Cleveland Cavaliers Can Learn from Franchise's Only Other Big Three

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterSeptember 17, 2014

LOS ANGELES - 1993:  Mark Price #25 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives against the Los Angeles Lakers during the NBA game circa 1993 at the Forum in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1993 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

The NBA's next Big Three has assembled in Cleveland.

The Cavaliers have enjoyed an historic offseason, first locking up All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving to a five-year max extension. Not long after Irving signed, four-time MVP LeBron James decided to return to his former franchise.

Because two superstars just aren't enough, the Cavs got greedy and completed a trade for Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star forward Kevin Love. He joins Irving and James in what has likely become the NBA's best starting five.

While this is the greatest threesome of talent Cleveland has put together, it certainly isn't the first.

Once upon a time (OK, the late 1980s), the Cavaliers assembled their original Big Three of Mark Price, Brad Daugherty and Larry Nance.

While the two groups are separated by 25 years and six inches of shorts length, there now becomes a unique bond between the Cavaliers' superteams.

Taking a peek back while keeping an eye on the future, here's what today's Cavs trio can learn from yesterday's stars.

The Original Big Three: Price, Daugherty and Nance

Heading into their 1987-88 season, the Cavaliers had made the playoffs just four times in the franchise's 17 years.

While many successful players (Austin Carr, Bingo Smith, World B. Free) had already donned the wine and gold, all failed to turn the Cavs into a perennial playoff contender.

Richard Drew/Associated Press

The 1986 draft helped change all that.

Cleveland came away that night with Daugherty, Price and Ron Harper in what should be considered the best draft in team history.

Daugherty was a 7'0", 245-pound star center from the beginning, collecting All-Rookie first team honors in 1987. Price, just 6'0" and 170 pounds, took over the starting point guard job his second season, averaging 16.0 points and 6.0 assists per game.

The team was starting to take shape, yet needed one final piece to propel them into the playoffs.

That push came in the form of a trade for 6'10", 205-pound power forward Larry Nance. gives us further insight on the deal:

But perhaps it was the final acquisition of power forward Larry Nance that made the Cavaliers go from good to great and led to the most successful era in team history. On Feb. 25, 1988, Cleveland sent Kevin Johnson, Mark West, Tyrone Corbin, a first-round draft choice in 1988 and two second-round picks to Phoenix in exchange for Nance, Mike Sanders and Detroit’s first round pick in 1988.

Nance arrived with just 27 games left in the regular season, but quickly made his mark. A power dunker and elite shot-blocker, Nance combined with Price and Daugherty to lift Cleveland into the postseason for just the fifth time in 18 years.

What followed was the most successful run in franchise history. From 1988 to 1994, the Cavaliers made six trips to the playoffs, including an appearance in the 1991-92 Eastern Conference Finals. The only time Cleveland failed to reach the postseason was in 1990-91 when an ACL tear limited Price to just 16 games.

So what made this group so special and why would today's Cavaliers want to study their success?

Take this quote from then Philadelphia 76ers head coach Fred Carter in a 1993 article by Harvey Araton of The New York Times: "They have no flair. They have no superstar. They have no swagger. They just come out and methodically get the job done."

While this may have been viewed as one of the most backhanded compliments in sports history, it speaks volumes for the way those stars played together.

That night, Cleveland won its 12th straight game, at one time going on a 27-to-1 run that was described as "humiliating dominance".

Price was a talented scorer but could also use the pick-and-roll to set up teammates as well as any guard in that era. Daugherty chipped in his share of scoring and rebounding but was also viewed as one of the best passing big men in the game. Nance regularly put up gaudy scoring numbers, yet was also a three-time member of the NBA's All-Defense Team.

The point being, each of Cleveland's star players didn't just focus on one area; they excelled in many.

If Price's shot wasn't falling, he knew Daugherty and Nance could make up the offense themselves. If Daugherty got into foul trouble, Nance could slide over and protect the rim in his place. This was a group that not only meshed their own talents together, but were willing to do whatever was best for the team.

Despite heartbreaking losses to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls year after year, Cleveland's trio would routinely come back stronger the next season.

While they may have never taken home a championship, Price, Daugherty and Nance will forever be remembered in Cavaliers lore.

The New Big Three: LeBron, Love and Irving

Mark Duncan/Associated Press

In this era, the level of athleticism and talent has been raised.

It's pretty safe to say that James, Love and Irving should be better than Price, Daugherty and Nance. While the three of them made All-Star teams, none were considered the best at their positions like James and Love are now, and Irving could one day be.

After all, James is the best player in the game today and should go down as one of the greatest of all time. Love is putting up numbers from the power forward position that we've never seen before with his combination of scoring, rebounding and outside shooting. Irving is just 22, yet has already been named MVP of the 2014 All-Star Game and FIBA World Cup.

On paper, this year's group should be far more successful. After all, they have three superstars instead of none. The flair and swagger missing before should most definitely make an appearance now.

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 6:  NBA player LeBron James enjoys a laugh with friends on the sideline at Ohio Stadium during the game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Virginia Tech Hokies on September 6, 2014 in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Ge
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

So why bother studying the boys of the late '80s and early '90s?

They did everything stars should do together but is rarely replicated today: Working together for the greater good.

Price, Daugherty and Nance fit together so seamlessly that it didn't matter who Cleveland placed around them. They shared the ball, played defense, hustled and rebounded as well as any trio in the league. They took pride in assists, not just the baskets that followed.

James, Love and Irving need to put an emphasis on the same elements of the game.

They also need to be just as unselfish as the original trio was. Nobody cared who got the credit or racked up the most stats. There was no smoke-machine spotlight party after victories. Instead, Price, Daugherty and Nance were absolute professionals who showed up to get the job done, not worrying about all the fanfare that could go along with it.

There are going to be nights where Love or Irving may not crack a dozen points given all the scorers around them. Will they be OK sacrificing personal stats for the betterment of the team?

Feb 18, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) during the first quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. The Cavaliers defeated the Sixers 114-85. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Irving claimed this summer while playing for Team USA that he's "all about winning," via Sekou Smith of, and doesn't seem too upset about handing leadership duties over to James.

When talking about overlapping skill sets, James, Love and Irving should do just fine. All three are adept at scoring, having finished in the top 14 of the league. While they can't match Love's rebounding prowess, both Irving and James can serve as primary ball-handler and playmaker.

Cleveland's new Big Three has the skill necessary to go above and beyond anything the original could achieve together, with a championship now locked in their sights.

Having taken lessons from those who came before them, James, Love and Irving could accomplish just that.

Greg Swartz has covered the Cleveland Cavaliers for Bleacher Report since 2010. Connect with him on Twitter for more basketball news and conversation.

All stats provided by unless otherwise noted.


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