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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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