The Cleveland Cavaliers were one of three expansion teams to join the NBA in 1970 and are just captured a first NBA title. Who are their 25 best players?
The Cleveland Cavaliers were one of three expansion franchises to join the NBA in 1970, part of a growth spurt during which the NBA nearly doubled from nine teams to 17 in a span of four years.
Nick Mileti was the original owner and “Cavaliers” beat out such entries as Jays, Foresters and Presidents in a name-the-team contest conducted by the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Playing their first four seasons in the intimate, 9,900-seat Cleveland Arena, the Cavaliers didn’t reach the playoffs until year six, two years into their stay at the Richfield Coliseum south of Cleveland.
But the franchise took a dire turn in 1979, after Mileti sold his shares to minority owner Joe Zingale, who in turn sold the team to Ted Stepien early in 1980.
The Stepien era was disastrous, so much so that the man has an NBA rule named after him. The Stepien Rule is the clause by which teams aren’t allowed to trade first-round picks in consecutive years.
Stepien threatened in 1982 to move the team to Toronto, but George and Gordon Gund stepped into the breach and purchased the team.
The NBA, as a sweetener to the deal, awarded the franchise extra first-round picks from 1983-86 to help more rapidly heal the damage done by Stepien’s wheeling and dealing.
The team made the postseason eight times in a nine year span from 1988-96, moving to the newly built Gund Arena (now known as Quicken Loans Arena) in downtown Cleveland in 1994.
Dan Gilbert purchased the Cavaliers in 2005 and remains the owner.
In 46 seasons, Cleveland has made only 20 playoff appearances.
The Cavs have made the postseason five straight seasons on two separate occasions (1992-96 and 2006-10). Their longest playoff drought was a seven-year stretch from 1999-2005.
And for the long-suffering Cleveland fan base, the Cavaliers provided quite a tonic in June when they captured their first NBA title, becoming the first team to win the NBA Finals after trailing 3-1 and beating the Golden State Warriors in seven games.
The city had been bereft of a champion since the NFL’s Cleveland Browns won the league title in 1964. You have to go back to 1948 to find a World Series championship for MLB’s Cleveland Indians.
Cleveland has lost twice in the NBA Finals. In 2007, the Cavaliers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs and in 2015, Cleveland lost to the Warriors in six games.
They have a winning percentage of .464 (1,728-1,996) in their history, ranking 22nd among the 30 active franchises.
The Cavs have two 60-win seasons, including a franchise-record 66 in 2008-09. Cleveland was 61-21 in 2009-10.
Conversely, the club has had 60 or more losses four times. They set a franchise record with 67 defeats in their inaugural campaign in 1970-71 and tied that mark in 1981-82. The Cavaliers lost 65 games in 2002-03 and 63 in 2010-11.
The Cavaliers have had 10 general managers in 45 seasons, with Wayne Embry the longest-tenured from June 1986 through June 1999. Bill Fitch doubled as coach and general manager from April 1973 through May 1979 and Jim Paxson was GM from June 1999 through April 2005.
Current general manager David Griffin took over the club on an interim basis in February 2014 and has had the position on a permanent basis since May of that year.
Embry is the only Executive of the Year award winner in franchise history, receiving the honor in 1991-92 and 1997-98.
The team has employed 20 different coaches, with Lenny Wilkens (1986-93) the winningest coach in franchise history at 316-258 in the regular season and 18-23 in the playoffs.
Mike Brown served two stints (2005-10 and 2013-14) and was 305-187 with a 42-29 playoff record. The franchise’s first coach, Fitch, was 304-434 from 1970-79 and went 7-11 in the postseason and Mike Fratello (1993-99) went 248-212 and 2-12 in the playoffs.
Current coach Tyronn Lue has been on the job less than a full season, leading the Cavaliers to a 27-14 record after David Blatt was fired in January. His postseason record is 16-5.
Fitch was the NBA Coach of the Year in 1975-76 and Brown took the honor in 2008-09.
Even though they are a relatively young franchise, the Cavaliers have had the No. 1 overall pick six times—the most in league history.
Those picks included Austin Carr of Notre Dame in 1971, North Carolina’s Brad Daugherty in 1986, LeBron James of Saint Vincent-Saint Mary High School in Akron, Ohio, in 2003, Duke’s Kyrie Irving in 2011, Anthony Bennett of UNLV in 2013 and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins in 2014.
Cleveland has picked second once, third once and fourth twice, never selecting fifth.
Here are the 25 best players in the history of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Players had to have appeared in 150 games and averaged a minimum of 20 minutes per game for the team to qualify for this list.