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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

The CLEVELAND CAVALIERS basketball team was organized by Nick Mileti and admitted to the National Basketball Assn. in 1970, along with the Buffalo Braves and the Portland Trail Blazers. With the league expansion, the Eastern and Western conferences were subdivided into 2 divisions with the Cavs part of the Central Division of the Eastern Conference. The team opened their first season with a group of players selected in the expansion and college drafts and finished in last place with a 15-67 won-lost record. They played their home games at the CLEVELAND ARENA until 1974, when they moved to the Coliseum, built by Mileti in Richfield. With experience, the Cavs improved their record, winning their first division title and their first playoff spot in 1976, but they lost to the Boston Celtics in the semifinals. Mileti sold the team to Ted Stepien in 1980. Inexperienced at operating a professional basketball franchise, the Cavaliers' new owner was criticized during his 3-year reign for making questionable trades and numerous changes in the coaching staff; in the 1981-82 season, the Cavs finished 15-67. After losing about $15 million in 3 years, Stepien sold the team to George and Gordon Gund. Although the team made the playoffs in 1985, the new owners sought changes in 1986, hiring Wayne Embry as general manager and Lenny Wilkens as head coach. The franchise stabilized under Embry and Wilkens, and led by center Brad Dougherty and guard Mark Price, the 1991-92 team defeated the New Jersey Nets and the Boston Celtics before losing to the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference final. Wilkens, who resigned after the 1993-94 season, compiled a 316-258 record during his 7 years as coach and took the team to the playoffs 5 times and to the Eastern Conference final in 1992. Mike Fratello replaced him as head coach 17 June 1993; he coached the Cavs to the playoffs in 1994 and 1995. The Cavs moved from the Coliseum to the Gateway Gund Arena prior to the 1994-95 season.

Fratello's defensive style of coaching did not endear him to Cleveland's fans and sportswriters. When the average attendance sagged to 14,120 in the 1999 season, Fratello was blamed. At the end of the season, Gordon Gund fired Fratello. Fratello posted a modest 248-212 record in his tenure as the Cavaliers coach. He led the team to the playoffs in 1994, 1995, 1996, and 1998; however he failed to lead the team past the first round in each of these years. On the same day Fratello was fired, Wayne Embry stepped down as general manager, handing the reins of the team over to his hand-picked successor, Jim Paxson. While with the Cavaliers, Embry was twice named the NBA Executive of the Year, in 1992 and 1997. He directed the Cavaliers to the playoffs 9 out of his 13 years in Cleveland. On 7 July 1999, Jim Paxson hired Randy Wittman to replace Mike Fratello as head coach. Wittman's first year did not go well as the Cavaliers went a disappointing 31-50. A similarly dismal record was posted in 2000-2001, when the Cavs , went 30-52. At the close of the season, Randy Wittman was fired and replaced by John Lucas, who previously held head coaching positions in Philadelphia and San Antonio, and most recently was an assistant coach for the Denver Nuggets. Lucas' first year was less than auspicious, as the team finished with a 29-53 record.

Celebrating their thirtieth season, the Cavaliers honored the all-time Cavs team as voted by the fans on 15 April 2000. Bingo Smith, Austin Carr, Nate Thurmond, Jim Chones, Campy Russell, World B. Free, Mark Price, Larry Nance, Brad Daugherty, Hot Rod Williams, Terrell Brandon, and Sean Kemp were selected to the team.

The Cavaliers' fortunes reversed when they acquired the first pick in the 2003 NBA Draft Lottery, giving them the ability to draft Akron native LeBron James. The Cavaliers switched their colors to wine and gold (with a blue alternative uniform), and hired yet another new head coach, Paul Silas. The addition of LeBron James made an immediate impact, as the Cavaliers won eighteen more games during the 2003-2004 season than their previous year, and finished two games above .500 the following year in 2004-05. In 2005, Quicken Loans founder and chairman Dan Gilbert acquired the team and hired Mike Brown as coach and Danny Ferry as General Manager.

In the 2005-06 season, Mike Brown and LeBron James led the team to a 50 win season. That season, the Cavaliers' won their first playoff series victory since 1992-93 against the Washington Wizards, before being defeated by the Detroit Pistons in seven games.

The following year, the Cavaliers defeated the Washington Wizards and New Jersey Nets to reach the Eastern Conference Finals, where they met the Detroit Pistons once again. Despite losing the first two games, the Cavaliers won the next two, setting up two of the most memorable games in Cavalier history. In game six, LeBron James scored 29 of his team's 30 final points, including its last 25, to defeat the Detroit Pistons in double overtime. LeBron James struggled in the next game, but rookie Daniel Gibson's thirty-one points in Game Six helped the team defeat the Pistons, and advance the Cavaliers to their first NBA Finals appearance. LeBron James, however, continued to struggle with his shooting in the NBA Finals against the Spurs, and the Cavaliers were swept in four games.

The following season, the Cavaliers won five fewer games than the previous season, but managed to take the eventual NBA Champion Boston Celtics to seven games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The following off-season, the Cavaliers added point guard Mo Williams, who finally gave the Cavaliers a much-needed scorer to support James. The move helped the Cavaliers win an NBA-best and franchise-high sixty-six games. That year, Mike Brown was named Coach of the Year, and LeBron James was voted Most Valuable Player. After winning their first eight games of the playoffs, the Cavaliers were defeated by the Orlando Magic in six games. The 2009-10 Cavaliers featured a revamped, starting lineup that included future Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal and two-time All Star Antawn Jamison. That season, the Cavaliers captured the best regular season record for a second straight year, and LeBron James was once again named NBA MVP. After defeating the Bulls in the first round the Playoffs and gaining a two-one series lead against the Boston Celtics, the Cavaliers lost their next three games and were eliminated from the playoffs.

That offseason, the team fired coach Mike Brown and General Manager Danny Ferry resigned. More importantly, LeBron James, who was now a free agent, remained silent about his future, and allowed several teams to court him in downtown Cleveland. That July, James announced he was joining the Miami Heat on a one hour show on ESPN. Many Clevelanders were angered that the star announced his departure on national television, and had kept his teammates and fans in the dark about his intentions. Team owner, Dan Gilbert, sent a vitriolic letter to fans that night calling James a narcissist, and was subsequently fined by the NBA.

The Cavaliers began a new era during the 2010-2011 season with new uniforms, and recently hired coach Byron Scott and General Manager Chris Grant. Nevertheless the team faced injuries and disappointment. During one stretch, it lost an NBA record twenty-six consecutive games which also tied the worst losing streak for a major American sports franchise. The Cavaliers finished with a poor 19-63 record, but took some consolidation in defeating LeBron James and Miami Heat at home in their final matchup of the year.

The team obtained the first and fourth picks of the draft at the 2011 NBA Draft Lottery and selected Kyrie Irving of Duke and Tristan Thompson of Texas. The next two years showed minimal progress. During the 2010-11 season, the team only managed to win 21 games. The following year, it struggled once more and only won 24 out of 82 games, leading to Coach Byron Scott's dismissal. Scott was replaced by former Cavaliers coach Mike Brown. Despite having the first pick of the draft and obtaining Andrew Bynum, the Cavaliers only improved to a 33-49 record. Coach Mike Brown was fired for the second time in five seasons. That offseason, the Cavaliers received the first pick of the NBA draft for the third time in four years. In 2014, the Cavaliers drafted Andrew Wiggins and hired David Blatt of the Euroleague as their coach. On July 11th, LeBron James announced in an essay to Sports Illustrated that he was returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers. "Cleveland Cavaliers Franchise Index." (accessed July, 2014).

Last Modified: 14 Jul 2014 09:57:47 PM

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