With the holiday’s upon us, and the turn of the decade near, I felt it only right that we as Cavs’ fans take a moment to reflect, and be thankful. While we sometimes find ourselves wishing this team had a stretch four, or a back-up PG, or a better play to run at the end of the game, the truth is, its not really all that bad. And by all that bad, I mean its not ten years ago bad. If the last four seasons - which have included an NBA Championship appearance, an Eastern Conference finals run, a Cavalier winning the league’s MVP, and an average of 52 regular season wins per year - have made us forget just how bad it was, I’ll remind you. But before I get into specifics, I’ll just say this: we didn’t even know what a ‘stretch-four’ was when this decade started, we just hoped four was where the losing streaks would stop.
This date in Cavaliers’ history, 10-years ago, December 23rd, 1999:
On December 23rd, during the 1999-00 season, the Cleveland Cavaliers (11-15) squared off against the Atlanta Hawks. Cleveland would ride a 5-game losing streak into the contest, and by the time the backboard lights went red, that streak would be extended to 6, by way of a 108-90 loss to Isiah Rider and the Hawks. The Cavaliers were paced by Shawn Kemp and Bobby Sura that night, who each scored 17. The other three Cav starters, Andrew DeClerq, Brevin Knight, and Lamond Murray combined to score 22. Off the bench, Cedric Henderson (12 points) and Andre Miller (11 points) provided some spark for first year coach Randy Wittman’s club, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Isiah “don’t call me JR” Rider who dropped 30 on the Cavs that night. Jim Jackson scored 19, Diekembe Mutombo 16, and LaPhonso Ellis kicked in 17 off the bench for the ATL. The Cavs’ 6-game losing streak would extend to seven on December 26th, before being snapped on the 29th by way of a win over Washington. The win streak would end at one however, as the Cavs would lose the next three in a row, and eventually wind up 32-50 for the season. In short, they were horrible.
Ghosts of Cavaliers past:
As mentioned, the 1999-00 Cavaliers were led by first year coach Randy Wittman, who would go on to be fired after year two. They averaged 97 points per game offensively, which wouldn’t have been so bad if they didn’t give up an average of 100.5 per night on the defensive end. Shawn Kemp was your best player, averaging 17.8 points, and 8.8 rebounds per game (he would be traded the following year to Portland). Lamond Murray averaged 15.9 and Bob Sura averaged 13.8. That was your Big-3: Kemp, Murray and Sura – sic squad. Andre Miller averaged 11.1 points and 5.8 assists per game off the bench, and Brevin Knight averaged 9 and 7 as a starter. Wes Person averaged 9.2 points per game, shooting 42% from three point land, but he wasn’t the leading 3-point shooter by percentage that year. That was Danny Ferry, who shot 44% from behind the arc, averaging 7.3 points per game while appearing in 60 off the bench, and starting 3 during the 99-00 campaign.
A decade ago, there was no hope in sight:
It wasn’t like anybody was saying during the 1999-00 season: ‘just give Bobby Sura and Lamond Murray a few more years to play together and this team will be awesome.’ Besides that, there were no real young players to hang your hat on outside of Andre Miller, who was good, but by no means a guy you could think to build your franchise around. That year’s lottery pick, Trajan Langdon, appeared in only 10 games during the 99-00 season, and he’d play in only 129 more over the next two seasons before leaving the NBA entirely to play the rest of his career in Europe. Additionally, 3rd year big man Zydrunas Ilgauskas was the second highest paid player on the team that year ($9 million) behind Shawn Kemp ($10.7 million) and he didn’t play in one game. He had only played in 5 games the year before, and would go on to appear in only 24 during the 2000-01 season. While we know now it turned out alright for Z, at the time, it sure did look like the Cavs had more than a couple high-paid busts on the roster. And that whole cross your fingers and hope LeBron saves the franchise-thing? That hadn’t even started yet. LeBron James was only a freshman in high school the last time the decade turned, and outside of Akron, nobody even knew his name yet.
This yule time’s merry, this season’s bright:
Coming into the 2009-10 season, the Cavaliers were widely regarded as a team capable of winning the NBA title, and rightly so. Sure, it was certainly tough falling short last summer in the ECF after winning 66 games during the regular season, but nobody was claiming the Cavs to be a legit threat to win it all coming into last year. Maybe they were a year ahead of schedule last time around. Maybe this year’s the year. Sure, there’ve been some rough spots so far, but lets put those rough spots into context: Andrew DeClerq’s not starting tonight. And you know what else, maybe those rough spots are just growing pains. Coming into tonight’s game against the Kings, sitting at 21-8, there’s no reason why this team can’t still win the NBA title. There are certainly a number of things that have to happen, but at least one of them is not trying to figure out how to get your over-weight, under-achieving PF off your team. There are a number of quality players on this year’s club, as we all know, and they are more than capable of putting up big numbers on any given night. Besides that, the best player on the team is still the league’s reigning MVP. So if the worst thing that happens to the Cavaliers this holiday season is that Mike Brown designs a bad play for LeBron once an a while, just think…wouldn’t you rather see that, than watch Randy Wittman design a great one for Lamond Murray?
Happy Holidays all around!
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