 games that season. Kemp would start to become a problem for the team, his production dropped as his alcoholism grew. Kemps problems eventually lead to him being traded to Portland.
The Cavs problems would end here, from 98-04 the Cavs never had a winning season, nor did they make the playoffs. But every thing changed in 2003 when the Cavs once again landed the first overall pick in the draft and took hometown hero Lebron James.
James’ first year in Cleveland saw the team improve from 17 wins to 35 wins, but the team once again failed to make the post season. The following season the Cavs won 42 games for their first winning season since 97-98, but it wasn’t enough to get them into the post season. Finally in 2006 the Cavs won 50 games and made in back to the NBA playoffs after an eight-year absence. The team would beat the Wizards in the first round but would lose to the Pistons in the second.
Going into the 2006-07 season the Cavs had high hopes, but the team once again won only 50 games which was a disappointment to many fans. The playoffs would make every Cavs fan forget about the regular season. The Cavs would get their first ever franchise sweep as they swept the Wizards in four games, than they would beat the New Jersey Nets to get to the Conference finals for just the second time in franchise history. The Cavs once again faced the Pistons, and with the Pistons having won the first two games in Detroit with the series switching back to Cleveland. It looked dismal for the Cavs. The Cavaliers however would respond, the Cavs would win the next four games, including a game five double overtime thriller which James would go for 48 points, and a game six which seen second round pick Daniel Gibson go for 31 points.
By beating the Pistons the Cavaliers reached the NBA finals for the first time, however they would go against the most successful team of its era, the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs toyed with the Cavs for much of the series, and allowed the score to indicate that game was close, which wasn’t the case the Spurs had complete control of the games. The Spurs would win their 4th title, and the Cavs were sent back dejected in the NBA playoffs once again.
In 2008-09, after taking the Boston Celtics to a seventh game, the Cavaliers entered the season with high expectations as LeBron James continued to establish himself as the best player in the NBA. Despite a 90-85 loss on the road to the Celtics, the Cavaliers started the season strong, posting a 26-5 record through the first two months of the season, that had them atop the Eastern Conference, highlighted by an 11 game winning streak. The Cavaliers would go on to finish the season with a franchise best 66-16 record, earning home court throughout the playoffs, where they posted a 39-2 record on the season. Meanwhile Mike Brown was named Coach of the Year and LeBron James won his first ever MVP award as he became the fourth player in NBA history to lead his team in all five major statistical categories (total points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks) in one season. Ousting Detroit in the first round, the Cavs succumbed to the Magic in a five game series to end their stellar season.
Though eliminated in the 2010 playoffs in an exciting six game conference finals with Boston, the future of LeBron James and the Cavaliers would take center stage hanging over the remainder of the NBA Playoffs. When the free agency period began, James set up space in an office as teams came to court him. The City of Cleveland hoped they had a home court advantage, with the slogan, “Born Here, Plays Here, and Stays Here” They even had local celebrities and politicians serenade the King with a We Are the World like song, hoping they could win his heart. However, flash mobs, money and love were not enough as LeBron James in a Televised special announced he would join friends Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade with the Miami Heat. The same fans who showered LeBron with love not felt like a scorned lover as they burnt his jersey and tore down the sign that become a symbol of downtown Cleveland. Owner Dan Gilbert expressed his frustrations with a rambling email directed at the two time MVP, questioning his heart and desire while blaming him for not being able to win a ring with the Cavaliers.
Given a terrible Lebron-less season that has come to a close, there is much heart mending and roster bolstering to be done to boost the morale of a formerly winning team. With no NBA title in franchise history, this scorned city looks to come back next season and make a statement. But can they put aside their bruised pride to do so? Look for us tomorrow, as we discuss what needs to happen to bring the magic (and no, I don’t mean Dwight Howard’s team) back to Cleveland.