Cleveland Cavaliers' 1996 Draft: Ever Wonder What If?

Danny DraginCorrespondent IFebruary 23, 2008


They say hindsight is 20-20.  If only the Cavs knew in the 1996 NBA Draft what they know now. 

In '96, the Cavs had a chance to really make an impact in the draft, but instead of taking a shot on a high school player, they went with a player who had put in the time in college. 

Not just any college, but Wright State University.  Yes, that Wright State University.

Vitaly Potapenko became the 12th player selected that year.  His career has never amounted to much, six points and four rebounds per game.  That same year, Cleveland hosted the NBA All-Star Game and and halftime announced the top fifty players of all time.  As expected, Mr. Potapenko was not introduced.

The next selection went to the Hornets and they did take a chance on a high school player.  His name was Kobe Bryant. 

The next pick turned out to be Peja Stojakovic followed by Steve Nash and two picks later, Jermaine O'Neal.  The Cavs did make a smart move with the 20th pick selecting Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

As a Cavs fan, it pains me to think what could have been.  I'm sure Portland fans felt the same way about Michael Jordan and Sam Bowie.  They at least had Clyde Drexler and could at least rationalize that Bowie was the best big man coming out and Drexler and Jordan played the same position.

But as a Cavs fan, any of those four players would have been a much, much better selection than Potapenko.  They have won championships, MVP awards, and have several All-Star game appearances between them.  Vitaly Potapenko is just worth a lot of points in Scrabble.

In defense of the Cavs, their thinking was two high school kids and one foreign player and one player from Canada that played at a very small college all are pretty big risks.  As it turns out, the four of them and Ilgauskas thrown in would make one heck of an NBA team with Nash at the point, Kobe at the two, Peja on the wing, O'Neal at the four and Z in the middle.

None of those players were lottery selections.  But the teams that drafted them, had to feel like they hit the jackpot.  Especially with Kobe Bryant. 

Talk about hindsight being 20-20—how do the Hornet fans feel about not keeping Kobe Bryant?  They traded him to the Lakers and years later have not fully recovered from that. 

So with the Cavs having LeBron James now, should I be too upset about Potapenko?  In Cleveland, we complain about the weather and sports as much as anyone else. 

So yes, not seeing Bryant in a Cavs uniform still burns me.  Not seeing Nash in a Cavs uniform still burns me.  Not seeing O'Neal or Peja lighting it up for the Cavs still burns me.  But the fact that Potapenko still is getting paid to be in the league burns me even more. 

I suppose knowing Detroit fans have the same feelings about Darko Milicic that Cavs fans do with Potapenko makes me smile in a very cynical way.