As we begin a new era in Cavaliers basketball, we can refer to it as The Fourth Run as in the fourth time in their history the Cavs have accumulated enough talent to be taken seriously. Run 1 was the mid-to late 70s, punctuated by the Miracle of Richfield. How sad is it that we refer to a trip to the conference finals as a “Miracle?” Back then only eight teams made the playoffs, so the Cavs only needed to win one series to qualify as a miracle. Anyway, Run 2 was the Brad Daugherty/Mark Price/Larry Nance teams of the late 80s/early 90s, and Run 3 was the LeBron years. As we know, none of these runs resulted in a title. In order to purge any bad karma left over from those days and begin anew, I present the ten biggest villains that played the biggest role in costing the Cavs a title.
This is the first part of a two-part series, featuring villains Nos. 10-6:
10) Reggie Williams: Anyone with knowledge of Cavs history knows about the trade of Ron Harper for Danny Ferry. The Cavs traded Harper, their most athletic player, for a guy who never developed into more than a role player and who played a position where they already had three good players in Daugherty, Nance, and Hot Rod Williams. What people forget is that the Cavs also received Reggie Williams, who was a year removed from being the national player of the year at Georgetown. Williams, who was similar in body and skills to Reggie Miller, was expected to take over at shooting guard for Harper and eventually be as good or even better. He never became a decent pro, not even as good as Ferry. If he had reached his potential, the Cavs probably would have been able to match up better with Jordan’s Bulls.
As a side note, it always seemed to me that Ferry would have succeeded if he had been cast as a high-post center. He was big enough and could shoot and pass well enough that he could have played a role similar to that of Bill Laimbeer. Oh well.
9) Ricky Davis: I could have picked anyone from the Cavs teams of the late 90s or early 00s. If you aren’t old enough to remember, these guys made the Byron Scott teams look like the Bill Russell Celtics. Shawn Kemp comes to mind for making tons of money, spending it all on burgers and coke, and apparently none of it on condoms. But Davis stands out for his infamous attempt to get a triple-double by clanking a shot off the wrong basket and thinking he would be credited with his tenth rebound when he retrieved the ball. Not only selfish, but stupid.
8) J.J. Hickson: Not his fault, really, and there’s no way to know that Danny Ferry actually turned down any trades for a superstar running mate for LeBron because he wanted to keep Hickson around. If the rumors were true, that was the only thing standing in the way of Amar’e Stoudemire, Chris Bosh, or any number of All Stars ending up in Cleveland. I don’t know about you, but at no point in his time with the Cavs did I ever look at Hickson and envision him playing in an All-Star game. The good news is that we still have that pick from Sacramento. If that pick turns into an All-Star, I’ll take Hickson off this list. If we aren’t all dead by then.
7) Hot Rod Williams: One of the first NBA players to sign an offer sheet as a restricted free agent, Williams got a huge deal from Miami, famously announcing “I am a Heat.” The Cavs decided to match the offer, making Williams one of the highest paid players in the NBA. He was a good player, but not that good, and we had Daugherty, Nance, and Ferry. His salary ended up preventing the Cavs from upgrading a roster that was ever so close to beating the Jordan Bulls.
6) Rick Mahorn: The 1988-89 Cavs are best noted for being the victims of The Shot, Michael Jordan’s jumper that won game five of the first round of the playoffs. Jordan’s celebratory leap, with Craig Ehlo collapsing in agony in the background, is an iconic moment in Gatorade commercials. What many forget is that by that point the Cavs were running on fumes and were unlikely to advance much beyond that point even if Jordan had missed. The season really fell apart of February 28, when Mark Price and Rick Mahorn were running down the court side by side and Mahorn threw an elbow to the side of Price’s head. Price, the most important player on the team, had a concussion, missed two games, and was never the same. The Cavs were flying prior to that point, with a record of 42-12 and a huge lead in the race for homecourt in the playoffs. As someone who has watched for forty years, to that point this was the best team in Cavs history. After Price’s concussion, the Cavs never regained the chemistry that made them look like a team of destiny. They were 15-13 from there to the end of the year, lost the top seed to Mahorn’s Pistons, and ended up with a much tougher matchup in the first round as a result.