In professional sports, drafting players can be a tricky, risky business. Done well, it can lay the foundation for a championship. Done poorly, it’s a one-way ticket to Palookaville.
Drafts can be wild and crazy, tragic and magic. In Cleveland, we’ve seen it all. Now let’s try to make some sense of it.
Here’s one man’s opinion on the best and the worst of Cleveland’s draft years, in terms of the combined quality of the yearly first-round draft picks by the Indians, Cavs and Browns.
The field of play runs from 1970 — when the Cavs entered the NBA as an expansion team — to 2013. It’s too early to make judgments on the players selected after 2013, with the infamous exception of the Browns’ morbid, DOA first round in 2014 — Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel.
The five best drafting years by the Indians, Cavs and Browns:
1. 2003 — LEBRON JAMES, JEFF FAINE, MICHAEL AUBRY: You probably don’t remember Aubrey. You probably do remember Faine. You’ll never forget LeBron, the single greatest draft pick in Cleveland sports history. Not that it took a genius to make the pick. With LeBron sitting there, the Cavs were off the clock before they were even on the clock. Had the Browns drafted you and the Indians me, this would still be the greatest first-round draft year in Cleveland history.
2. 2011 — FRANCISCO LINDOR, KYRIE IRVING, PHIL TAYLOR: Lindor and Irving are potential future Hall of Famers, Taylor’s name also appears in this short paragraph.
3. 1991 — MANNY RAMIREZ, TERRELL BRANDON, ERIC TURNER: Manny was a guaranteed Hall of Famer until he lost his way in the pharmaceutical jungle. Brandon was a two-time All-Star and ranks fourth on the Cavs’ career assists list, and Turner led the NFL in interceptions and was first team All-Pro in 1994.
4. 1978 — CLAY MATTHEWS, MIKE MITCHELL, PHIL LANSFORD: Mitchell’s 24.5 points per game in 1980-81 is the second-highest per-game average in Cavs history (non-LeBron division) and his 19.3 points per game ranks fifth on the Cavs’ career list. Matthews, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, played more games (232) for the Browns than anyone in history. Phil Lansford never played any games in the big leagues, but he WAS Carney’s brother.
5. 1971 — AUSTIN CARR, CLARENCE SCOTT, DAVID SLOAN: Carr was the first overall pick in the draft and averaged 21 points per game (pre-3-point line) in his first three seasons. Then injuries hit and his career hit the skids. Scott played 13 years in the NFL, all of them with the Browns, and only missed one game. His 39 career interceptions rank third on the club’s all-time list. David Sloan seemed like a good idea at the time.
Cleveland’s five worst drafting years:
1. 1990 — TIM COSTO: Neither the Browns nor the Cavs had first-round picks, and the Indians weren’t about to salvage the year. They took Costo, a shortstop from the University of Iowa, with the eighth overall pick, and were so enamored with their selection that a year later they traded him to Cincinnati for Reggie Jefferson. Two years after that they traded Jefferson for Omar Vizquel, so maybe drafting Costo was a stroke of genius.
2. 2001 — GERARD WARREN, DeSAGANA DIOP, DAN DENHAM: Warren’s legacy in Cleveland was chiseled into infamy by former Browns president Carmen Policy, who said of Warren: “Pittsburgh police said he was the nicest guy they ever arrested.” Ba-dum-bum. Diop rhymes with “flop” and was exactly that. Denham was a high school pitcher whose nine-year professional career consisted of 229 games, all of them in the minors.
3. 1979 — WILLIS ADAMS, JOHN BOHNET: The Cavs didn’t have a first-round pick. Adams was a wide receiver who spent seven years with the Browns and had more fumbles (three) than touchdown receptions (two). Bohnet was a high school pitcher who was drafted at 18, made three relief appearances with the Indians at 21 (6.94 ERA), then hurt his arm and was done at 23.
4. 2000 — COURTNEY BROWN, CHRIS MIHM, COREY SMITH: Brown, the first overall pick in the draft, spent five years with the Browns, and was healthy in just one of them. Mihm played 3ﾽ years with the Cavs. Jamal Crawford, the player the Cavs drafted eighth overall, then immediately traded to the Bulls for Mihm, just finished his 18th year in the NBA. Smith spent 15 years in the minor leagues, foreign leagues, and independent leagues, and retired at age 32 with a total of 7,140 professional at-bats, none of them in the majors.
5. 1985 — KEITH LEE, MIKE POEHL: The Browns had no first-rounder. Poehl spent six years in the Indians’ minor league system and never got above Double-A. Lee spent two empty years with the Cavs. Charles Oakley, the Cleveland native the Cavs drafted ninth overall, then immediately traded to the Bulls for Lee, had a 19-year NBA career.
Contact Jim Ingraham at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him @Jim_Ingraham on twitter.
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