The most memorable all-time Cavs are players who spent a number of years with the team. Think LeBron James, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Anderson Varejao, Austin Carr or Mark Price. But there are also players who were with the team for a single season who mattered. Here are a few of our favorites.
Chris Manning (@cwmwrites): Jeff Green
Jeff Green was always really nice to me and willing to answer questions after games. Not every player is, so salute to him for that.
But Green, a member of the 2017-18 Cavs that made the Finals despite themselves, was also a weirdly useful player on a minimum deal. That season, he played a three-four hybrid role where he slashed and leaned into the athleticism that made him such an interesting prospect coming into the draft. Remember this dunk against the Wizards? Be sure to watch with the sound on for the full Fred McLeod effect:
That dunk was one of many Green highlights in a very weird Cavs season. He helped the team too, as the team was +5.7 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, per basketball-reference. He was good with LeBron too. That year, Green played the fourth-most minutes of Cav with James — only Kevin Love, J.R. Smith and Jae Crowder played more — and lineups with those two players were +7.5 points per 100 possessions, per basketball-reference. The only players better with James were Kyle Korver and George Hill. James and Green had a strong handshake routine too.
Ultimately, a limited player like Green wasn’t going to put that Cavs team over the top. Most importantly, he wasn’t a good enough three-point shooter —31.2% in 2017-18 — to really maximize LeBron. He likely would have helped more a year or two before. But for a minimum signee, Green gave the Cavs a lot and was a great guy to be around to boot. What more could you want?
David Zavac (@davidzavac): Anthony Bennett
No one ever had a bad word to say about Anthony Bennett the person, who was generally quiet and unassuming and available to talk to the Cleveland media, regardless of what was going on around him. But the word I keep coming back to is simply overwhelmed. He was overwhelmed by what was asked of him not only as a first overall selection, but what was asked of him by the NBA in general.
The consensus was that the Cavs had failed Bennett in some way, and I never really understood that. He left college to enter the NBA Draft, the team had every right to select him where ever. They didn’t force him into the starting lineup before he was ready. They let him build up endurance when he wasn’t in shape. Even after he quit on the court during a live game (that his team was winning), the organization rushed to defend him. The fear at the time was that sending him to the developmental league might hurt his confidence if he didn’t perform at that level.
It’s impossible to know what the Minnesota Timberwolves thought of Bennett when they acquired him in the Kevin Love deal. Many Cavs fans valued Bennett over Tristan Thompson. Few were as negative about the original selection as me. In fact, I regret writing some of this, and I regret the overall tone. It’s to his credit that he’s continued playing basketball, and his ability to shoot threes will always keep him in contention for an NBA roster spot. Finally, an interesting note is that while this pick in some ways defines the Chris Grant era of failure, David Griffin has claimed responsibility for the pick. Somehow it all led to an NBA title in 2016.
Evan D to the Dammarellizzle (@AmNotEvan): Shaun Livingston, Mo Speights and Wayne Ellington
Livingston, Speights, and Ellington both were an interesting footnote in the first era post-LeBron for the Cavs.
Livingston, who many thought was never going to bounce back after his horrific injury, was able to find his footing again in Cleveland. He then returned the favor by being nearly unstoppable when he went against the Cavs as a Warrior in the 2016 NBA Finals. Many say his time with Brooklyn was his resurgence but really all credit should go to Cleveland’s staff instead.
Speights, meanwhile, was a bit of an interesting character. Traded to Cleveland in exchange for Jon Leuer along with Ellington and Josh Selby, Speights was a spark plug off the bench for the Cavs. He once wished me a happy birthday on Twitter and the best gift he gave me was bricking that shot in the closing moments of the 2016 Finals.
With Ellington the Cavs also got another spark plug off the bench to join Speights and Livingston. Throw in Luke Walton and Boobie Gibson and Cleveland had one of the most fun bench units in the league at the time. It was weird and it probably shouldn’t have worked but in an overall crappy season this was for sure a pleasant surprise and Livingston, Speights, and Ellington were the reason for that.
Michael Drapcho (@M_Drapcho21): Baron Davis
The 2010-11 season was mostly awful for the Cavaliers. Cavs fans went from watching a team with LeBron James win a ton of games to a team with Luke Harangody win hardly any games. The roster for that season featured a few leftovers from the previous, far more entertaining era, but for the most part it was comprised of guys like Samardo Samuels and the aforementioned Harangody. In a season that included a 26-game losing streak, the most notable (and perhaps only) bright spot was when the Cavaliers sent Mo Williams and Jamario Moon to Los Angeles for Baron Davis and the Clippers’ unprotected 2011 first round pick.
Granted, this version of Davis was not the same as the electrifying player that once led the “We Believe” Warriors. Davis averaged 13.9 points and 6.1 assists per game in Cleveland, but he still had the ability for a big game here and there like the 19 point and 12 assist game he put together in an April win over Toronto. Additionally, the Cavs won four of Davis’ nine starts that year, which is pretty great compared to the rest of that dreadful season. Plus, he wore the No. 85 in Cleveland, and it’s always fun when basketball players wear wide receiver numbers.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t address the pick that got sent to Cleveland along with Davis. Of course, that pick became Kyrie Irving. Sure, Davis isn’t directly responsible for that draft pick. But my mind instantly associates him with it, so he gets partial credit for the sake of this discussion.
Jackson Flickinger (@akron_jackson): Shawn Marion
Life and basketball are often about timing. Shawn Marion was in the right place but at the wrong time.
The 2015 season didn’t start as planned. Dion Waiters was quickly benched which threw Marion into the starting lineup. Marion never really gelled with the starters mainly because of his hesitancy to pull the trigger from deep. Defenses didn’t respect his shot and over helped on LeBron and Kyrie. This prompted David Griffin to pull off the J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert trade.
Even though Marion lost his spot in the starting lineup there was still a clear role for him. That was until a hip injury sidelined him in the middle of February. Marion would come back to play some light minutes in March and April however, he couldn’t get off the bench in the playoffs and Finals. It’s suspected his hip was what kept him out.
The player from 2014 would’ve fit great with the 2015 Cavs. Marion started all 76 games he played while averaging 10.4 points, 6.5 boards, and 1.2 steals with a respectable 52.3 EFG% in Dallas. A versatile defender and an efficient low-usage scorer would’ve been perfect in the 2015 Finals. Unfortunately the 2014 Marion wasn’t there anymore.
The next summer Griffin tried again with another journeyman Maverick in Richard Jefferson. The timing lined up perfectly the second time around.
Kendon Luschner (@spacefunmars)
My pick for favorite one-and-done player happens to also be one of my favorite Cavs shooting guards. It’s Ronald (Flip) Murray, and while he doesn’t seem like a likely candidate for being a favorite shooting guard, he is. Yes, this is the same Murray who averaged only 13.5 points per game in his lone half-season with the Cavs and bombed his way through the playoffs.
In my man’s case, context matters, and that context begins with my two least favorite Cavs shooting guards, fellow one-and-done Jiri Welsch and bane of my existence Larry Hughes.
During the 2004-05 season, the Cavs were in the middle of a race to make LeBron James’ first playoffs and general manager Jim Paxson had the correct thought that more shooting around James would be a good idea. The issue was he then had the incorrect thought that Welsch should be that shooter, and he traded a first round pick to the Celtics to get him.
Welsch may be the worst player ever traded for a first round pick. He played 16 games for the Cavs, averaging 2.9 points on 25% two-point shooting and 18.2% three-point shooting. He played one more (almost equally bad) season in the NBA for the Bucks and then descended into Hell where he revealed himself to be Satan, come to Earth to ruin NBA teams with his extremely bad play. The Cavs did not, as it turns out, make the playoffs that year (they missed by one game).
In the offseason, new GM Danny Ferry traded him to the Bucks for a second round pick, which was the correct thing to do. Then Ferry signed Larry Hughes instead of Michael Redd, which was very much the incorrect thing to do.
You’re never going to believe this, but Hughes got injured in his first season (2005-06) with the Cavs, not playing for three whole months. This was the player meant to be James’ sidekick, and while he wasn’t quite that, he was definitely the starting shooting guard on a team with pretty bad options at the guard and wing spots. Eric Snow, Damon Jones, Stephen Graham and Sasha Pavlovic were among the better players in those spots that season.
So about a month after Hughes’ injury, with the team playing well below their 50 win pace, Ferry traded a person apparently named Mike Wilks for Murray. I was wary at the time because the Welsch trade happened almost exactly a year prior in similar circumstances. At least the terms were favorable this time as scientists aren’t even sure what a Mike Wilks is.
But Murray managed to put up almost the same amount of points as Hughes (Murray: 13.5 points per game, Hughes: 15.5 points per game) on slightly better efficiency. That doesn’t sound impressive until you realize the Cavs effectively replaced a max contract player with a guy they picked up for the price of a Mike Wilks. (MIKE! WILKS! The player scientists are unsure even exists!)
That doesn’t speak highly of Hughes, but at a time when the Cavs felt like they were slipping, Murray felt like a hero... until the playoffs started.