Longtime Cleveland Cavaliers GM Wayne Embry is most known for making great moves in the 1986 NBA draft. Widely considered as one of the unluckiest drafts ever, Embry was able to come up with a group of gems consisting of PG Mark Price, SG Ron Harper, SF Johnny Newman, and C Brad Daugherty, a special group of players which will propel the Cavs to the elite level. But only a year before that Embry’s predecessor Harry Weltman made one of the biggest draft-day blunders in the history of the NBA franchise from Ohio.
The 1984-1985 Cleveland Cavaliers had an obvious problem in being outrebounded by the opponents, both on the offensive and defensive glass. Therefore, holding the 9th, 30th and 45th overall pick in the 1985 NBA draft Weltman went after a much-needed power forward which would strengthen up the team in the rebounding department.
Weltman went with Oakley, but in a matter of hours decided to trade him and 30th pick overall Calvin Duncan to the Chicago Bulls for forward 11th overall pick Keith Lee and point guard Ennis Whatley.
Then, with the 13th overall pick in the 1985 NBA draft, the Utah Jazz selected Louisiana Tech power forward Karl Malone. The Mailman enjoyed a fruitful 19-year NBA career in which he appeared in 14 All-star games, three NBA finals and was a distinguished member of 1992 & 1996 USA Olympic teams.
In contrast to Malone and Oakley, 6’10’ Lee was blessed with a legit frame and a great wingspan, along posting quite impressive numbers across the board for Memphis State – in his senior season Lee averaged 19.7 points and 9.2 boards helping the Tigers to reach the 1985 NCAA Final Four.
Oakley, who was a runner up to Michael Cage in the 1987-88 NBA season’s thrilling rebounding race, was traded to the New York Knicks for Bill Cartwright midway through the 1988-89 season. In the Big Apple, across the next decade, he formed a powerful frontcourt with the superstar center Patrick Ewing.
Although mostly known for his rebounding and interior defense over his illustrious career Oakley perfected the offensive upgrade in the form of reliable mid-range shooting.
On the other hand, after spending two erratic seasons with the Cavaliers and eventually injuring his leg Keith Lee was traded to the New Jersey Nets where he concluded his 4-year NBA career. He appeared in a total of 182 games, achieving the totals of 1114 points, 861 rebounds, 178 assists, and 110 rebounds.
By skipping Malone, and eventually trading Oakley for Lee, Weltman indirectly helped the Central division rival Chicago Bulls to strengthen up for the bitter late 1980s rivalry between the two.
If he had selected Malone or kept Oakley, that player would be, in just a year’s time, surrounded with an overwhelming abundance of talent and the Cavs would be just omnipotent powerhouse in the East.