From the head, and from the heart: The top 5 best, and top 5 favorite Cleveland Cavaliers ever

Ken Carman
July 10, 2018 - 9:03 am

© Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

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In some of the conversation about the future of the Cavs during Monday morning’s show, I revisited in my head my Top 5 Favorite Cavaliers of all time.

There was one name that was left off the list, that you’ll definitely notice, and then write mean comments about how I’m lying to myself on the internet. Before you do though, PLEASE know that You-Know-Who was left off my list of favorite players back when this very same thing was brought up in earnest back in February, well before You-Know-Who left.

Since there was a strong reaction to You-Know-Who being left off that list, I decided I would write down two lists for you to examine: One list is my thoughts on the Top 5 BEST Cavaliers ever.

The one’s that when it comes to the mix of talent, and their timeline of playing for the Cavs, were the best to ever wear the uniform.

The other list are my Top 5 favorites. Players that for nostalgic purposes are my favorites to ever play for the Cavs.

Away we go.

TOP 5 GREATEST CAVALIERS OF ALL-TIME:

5. Kevin Love (2014-Present)

LET THE CONTROVERSY BEGIN!!!

Seriously though, I think for Kevin, like a lot of players who were close to the top five, or included in the top five, time will be good for him.

Since Kyrie forced his way out, and LeBron has left, we are already seeing how vital he was to the Cavs over the last four seasons. An inside/outside threat, he has had to deal with several injuries during his time here that has tested the patience of the fans. Yet, he’s still a two-time All-Star with the Cavs, and going back to the 2016 Finals, he answered the call when left on an island to defend Steph Curry.

A big player has to show up in a big moment, and he did at the game’s biggest stage. You could also make an argument had he not been injured during the 2015 playoffs in Boston, he could have helped LeBron pilot the Cavaliers to a Finals win there (Cleveland was up 2-1, nearly 3-1 during Game 4). These are coulda-woulda-shoulda’s, but the fact remains that his willingness to change from the player he was in Minnesota (where he was a stat stuffer on a bad team) to a third wheel (albeit All-Star and Olympian) showed his true versatility in a way that few other Cavs could.

His book isn’t complete, so this isn’t going to be wildly popular, but over time as some of the frustration dissipates from the 2018 Cavaliers, and we have more time to focus on the 2016 Cavs, coupled with the guy they traded for him not taking off as a star quite yet, will make him look much better as time goes on.

4. Mark Price (1986-1995)

Mark Price was a four time All-Star and the leader of a team that arguably would have won a title, or would have absolutely had their first NBA Finals appearance had it not have been for Michael Jordan.

His sterling play and leadership put him ahead of other names that were left off this list, a few of which some will find egregious.

3. Brad Daugherty (1986-1994)

Dead serious: had it not been for his back, Brad Daugherty would have been a Hall of Famer. He was a five-time All-Star in eight seasons with the Cavs. His career ended before his 29th birthday.

If he would have been healthy going into his 30th, with his double-double average picking up (not an easy thing in the late 80’s and early 90’s), he would have amassed the numbers to be in the Hall.

He was quick, not lumbering like other seven footers. Had the Cavs had Daugherty for the post season in 1995 and ’96, The first rounds would have been different against the Knicks front court of admitted bad asses (Ewing, Mason, Oakley). His greatness, and in turn his legacy is marred by the injury that ended his career much shorter than when it should have, and effectively closing the door on an exceptional era of Cavs basketball.

2. Kyrie Irving (2011-’17)

Kyrie is…eccentric…to say the least. He’s also one of the best ball-handlers and finishers you’ve ever watched. Whether you’re 60 years old, or 16, if this is a list based on talent + accomplishment / Time with the Cavs, it doesn’t take Ferdinand Magellan to understand that Irving is one of the greatest Cavaliers to wear the uniform.

Currently, his career is at a crossroads. One more serious knee injury could derail what should be a Hall of Fame career, so he may end up like two other players on this list, being snake-bitten by injury. His history with the Cavs though is complete.

While the doubters will always question his being able to play in the shadow of LeBron James, or even compete without him, his overall style of play matched with his flair for the dramatic and him hitting the biggest shot in franchise history, and one of the biggest in NBA history, cements him as one of our top two legends.

1.  LeBron James (2003-’10, 2014-’18)

You saw him. You know.

Honorable Mention:

A ton of guys, but most notably Austin Carr, World B. Free and Nate Thurmond.

  • Carr was an exceptional talent. If there was no Kyrie or Love, Carr is there. His knee injury (understandably not his fault) limited his true impact on the court for the Cavs, and in the NBA. His work though as an analyst and in the community make me proud to take the beating I’m no doubt going to take by omitting him from the list.
  • World B. Free. Our friend Evan Silva from Rotoworld told us Sashi Brown saved football in Cleveland…we can revisit that line another day, but World B. Free saved basketball in Cleveland. If not for his flair helping to keep SOME fans in the seats,  and his leading the Cavs to the playoffs in 1985, I might not be putting this list together in the first place, because there may be no Cavs, and in turn no 2016 Championship.
  • Nate Thurmond is tough. His number is retired. His veteran leadership and ability to play strong defensively for an injured Jim Chones led to the first strong memory for many Cavaliers fans in The Miracle of Richfield. He’s a legend, and while he was from Akron, his legacy is strongest with the Golden State Warriors.

TOP 5 FAVORITE CAVALIERS*

*All personal favorites. There has very little rhyme, reason, or sense as you’ll read.

5. J.R. Smith (2015-Present)

Before I knew all the pieces involved, I HATED THIS TRADE.

I watch a lot of Knicks, and did before the 2015 season too, and folks I HATED THIS TRADE…and I HATED JR SMITH. He was a hot-shot locker room Cancer that helped destroy a 55 win Knicks club and I couldn’t stand it.

Man, did he change my attitude quick. Mostly because he changed his. J.R. had fun again, played confidently again, and hit big shots for the Cavs. It cannot be overstated how big his two quick three-pointers at the start of the 2nd half in game 7 were vs. the Warriors.

The Cavs are down seven to start the half, if J.R. misses those shots, and the Warriors hit in transition, minus-7 becomes minus-13. That would have ended it right then and there. Smith hits those shot, Golden State takes a timeout, and it becomes the first to blink for the next 22 minutes.

After that we saw how real a person J.R. Smith is. So many players are brands. J.R. wept in the post game press conference after the 2016 Finals, spent the summer refusing to wear a shirt, then took us with him on a struggle to keep his infant daughter alive in January of 2017. He let us in to his life, and we were there for each other.

His time may be soon coming to an end. He’s not hitting shots like he once was, and then he tossed soup at Damon Jones. But I still like J.R. He is who he is, and I’m glad we’ve seen him for the likeable player and person he can truly be.

4. Zydrunas Ilgauskas (1996-2010)

Big Z may have made the Top 5 best ever had it not been for the 2014 Cavaliers. I appreciate so greatly because of his refusal to give up on his own career. Frustration should have boiled over, and I had given up on him when I was a kid and he broke his left foot, after he already broke his right foot.

It was also his high standard of play after that on some bad Cavalier teams that endeared himself to me as a fan. That’s both in the terms of being a good player, but also as a good teammate. One of the most underrated aspects of Z’s play was that he was also an Enforcer. When LeBron James first arrived on the scene, there were plenty of NBA vets who wanted a piece of him. If you have some time, try to go down the YouTube rabbit hole of players challenging LeBron.

Like Marty McSorley for Wayne Gretzky, Ilgauskas would jump right in the middle. Usually dropping in from the top of the TV screen, with that big beak out front, spitting angry like a rooster about to get into a Cockfight, it was Z who was the police on the floor during LeBron’s early years.

3. Andre Miller (1999-2002)

Basically it’s like this: I watched every single Cavs game back then just like I do now. Except the Cavs sucked then. My dad has never been a basketball fan. So he would walk through the living room and jokingly ask “What are you wasting your time watching this garbage?”

I love my father dearly, but I loved the Cavs so “F--- him.” I’d say. Because the Cavs were on the verge of turning it around, and they were going to do it with Andre F------ Miller! That’s what I told myself anyway. He was the centerpiece of their rebuild, and he was going to show’em! Then they traded him and played even worse somehow (to get LeBron). After Cleveland, Miller went on to have a fine journeyman career, and from what we know, a good dude too.

It could have been worse. He could have gone on to be an insult to good taste and decent society like my favorite baseball player, Albert Belle, and Belle was no.1.

Miller is at least no.3. And I’ll continue to hold him in high regard…at least until he ends up like Albert, looking like Winnie The Pooh in a baseball stadium parking lot.

2. Mark Price (1986-1995)

My dad didn’t like basketball but he got me my first Cavs jersey, and it was a Mark Price jersey. He still has it down in Canton. No, it doesn’t fit.

You know who Mark Price was? Mark Price was my generation’s Steph Curry. Diminutive size compared to NBA players, deadly shots, unreal floor vision, unquestioned leadership. Yeah I know, Curry’s better and whatnot, but I wonder how good Price could have been (even as a 4x All-Star) if he would have had the green light from long range even half as much as players do now.

We used to have three-point competitions in my friend, Eric Perry’s driveway. We wanted to be Mark Price, but his older brothers would always fight over him, so I ended up being John Starks even though he wasn’t a three-point shooter but neither was I, so it didn’t matter and I still got to do the Chest Pound thing he used to do.

1.  Larry Nance (1988-’94)

My late Uncle Jack and Aunt Wanda took me to Canton McKinley basketball games when I was young. When we got in the car after the game, my they’d turn on the Cavs game on the ride from the fieldhouse to Papa Bear’s. My first memories of the Cavs were Joe Tait calling games featuring the great Larry Nance. I was hooked from then on out.

The Cavs were my favorite team, and Larry Nance was my favorite player.

Part of what made him so great to me is that my uncle was in the car business, and loved racing. He knew that Larry Nance did it as a hobby and that was always really cool with him, so his favorite Cavalier became my favorite.

I got to meet him later at the Spring Nationals at National Trail Raceway (well before the NHRA switched to Norwalk). Nance was getting ready for his Pro Stock Qualifying run that afternoon. He was the tallest person I had ever seen and was very, very nice to me.

The five minutes he took to shake my hand and show me the car and talk about the Cavs felt like an hour. He was awesome. I was 10 years old when I met him, and my aunt and uncle are gone, but that memory won’t ever be forgotten.

Honorable Mention:

Matthew Dellavedova, LeBron James, Earl Boykins, Terrell Brandon, Delonte West, Ron Harper, Hot Rod Williams, Bobby Phills, Andrew DeClercq, Eric Snow, Anderson Varejao, Richard Jefferson, Mo Williams.

  • LeBron is not on my top five. I respect what he did but these are personal favorites. Watching the team long before him, and long after him, he’s a marvel, but the team struggling so much without him over the last 18 years (lead up to LeBron, in between, post LeBron) the fan in me has had many more players who couldn’t wash his jock, endear themselves to me.
  • Kyrie and Kevin Love aren’t on this list either. Like LeBron, I obviously appreciate their talent, but it never clicked for me as a fan the way it did for others on this list.
  • I would like Delly more if Kenny Kidd wasn’t completely obsessed with him.
  • Earl Boykins may be no.10 in honor of the 10-day contract, but I really did like him, and he being a local guy helped.
  • Eric Snow because he’s from Canton and I saw him dunk in high school
  • Andrew DeClercq is on the list because I LOVED how Michael Reghi pronounced his name.
  • RON HARPER WASN’T ON THE BLOW, WAYNE!!!