Bringing success with one solid draft

Bringing success with one solid draft

Published May. 16, 2011 8:48 a.m. ET

Cavaliers fans can have faith in their general manager.

That’s because when Chris Grant says “there are 12 to 15 good players” who come out of every NBA draft, he’s right.

Look no further than the first time the Cavs possessed two lottery picks for proof. The year was 1986, when the Cavs traded forward Roy Hinson to Philadelphia for the No. 1 overall pick. They also owned the No. 8 pick that year.

The Cavs selected Brad Daugherty first, and Ron Harper eighth. Daugherty went on to become the best center in team history before being derailed by back issues later in his career. Harper immediately became an electrifying shooting guard and a key piece to the Cavs’ 57-25 season in 1988-89, the best finish in franchise history at the time.

Harper was later traded to the Los Angeles Clippers (for Danny Ferry and Reggie Williams), then blew out his knee shortly afterward. Still, he played 15 years in the league and was an important piece on a combined five championship teams in Chicago and with the L.A. Lakers.

You can make the case that Daugherty and Harper were the two best players to come out of the first round that year -- and did so in what turned out to be an otherwise lousy draft.

Not to be overlooked in all this, of course, is the fact the Cavs also landed Mark Price in 1986. Price was selected with the first pick of the second round by Dallas (No. 25 overall), then quickly shipped to Cleveland. He became the team’s best-ever point guard, and clearly one of the most underrated players in NBA history.

But let’s stick to the first round for now -- because no matter where the Cavs finish in Tuesday night’s lottery, they will obtain their two highest picks since ’86.

They also own the Clippers’ pick, and since the Clippers missed the playoffs too, it’s conceivable that the Cavs could finish with the top two selections. The worst they can do is Nos. 5 and 11. If the lottery holds true to regular-season form, the Cavs will select second and eighth.

Anyway, back to 1986.

Len Bias was taken by Boston with the second pick, but died two nights later from a cocaine overdose.

Chris Washburn went No. 3 to Golden State, but he also struggled with cocaine abuse. He played in a measly 72 games over two seasons, compiling career averages of just 3.1 points and 2.4 rebounds per game. Sports lllustrated once labeled the 6-foot-11 center the second-biggest draft bust of all time.

Other flameouts from ’86 included Kenny Walker (No. 5 to New York), William Bedford (No. 6 to Phoenix) and Walter Berry (No. 14 to San Antonio). Roy Tarpley, drafted seventh by Dallas, was effective early in his career and even named sixth man of the year in 1988.

But like Bias, Washburn and Bedford, Tarpley struggled with drugs and was banned from the league in 1991. He returned in 1994, but was banned for life a year later for alcohol abuse.

Picking a winner

Besides Daugherty and Harper, the most noteworthy players to emerge from the ’86 first round were Chuck Person, Buck Johnson and Scott Skiles. Person was selected fourth overall, but Johnson lasted until No. 20 and Skiles went 22nd. Also, Russian center Arvydas Sabonis was selected 24th, but didn’t come to the NBA for another three years.

Most of the other top players from that draft were selected in the later rounds. (In 1986, there were a whopping seven rounds, which resulted in 161 total picks -- or almost three times as many as there are now.)

The list includes Dennis Rodman (No. 27), Nate McMillan (No. 30), Jeff Hornacek (No. 46) and the late Drazen Petrovic (No. 60).

All of this takes us back to Grant’s theory about 12 to 15 good players coming out of every draft. The aforementioned names from 1986 (and a few not mentioned) support his contention. The Cavs got three good ones that year, with Harper narrowly losing rookie of the year honors to Person, and Daugherty and Price combining for nine All-Star game appearances.

That draft was 25 years ago, and with a lots of homework and a little luck, Grant can potentially experience similar success today, no matter how the lottery plays out.

The secret is identifying the 12 to 15 good ones, then landing a couple when the opportunity arises, regardless of where you pick.

“We know we're going to add two good players to our team, not even considering the trade exception and some other tools,” Grant said last month. “So I feel like we're in a good spot.”

If it’s anything like 1986, you could even call it a great spot.