COMMENTARY | November 16, 1989 surely isn't a date many Cleveland Cavaliers fans know by heart. But, for one reason or another over the past 24 years, November 16, 1989 changed the course of the franchise. That was the day the Cavaliers traded Ron Harper to the Los Angeles Clippers for the rights to Danny Ferry. And it turned out to be one of the most ill-fated days in Cavaliers history.
At the time, the trade seemed like a relatively even swap of two young stars. Ferry was coming off one of the greatest college careers in ACC history where he averaged 22.6 points and 7.4 rebounds as senior at Duke while earning the Naismith College Player of the Year Award. After being drafted second overall by the Clippers and refusing to join the team, Ferry dominated the Italian league in 1989-90, averaging 23 points and 6 rebounds for Rome's Il Messaggero.
Harper was already established as a proven scorer for the Cavaliers. In three seasons with the team, Harper averaged 22.9 points as a rookie, 15.4 points in an abbreviated 57-game second year, and 18.6 points during the 1988-89 campaign.
As a 6'6'' shooting guard, Harper appeared to be a central piece of the Cavaliers' future. Along with a young base consisting of Brad Daugherty, Larry Nance, Mark Price, and Hot Rod Williams, Harper helped lead the Cavaliers to a 57-25 record and a playoff berth in 1989. It appeared the Cavaliers' young team was poised to at least make a run at a few championships in the early '90s.
But in late 1989, seven games into the new season, Cavaliers GM Wayne Embry completed the trade that sent Harper, two first-round draft picks ('90, '92), and a second-round pick ('91) to Los Angeles for Ferry and Reggie Williams.
The rest, of course, is history. Or, more appropriately, Cleveland history.
Harper went on to be a prolific scorer for several years with the Clippers before taking a backseat as a role player for Jordan's Bulls and Shaq and Kobe's Lakers, amassing five championship rings in all.
Danny Ferry never fulfilled the promise of his college career, instead being relegated to bench-player status in the NBA. During his 13-year career playing for the Cavs and San Antonio Spurs, Ferry only managed 7.0 points, 1.3 assists, and 2.8 rebounds in 19.8 minutes per game. While the Cavaliers fielded a quality team for several years after Ferry's arrival, they never had the talent to overcome the league's top teams.
Ferry's impact on the Cavaliers would continue even after his playing days, however.
Ferry was brought back in 2005 as the new Cavaliers GM to do what he couldn't as a player: Bring the Cavaliers a championship.
With LeBron James firmly implanted as the league's heir apparent for the "Best Player in the World" title, Ferry was in charge of finding James a running mate or two to shoulder the burden of the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
But, over the next five years, Ferry brought in the who's who of the league's has-beens and never-weres to surround James. At various times, Ferry signed Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall, Damon Jones, Mo Williams, and an over-the-hill Shaquille O'Neal and Antawn Jamison-all to no avail.
By the time Ferry left his GM duties after the 2010 season, it was already too late. LeBron James was about to make a "Decision" to go play with legitimate sidekicks in Miami.
Cue the Cavaliers' past three losing seasons, which have resulted in Cleveland being chock-full of lottery talent, stockpiled picks, and cap space that finally might position the Cavs for another playoff push in the coming years-this time without the former small forward from Duke in tow.
There is no way of knowing if the Cavaliers would have been able to win a title or two over the Pistons and Bulls throughout the early '90s with Harper and their forfeited draft picks instead of Danny Ferry. There is also no guarantee that Ferry finding another star or two to play with James would have resulted in winning championships and LeBron staying in Cleveland, but you can't help but wonder what might have been in Cleveland if it weren't for November 16, 1989.
Adam Redling is a freelance writer from Cleveland, OH. He covers the Cavaliers for the Yahoo! Contributor Network.
- Sports & Recreation
- Cleveland Cavaliers
- Danny Ferry
- Ron Harper
- Los Angeles Clippers