Cleveland Cavaliers created an “Instant Championship” Team in the 1986 draft

Cleveland Cavaliers created an “Instant Championship” Team in the 1986 draft

On Draft Day in 1986, the Cavs were coming off a 29-53 season. They had no coach or general manager, and they executed one of the most brilliant drafts in NBA history. On June 17, 1986, the Cavs set the course for a decade of success by drafting Daugherty and Ron Harper with the No. 1 and No. 8 picks in the first round, respectively, trading for Mark Price, and then adding Johnny Newman in the second round with the 29th overall pick.

The reshaping of the Cavaliers began in 1986 with the hiring of Wayne Embry as a general manager. He talked Lenny Wilkens, then the Seattle SuperSonics’ general manager, into going back to coaching and hired Gary Fitzsimmons as director of player personnel.

First, they traded their best player, forward Roy Hinson, and $800,000 in cash to the Philadelphia 76ers for the No. 1 overall pick. The Cavs took North Carolina center, Brad Daugherty.

With their own first-round pick, No. 8 overall, they drafted skywalking swingman Ron Harper from Miami of Ohio.

They then traded a 1989 second-round pick to the Dallas Mavericks for the player the Mavs had just selected with the first pick of the second round, Mark Price.

Cleveland added one more rookie in 1986: power-forward John “Hot Rod” Williams from Tulane, whom they’d taken a flyer on in the second round the previous year. The Tulane program had been implicated in a gambling scandal, casting a shadow over Williams. He was eventually exonerated, but the complication cost him his rookie season.

In 1986-87, Williams, Harper, and Daugherty all made the NBA All-Rookie first team (Roy Tarpley, too). Price blossomed the following year and became one of the game’s all-time great three-point and free-throw shooters. Even the Cavs’ other second-round pick in 1986, swingman Johnny Newman, went on to a 19-year NBA career.

“After the draft, I knew, based on everything I’d heard, that this would be one of the great drafts of all time,” said Gordon Gund, who was the majority owner at the time. “To be able to fill practically your whole starting team was special. It was great for the city.

This draft holds the record for the most players (out of prospects chosen) who later debuted in the NBA, with 66.

There were various drug-related problems that plagued players in the 1986 NBA draft. Most notable was the death of highly touted Len Bias. Bias died less than two days after being selected second overall by the defending champion Boston Celtics. His death was ruled an overdose that resulted from the abuse of the drug cocaine. Other problems involving drugs hampered the careers of Chris Washburn, Roy Tarpley, and William Bedford.

While a number of first-round selections were unable to make an impact in the league, this draft did feature a number of talented second-round selections. Dennis Rodman, who became one of the leading defenders and rebounders in NBA history. Mark Price, Kevin Duckworth, and Jeff Hornacek also went on to have successful careers, and each made the NBA All-Star Game. Three others – Johnny Newman, Nate McMillan, and David Wingate – had long, productive careers as role players.