NBA Draft History: 5 First-Rounders the Cavs Moved to Usher in the LeBron Era
The Cleveland Cavaliers were a historically troubled franchise and couldn't quite be a championship-caliber team until LeBron James came to town.
With that said, there were so many pivotal moves involving the Cavs and historic NBA players that changed the course of the franchise, and helped usher in the LeBron Era.
The circumstances surrounding the five players in the subsequent slides could have made the Cavs better or worse at various stages of its history to miss out on selecting LeBron in the 2003 draft.
When the NBA lottery concept was introduced for the 1985 draft, it was designed to guard against teams "tanking" for prime draft position in that year's draft. It changed the way the nature of the draft forever.
With 1985 as the cutoff year in that context, here are five notable first rounders that played a role and provide crazy "what-if's" in events leading up to the selection of King James.
5. Jamal Crawford
Selected: 2000, No. 7 overall.
Although it took a while for Crawford to establish himself after toiling away on some bad Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks teams, he has developed into an explosive scorer and has thrived when placed in the proper situation.
Most notably, he won the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award as a member of the Atlanta Hawks in the 2009-10 season, scoring 18 points per game off the bench.
Had the Cavs kept Crawford and not dealt him to Chicago for Chris Mihm, Crawford may have gotten an earlier shot at proving himself.
Crawford would have possibly prevented the trade of Brevin Knight, as those two and Andre Miller would have formed an athletic, play-making perimeter core.
It may have kept the Cavs relevant enough in the early 2000s to be out of the running for LeBron James in the lottery.
Speaking of Miller...
4. Andre Miller
Selected No. 8 overall, 1999
After leading the NBA in assists in his third season in 2001-02, Miller was traded in what was one of the worst moves in the history of the Cavs front office.
In exchange for sending Miller and Bryant Stith to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Cavs received Harold Jamison and (drum roll...)
A perennial trade piece throughout his career, Miller always seems to be leaving town right when a team is about to break through for success. He is around for the rebuilding period for franchises, then is traded.
As a result, Miller has never made it out of the first round of the playoffs despite stellar postseason numbers, averaging 15.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game in 46 games.
The Miller trade essentially allowed the Cavs to tank the following season enough to land LeBron James in the 2003 draft.
However, it would have been helpful for James to have better pass-first PG options than Jeff McInnis and an aging Eric Snow to start his career.
3. Charles Oakley
Selected No. 9 overall, 1985
Imagine a front line rotation with Oakley, three-time All-Star Larry Nance and 1986 No. 1 overall pick Brad Daugherty.
It might have gotten the Cavs over the hump when they were consistently in the playoffs in the 1980s and 1990s.
However, the Cavs traded the relatively unknown Oakley on draft day. As a senior at Virgina Union, Oakley averaged 24 points and 17 rebounds. His rights were traded for Ennis Whatley and the rights to Kevin Lee.
Don't worry, I don't know who these players are either, but Oakley certainly would have helped the cause more than them.
Given Oakley's elite rebounding ability, renowned swagger, and physicality, alongside the dynamic Daugherty and Cavs legend Mark Price, the Cavs may have gone further in the playoffs from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s.
Oakley went on to be part of the All-Rookie First Team in 1986, and put up 14.5 points and 13 rebounds in his first full season as a starter.
He had a fine NBA career that ended in 2004 and wound up 21st all-time in total rebounds with 12,205.
2. Ron Harper
Selected No. 8 overall, 1986
Harper was an absolute stud coming out of Miami University. He was the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year twice.
Barry Hecker, the Cavaliers director of scouting at the time, compared Harper to Julius Irving, and said he was capable of scoring 30 points per night.
Starting all 82 games as a rookie, Harper put up nearly 23 points, five rebounds, and five assists per game. It was also No. 1 overall pick Brad Daugherty's first season.
That year, the team also acquired Mark Price in the second round of a draft day trade with the Dallas Mavericks.
With the core of Harper, Price, Brad Daugherty and Larry Nance, the Cavs were set for the foreseeable future.
Then something shocking happened. Harper was traded, along with two first round picks and a second round pick, to the Los Angeles Clippers for Danny Ferry and Reggie Williams.
Ferry was expected to be a stud to get the Cavs over the hump, but ended up being a bust as a No. 2 overall pick.
Meanwhile, Harper blew out his knee in LA but joined the Chicago Bulls thereafter and became a five-time NBA champion with the Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers, all under head coach Phil Jackson.
The Cavs didn't reach the Finals until LeBron James came to town.
You win some, you lose some.
1. Kevin Johnson
The Cavs decided to part ways with Johnson after he lost a training camp battle to second-year player Mark Price for the starting point guard gig and rode the pine mostly as a rookie.
So many what-if scenarios are in play here, and it's pretty fascinating to break down.
Had the Cavs held on to Johnson, they could have had two wonderful passers who could also seemingly score at will on the perimeter to team with Brad Daugherty.
A small lineup with Price and Johnson on the floor at the same time would have been devastating with Price playing off the ball and Johnson creating off the dribble.
As a previous slide mentioned, they could have also had Charles Oakley.
At the same time, the Cavs wouldn't have had valuable big man Larry Nance, whose number 22 is retired by the Cavs.
He played incredible defense and was a very efficient scorer, and was part of the Johnson trade in the middle of the 1987-88 season.
The draft pick the Cavs gave up in the Johnson trade turned into Dan Majerle, who was a deadly sharpshooter that played a huge role in the Suns' run to the NBA Finals in the 1992-93 season.
Different moves along the way may have changed the Cavs' fortunes, and may have ultimately resulted in missing out on the LeBron James Sweepstakes in 2003.
Johnson was the best player the Cavs "missed out" on, but they still built a contender for a solid decade.
It's difficult to criticize any moves along the way, especially since the franchise today again seems headed in the right direction.
However, in the spirit of the NBA draft, it's fun to kick around some crazy "what-if's," isn't it?
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!