The Cleveland Cavaliers certainly haven’t had a glorious history. Their all-time record since joining the NBA is more than 300 games below .500.
However, they have been to the NBA Finals in 2007, and lost in the Eastern Conference finals three times. And without disrespecting the ’06-‘o7 conference champs, the best team in franchise history may just be the last wine and gold squad to fall one step short of The Finals, the 2008-09 team that one 66 games in the regular season.
That team is a regular on lists of the best teams to not win an NBA title.
Our feeling was that collection of players failed because of Mike Brown’s failure to adjust to what Orlando was doing offensively in the conference finals, and because of the playoff schedule.
If you recall, the Cavs swept each of their first two series against Detroit and Atlanta, and had to wait nine days, from May 11th when they eliminated the Hawks, until May 20th when they took on Orlando.
The Cavaliers were rusty in Game 1, losing on their home floor, where they lost just twice all season long.
By the way, that team won 18 of their last 21 games in the regular season.
Since the current Cavs have now won 16 of their last 18, we decided to compare the current roster to perhaps the best team in Cleveland professional basketball history.
The starters on that team were LeBron James, Mo Williams, Delonte West, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and Ben Wallace.
Anderson Varejao also started 42 games that season, getting the nod when Ilgauskas and Wallace had injuries. Sasha Pavlovic also started 12 games, mostly for West.
James, who was 24 at the time, averaged 28.4 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists per game, which is comparable to this season’s figures of 26 points, 6 boards, and 7 assists.
However, that team had no one who can compare to Kyrie Irving, who is blossoming into the superstar in front of our eyes. The fourth year player out of Duke is getting 22 points and five dimes per night as offensive option #2.
Williams filled that role in ’09, getting 18 points and four assists. Irving is taking more shots than Williams did, with both making almost 47% of their tries.
Ilgauskas was the team’s third leading scorer at 12.9 a game, with 7.5 boards and shooting 47%. Kevin Love is the third leading scorer this year at 16.8 points, with 10.3 rebounds. He is shooting just 43% from the floor, although he attempts far more three point shots than Big Z did.
That group’s bench was led by Varejao, Boobie Gibson, and Wally Szczerbiak, while the current Cavs use Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert, and Matthew Dellavedova as the primary bench options.
We would give David Blatt’s crew an edge because the second and third best players on this team are much better than those on the 66 win team.
Even the bench appears to be better. Varejao scored 8.6 points and 7.2 rebounds as the first big man off the bench in ’08-’09, and Thompson has better numbers at 9.1 and 8.4 respectively.
That group was stronger defensively, because Ilgauskas was still a force inside and Wallace was one of the best defensive players in NBA history up front, and West was a very good defender too.
However, the three Cavs who joined the team in January are helping greatly on the defensive end. Since Timofey Mozgov joined the squad, he has provided the inside presence Blatt’s team sorely needed. And Shumpert and J.R. Smith have given the wine and gold better defense on the wings.
Can this team go farther in the post-season than the ’09 team? That remains to be seen. But it is looking like this might be the most talented roster ever to play in Cleveland.
That’s how quickly things have changed in the last month or so.