Like many other NBA franchises, the Cleveland Cavaliers are still hoping to lift the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the first time. They’ve had great players who’ve gotten them within striking distance, particularly of late, but the pinnacle has continuously eluded the franchise.
The great players who’ve donned a Cleveland Cavaliers jersey shouldn’t be forgotten just because they didn’t bring a championship to a city so desperately starved for one. After all, the Cavaliers perhaps have their best chance at a championship yet thanks to a player currently on the roster who’s already the greatest Cavalier of all time, so there’s reason enough to be hopeful.
With that said, let’s take a look at the all-Time starting five for the storied Cleveland Cavaliers in order to admire the greats who’ve played a large part in shaping the franchise’s history on the bank of the Cuyahoga River.
Point Guard: Mark Price (1986-1995)
When Mark Price entered the league, many doubted his ability to succeed at the highest level. In the minds of many, his lack of elite height, strength and speed meant he’d never be much of a contributor.
His doubters couldn’t have been more wrong. Many of the best seasons in Cavaliers history came with Price running the point. Never deterred by his lack of size in a league with an abundance of it, Price frequently barreled into the paint and used his craftiness to finish over the outstretched arms of much bigger defenders.
If a big man ever got the better of Price at the rim by sending him sprawling to the floor after a hard foul, it didn’t much matter. Price was always money at the free throw line, shooting 90.4 percent from the stripe in his career.
Equally capable of pulling up to drill a mid-range jumper and getting all the way to the rim, Price was always a scoring threat. His craftiness helped him find open teammates as well. He averaged 6.7 assists over the course of his 12-year career, but that doesn’t do justice to how well he saw the floor. If a defense got caught watching Price dribbling around, you’d quickly know it because he’d hit a teammate for a wide-open bucket.
Price finished his career as a four-time All-Star, and he was named First Team All-NBA for the 1992-1993 season. The diminutive point guard never won a championship with the Cavs or any other team, but he goes down as one of the most exciting players Cavs fans have ever had the pleasure of cheering for.
Before all is said and done, Price’s spot might be taken over by Kyrie Irving. Better enjoy it at the top for now, Mark.
Shooting Guard: Austin Carr (1971-1980)
Looking back on Austin Carr’s NBA career is sad, not because he was never any good, but because it’s completely reasonable to believe his career trajectory took a turn for the worse after suffering multiple foot injuries during his rookie season.
Rather than consistently improving and becoming the best version of himself on the basketball court in the years that should’ve been his prime, Carr’s stats mostly declined after his first three seasons in the league.
Carr was solid enough to play 11 seasons in The Association, but a solid career doesn’t exactly cut it for a man drafted first overall in the 1971 NBA Draft. It’s not fair to call Carr a disappointment and simply gloss over the fact that he played a role in helping the Cavaliers reach several franchise milestones. He was a part of the first Cavaliers team in franchise history to finish with a winning record and make the playoffs in the 1975-1976 season.
After watching Carr obliterate the competition in college at Notre Dame, it’s difficult to look at Carr’s NBA career and not think he could’ve been much better if the breaks had just gone his way.
Small Forward: LeBron James (2003-2010 / 2014-Present)
This spot isn’t even close to being up for grabs, and LeBron James is doing nothing but widening the gap with each additional season spent donning a Cavaliers jersey. James was a star long before he entered the league, and he’s more often than not been the league’s biggest star since stepping onto the world’s biggest basketball stage.
His greatness has caused him to be compared to Michael Jordan his entire career, which is flattering albeit not entirely apt. There’s never been a player quite like LeBron James in the NBA. Magic Johnson is as close as it gets, but there’s still something amiss with that comparison.
It’s somewhat likely that James will deliver the city of Cleveland its first ever NBA championship, further solidifying his already tremendous legacy. Assuming the Cavs stay healthy next season, it could finally be the year.
James will undoubtedly go down as one of the top basketball players of all time when he decides to retire. Some might argue that he’s the best player to ever play the game when all is said and done.
Power Forward: Larry Nance (1987-1994)
Larry Nance didn’t start his career in Cleveland, but when he was traded by the Phoenix Suns to the Cavaliers in the 1987-1988 season, it was obvious that Nance was exactly what the team needed to reach new heights. Cleveland made the playoffs in six of the seven seasons Nance spent as a member of the Cavs.
Nance was a player who frequently posterized players who dared contest his dunk attempts, and he was a guy who was rarely posterized himself. Always a high flyer, Nance’s game was electric. On any given crash to the basket with the ball in his hands, he was capable of bringing an arena full of people to its feet with an authoritative dunk. He averaged 17.1 points during his career, many of them breath-taking dunks.
Offense is always more fun to talk about, but Nance’s defense deserves special mention. He was a defensive anchor for the Cavs, making ball-handlers think twice before bringing the ball into the paint. He averaged 2.2 blocks over 13 NBA seasons.
While the addition of Nance never brought the city of Cleveland that long-coveted title, the franchise surely would’ve been worse off if he’d never been traded away from the desert.
Center: Brad Daugherty (1986-1994)
My recency bias almost caused me to give this spot to Zydrunas Ilgauskas, but that would be a slap in the face to Brad Daugherty. The first overall pick in the 1986 NBA Draft was never able to play much outside of the paint on either end of the floor, but that made him a perfect fit in the frontcourt with Larry Nance, who was able to play more comfortably in the high post.
Slow, plodding big men are becoming few and far between in today’s NBA, but Daugherty was able to dominate as one during his playing days. He didn’t have a vast arsenal of post moves, but he had nice touch on his shot, and it turns out that it’s difficult to block a turnaround jumper by a true seven-footer.
A large amount of Daugherty’s points were created on the offensive glass. He was a hard guy to box out, and he seemed to understand how the ball was going to carom off the rim better than most.
On defense, Daugherty didn’t block many shots, but he used his “verticality” to his advantage long before it became a major talking point like it is in today’s NBA.
Daugherty was a double-double machine in his eight seasons in The Association, averaging 19.0 points and 9.5 rebounds. Cleveland has had its fair share of draft picks taken first overall over the course of franchise history, and Daugherty was one who didn’t disappoint.
LeBron James alone makes any all-time team formidable, but throw in a tremendous one-two punch like Nance and Daugherty in the post and a dynamic duo like Price and Carr on the perimeter, and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ all-time starting lineup quickly becomes one that would be incredibly tough to beat for many franchises.
Previous all-time starting fives: Bulls, Pistons, Thunder-Sonics, Magic, Mavericks, Heat, Lakers, Wizards, Pacers, Raptors, Knicks, Bucks, Nuggets, Celtics, Grizzlies, Rockets, Pelicans-Hornets-Jazz, Clippers, Jazz, Spurs, Suns, Kings