After having a nice stretch in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Cleveland Cavaliers struggled for much of the 1990s. It would get even worse for Cleveland fans as the new millennium started, and the team posted their worst record since their inaugural season in 2002-03, finishing at 17-65. Things have obviously been a bit better since then, as the Cavaliers have been one of the most interesting teams of the new era in the NBA.
In this millennium, the Cavaliers have been to three NBA Finals, winning the most recent edition in 2016 in the most celebrated series of all-time. There have been some fantastic players to make their way through Cleveland since 2000, and also a lot of forgettable ones. Let’s take a look back at the past 17 years in Cavaliers history to see who ranks among the best and the worst for the franchise.
It should be pretty obvious at this point who the top player for the franchise has been, but the rest of the list has a lot of mystery. Players like Lamond Murray and Ricky Davis just missed the cut for the best, while countless players were considered among the worst. Here is the list of the eight best and seven worst Cavaliers since 2000.
15 Best - Tristan Thompson
You will find on this list that quite a few of the best players the Cavaliers have had since 2000 are still on the team. After all, they had to have been good to defeat the Golden State Warriors for the NBA title. The first of the active players on the list is Tristan Thompson, who was drafted by the Cavaliers out of Texas with the fourth overall pick in 2011. Since then, Thompson has been a mainstay at power forward.
While his numbers have taken a slight dip with the addition of key players like LeBron James and Kevin Love, he’s still very productive. Through his first 33 games in the 2016-17 season, Thompson is averaging 9.5 points per game with 8.6 rebounds and 0.8 blocks per game. Thompson’s best season came in 2012-13 when he averaged 11.7 points, 9.4 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game.
14 Worst - Trajan Langdon
While the Cavaliers got a solid pick with the fourth overall selection in 2011, they missed more than a decade earlier with the 11th pick in 1999. That’s when the Cavaliers selected Trajan Langdon out of Duke, hoping that he would be the answer at shooting guard. Langdon played the first three seasons that included the new millennium, though he started just five games in 119 appearances.
Langdon would average less than 15 minutes per game, scoring 5.4 points, 1.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game over those three seasons. Langdon never played for another NBA team as he took his game overseas, playing with four different squads until his career ended in 2011. Though his NBA career didn’t work out, Langdon did win two Euroleague Championships and was one of the better players in the league.
13 Best - Anderson Varejao
A year after picking up LeBron James, the Cavaliers were able to add to their roster during the 2004 NBA Draft. Though he was drafted 30th overall by the Magic, Cleveland would receive Drew Gooden and Steven Hunter along with Anderson Varejao in exchange for Tony Battie and two draft picks. Varejao would become a longtime member of the Cavaliers, spending 12 seasons with the team.
Though he was never one of the best players in the league, Varejao was a big contributor for an extended period and maxed out at 14.1 points and 14.4 rebounds per game in the 2012-13 season. Varejao would finish his Cavaliers career when he became a Golden State Warrior, and he finished with 7.6 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game.
12 Worst - Eric Snow
When the Cavaliers announced their All-Decade team for the 2000s a couple of years ago, it brought attention to the fact that they haven’t ever really been strong at shooting guard. That’s because Eric Snow made the roster, leaving people to scramble to the internet to look up his stats. Snow joined the Cavaliers before the 2004-05 season when he was already in his 30’s and played in 267 games over four seasons.
Snow was a solid defensive player, but that was about it. Snow averaged 4.0 points, 2.1 rebounds and 3.9 points per game during his time in Cleveland. Those aren’t the worst numbers in Cavaliers history by a long shot, so why does he join the list? The Cavaliers paid Snow more than $30 million over his time there, and that’s the type of money you would expect to give someone with much better numbers, even by today’s standards.
11 Best - Antawn Jamison
A fantastic player at North Carolina, Antawn Jamison started his career back in 1998 with the Golden State Warriors after being a lottery pick. Jamison made two All Star squads before signing with the Cavaliers during the 2009-2010 season in hopes of chasing a title. While Jamison’s best days were behind him, he still continued to be a solid supporting player during the end of LeBron James’s first stint.
Jamison put up some impressive numbers, posting 17.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game while in Cleveland. Jamison would leave the Cavaliers after the 2011-12 season, spending his final two years with both the Lakers and Clippers. He never did end up winning that NBA title, but it was still a solid career with a good stretch with the Cavaliers.
10 Worst - Luke Jackson
After it was clear that LeBron James was going to be the centerpiece the Cavaliers had hoped for thanks to a great rookie campaign, they had hoped to build around him the next season. In the 2004 NBA Draft, Cleveland selected forward Luke Jackson to support James with the 10th overall pick. Unfortunately, they would only get two seasons out of Jackson that weren’t very productive.
Jackson averaged 2.7 points, 1.0 rebounds and 0.6 assists over those two seasons before they cut ties. Jackson would bounce up and down between the NBA and D-League over the rest of his career that actually ended in Israel in 2011. Since 2013, Jackson has been the head coach of Northwest Christian University in his home state of Oregon.
9 Best - Andre Miller
In the final draft of the 1990s, the Cavaliers selected Utah point guard Andre Miller with the eighth overall selection. Although Miller’s time with Cleveland was brief, he was still very productive. Miller would end up on the All-Rookie First Team in 2000 and was leading the league in assists by his final season in Cleveland. Over three seasons, Miller averaged 14.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 8.2 assists per game.
Miller would end up playing for several other teams, making stops in Denver, Philadelphia, Portland, Los Angeles, Washington, Sacramento, Minnesota and San Antonio. The journeyman also gets bonus points on the list for being one of the biggest values on the list. For three seasons of his service, the Cavaliers only had to pay around $5.4 million.
8 Worst - Milt Palacio
Brazilian point guard Milt Palacio attended Colorado State during the late 1990s, but didn’t hear his name get called at the 1999 NBA Draft. Still, Palacio was given a chance by the Grizzlies, and had stints with the Celtics and Suns heading into his run with Cleveland. Palacio was traded in 2002 to the Cavaliers in exchange for a 2008 draft pick that would end up being Malik Hairston, so no damage done there.
Palacio played in just 80 games during his run as a Cavalier, averaging 5.0 points, 2.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. Those numbers aren’t quite so bad for a player that rides the bench most of the time, but he started games more often than not. Cleveland fans voted him as the worst point guard of the first decade in the new millennium, as well. Palacio finished his career with two seasons in Toronto and one in Utah.
7 Best - Kevin Love
When it comes to the current “Big Three” in Cleveland, it always seems that Kevin Love is the odd man out. Love was the former fifth overall pick in 2008 out of UCLA by the Timberwolves, and he would become a rebounding machine that was named to three All Star squads. Love was sent to the Cavaliers as part of the trade for Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins, and Love is now in his third season with Cleveland.
After his first 30 games in the 2016-17 regular season, Love has been averaging 17.1 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. While he doesn’t get as much credit as the other stars around him, it’s hard to argue that he’s still not a good player. Plus, Love was one of the people that brought Cleveland a title, so it’s hard to criticize.
6 Worst - Jawad Williams
Jawad Williams was one of the members of the North Carolina team that won the 2005 NCAA Tournament, but he always seems to be the forgotten one. Williams would end up going undrafted in the 2005 NBA Draft, and he spent some time playing overseas. Williams finally made it to the NBA when he signed with the Cavaliers for the 2008-09 season. That would be the first of three of his seasons in Cleveland.
Williams played a total of 90 games with seven starts with the Cavaliers, scoring an average of 3.8 points per game with 1.5 rebounds and 0.6 assists to go along with it. The Cavaliers finally parted ways with Williams in late 2010, prompting him to go back overseas. Now, Williams is a member of AEK Athens in the Greek League.
5 Best - Zydrunas Ilgauskas
In the pre-LeBron James era of the Cavaliers, there weren’t many players that were around both before and after the 2003 NBA Draft. Zydrunas Ilgauskas, however, was one of those players. Ilgauskas was originally drafted in 1996 with the 20th overall pick by Cleveland, and he made his debut in the 1997-98 season. He would miss the first season that entered the 2000’s, though, as he injured his foot.
Ilgauskas would play all the way until the end of the 2009-10 season with Cleveland, and made two All Star appearances in that time. Ilgauskas would finish his Cavaliers career with 13.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game, getting his number 11 jersey retired by the franchise. Ilgauskas followed teammate LeBron James to Miami for the 2010-11 season, which would be the final one in the league for the Lithuanian.
4 Worst - Ira Newble
Not many people knew who Ira Newble was coming out of Miami (Ohio) in the 1990s, and no team selected him in the 1997 NBA Draft. Newble would play semi-pro basketball for a couple of years before being picked up by the San Antonio Spurs. Newble also spent a pair of seasons with the Hawks before being signed by Cleveland for the 2003-04 season. Newble spent more than four seasons with the Cavs, starting in 111 of his 230 appearances.
Newble’s stats were certainly less than stellar, as he averaged 4.2 points, 2.5 rebounds and 0.8 assists in his time with Cleveland. Knowing that he was not part of the new Cavaliers, the team shipped him off as part of a three team trade in 2008 that included the SuperSonics and Bulls. Newble spent only two games in Seattle before joining the Lakers for six more games, ending his NBA career in 2007-08.
3 Best - Kyrie Irving
The 2011 NBA Draft Lottery was a highly anticipated one as Kyrie Irving was expected to be the top overall pick no matter which team was selected. The Cavaliers had a 22.7 percent chance to receive the pick, and they would end up getting it. Of course, they selected Irving out of Duke, and they haven’t regretted it ever since. Irving has already been named an All Star three times and hit the winning shot against the Warriors in game seven of the 2016 NBA Finals.
Irving’s stats have also been tremendous in his young career. At just 24 years old, Irving is already 29 games into his sixth regular season and he’s averaging 21.0 points, 3.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. At this rate, he’ll have his number retired in Cleveland.
2 Worst - DeSagana Diop
The pick for the worst player that the Cavaliers have had since 2000 goes to a really bad draft bust. The Cavaliers made 7’0” high schooler DeSagana Diop the eighth overall pick in 2001, and it didn’t work out at all. Diop would spend four seasons with the Cavaliers, making just five starts in his 193 appearances. Diop put up just 1.6 points, 2.6 rebounds and 0.4 assists per game with less than one block, which is what the Cavaliers brought him in to do.
Diop was not re-signed by the Cavaliers after those four seasons, and he would end up with the Mavericks. Diop also played with the Nets, Mavericks and Hornets (the Charlotte version) before retiring after the 2012-13 season, even after signing with the Cavaliers in 2013 before being cut without making an appearance in his second stint. Now, Diop is an assistant coach with the Utah Jazz.
1 Best - LeBron James
There was absolutely no question who the top player for the Cavaliers would be since 2000, and he happens to be the best Cavalier of all-time (and one of the best players in league history). There was a huge sweepstakes for LeBron James’s services in 2003, and the Cavaliers had a 22.5 percent chance of landing him. They ended up edging out the Grizzlies and Nuggets for the top pick, and LeBron didn’t disappoint (on the court).
James has been an All Star in every year after his rookie campaign, though he became public enemy number one when he departed for Miami before the 2010-11 season. He has returned since then, obviously, and delivered the 2016 NBA Championship. James has averaged more than 27 points per game during his time in Cleveland with 7.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game, cementing himself as a legend.