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The Teams: Cleveland Cavaliers
Success has always been a finger tip away from this team, from last second heroics by Michael Jordan, to being swept by the Spurs in the finals and all the horrid seasons in between; NBA life has been very tough for the Cleveland Cavaliers and their fans.
The Cavaliers, or Cavs for short, joined the NBA along with the Buffalo Braves, and Portland Trailblazers just before the 1970-71 season.
The first season of Cavs basketball was a dismal one, as they finished with a league worst 15 and 67-record. They would select first in the 1971 draft and select Norte Dames Austin Carr. However, Austin Carr injured his leg and would never recover. Carr who was one of college basketballs greatest players would come no where near that in the NBA, and with his injury the future hopes of the Cavs franchise looked in doubt. The Cavs would get some brighter news their third season as they would finish with a 32 and 50 record and players such as Bingo Smith looked like they could leave the franchise.
In their 5th season the Cavs would finally make the playoffs going 49 and 33, coach Bill Fitch would also be named NBA coach of the year. During the 76 playoffs the Cavs won their first series, a best of seven, vs. Washington, but would lose to the eventual Champion Boston Celtics. The Cavs would have identical 43-39 records during the 76-77, and 77-78 season, make the playoffs both years, but be bounced in the first.
In 1980 Ted Stepien would buy the Cavaliers and usurer in the darkest days in Cavs history. Stepien was an inept owner at best, he would constantly trade away first round draft choices in an attempt to save money. This would lead to a new NBA rule named appropriately enough the Ted Stepien rule, which doesn’t allow teams to trade consecutive first round draft picks. Stepien also refused to give his players per diem money, Per Diem money is money given to the players while the team is on the road so that the players may buy food and other necessities. While at the time per diem money was not league mandated, as it is now, every team in the league gave it to players and had so since the 1949-50 season. This coupled with the constant trading of draft picks angered Cavalier players until most of them wanted to be traded, it also kept free agents away.
Stepien also proposed the idea of renaming the Cleveland Cavaliers the Ohio Cavaliers and playing games not just in Cleveland but Buffalo, New York, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Toronto and Hamilton Ontario.
With all the off the court problems for the Cavaliers came on the court problems as well. During the Stepien era the Cavs never won more than 28 games and were constantly at the bottom of the standings. The poor play by the team kept fans away, this angered Stepien and he threatened to move the team to Toronto and become the Toronto Towers.
During the mid 80s two brothers would save the franchise, and give them to that point their greatest era in franchise history. The two brothers were George and Gordon Gund. During the Gunds first year of ownership the team went 36-46 but made the Playoffs only to lose to the Celtics. The next few years saw the Cavs struggling but nothing like during the Stepien era, the Cavs would get the #1 pick in the 1986 draft and select Brad Daugherty. They would pair Daugherty with second round pick Mark Price, and established veterans’ Ron Harper, and Larry Nance to form the core of, what was to that point, the greatest Cavs team ever assembled.
In 87-88 the Cavs had their first winning season in a decade when they went 42-40, they also made the playoffs but lost to the Bulls in the first round. The Cavs would improve in the 88-89 campaign by winning a franchise best 57 games, but once again they lost to the Bulls. The Cavs would goto the playoffs every year except 90-91 from 88 until 96.
In 1991-92 the Cavs once again won 57 games, and had expectations of an NBA title. Their expectations were heightened when the team Beat the Celtics in the Quarter finals to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals, but once again Michael Jordan and the Bulls would rain on Cleveland Parade. This was the series in which Jordan hit his famous shot over Craig Elho.
The Cavaliers wins would go down for the next four years, but they would make the playoffs. In both the 93 and 94 playoffs the Cavs would have to face the Bulls, and once again the Bulls brought misery to the Cavs. In 1996 the Cavs would win 47 games but lose once again in the playoffs, this time to the Knicks, the team was completely demolished following the season. Mark Price was let go in favor of Terrell Brandon, Brad Daugherty; and Larry Nice both would retire, leaving the Cavs with massive holes to fill.
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.