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The Last Non-LeBron Cavaliers Playoff Team

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Cavaliers Playoff Team

The Cleveland Cavaliers have had an interesting existence. They pulled off a playoff miracle at the Richmond Coliseum during their first decade. They were known, though, as being the team that often picked #1. There was some success, and their first trip to the conference finals in the 90s. There have been a number of letdowns, though.

It’ll be here a lot sooner than it currently feels like. And with Cavs legends having played in it before, it’s time to get ready for some betting on March Madness. Remember that time Austin Carr scored 61 points for Notre Dame in the tournament? He did that before the three-point shot was invented, and it still stands as the record.

Time to talk about the last Cavs team to have success without the King present. Because, LeBron James has been their savior. 


The Last 25 Years

For 11 of the past 25 seasons, the Cavs have had the luxury of one of the greatest (arguably the best) players in the world being on their side. They took LeBron James #1 overall in the 2003 Draft, as was expected when they won the lottery. And the next seven years were an absolute whirlwind.

For the five years prior to James arrival, the team had very little success. A losing record each season. Multiple head coaches. But from his second through the seventh season, they were tremendous. They won at least 50 games five times, including a pair of 60-win years.

But, he spurned the team and left to play in South Beach for the Miami Heat. Over the next four seasons, Cleveland won 19, 21, 24, and 33 games, respectively. And then he surprised everybody and decided to return. Four NBA Finals trips. One title. It was great. The team finally captured their first trophy, and The Kid From Akron delivered on his promise. But, after the fourth, he left for the Lakers.

The next 3 years saw the Cavs win 19, 19, and 22 games. But last season, they took strides, winning 44. Unfortunately, it was the first time that being a #8 seed wasn’t a guarantee for making the playoffs. They lost in the play-in. 

This year might be the year. They have gone 28-18 so far. They have three All-Stars, and a fourth that’s budding before their eyes in Evan Mobley. Maybe the drought can end?

Let’s talk about the 97-98 Cavs, the last non-LeBron one to make the playoffs.


The 97-98 Cavs

A lot of fans of the team today will remember this Cavs team. In 1997-98, they won 47 regular-season games, which was enough to qualify them for the playoffs. But, this time, there was no Mark Price. No Brad Daugherty. No Larry Nance. This was all of their new acquisitions paying off. Four key rookies on this squad got extensive minutes.

The starting lineup featured three 22-year-olds, in the forms of Brevin Knight, Cedric Henderson, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. The other two were 26 and 28, Wesley Person and Shawn Kemp. Three of their top-four bench contributors were also 24 or younger, with the exception being 31-year-old Danny Ferry.

This young, energized squad helped the team rank #3 in scoring defense. That was a staple during the Mike Fratello era, and this was no different. Nobody could have expected the lineup they put out there to actually go and make the playoffs. It didn’t go as well in the postseason, but getting there was truly enough for this team.

They went against Reggie Miller’s Pacers, and wound up losing in four games. Nobody besides Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Shawn Kemp was able to find their way as a scorer. Indiana was a tough out in the late-90’s, and did reach an NBA Finals. It was impressive enough that they were able to avoid a three-game sweep.


Trying To Make History

If the 2022-23 Cavs are able to make the postseason, they will indeed become the first since that Shawn Kemp-led team to do it while not having LeBron on the roster. Not many franchises have been as reliant on one star as Cleveland has been on LeBron for the past two decades.

Donovan Mitchell has proven his value, scoring 71 points a few weeks ago against the Bulls. He and Darius Garland have Cleveland in position to break the long drought. Will it finally happen?


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