July 25, 2014

#CavsRank: At No. 7, Terrell Brandon

Welcome to #CavsRank, the illustrious ranking of the best all-time Cleveland Cavaliers players from some of your favorite Cavs bloggers. Today we -belatedly- check in No. 7 on our list, two-time All-Star Terrell Brandon. Please take some time to check out the entries at Fear The Sword, Real Cavs Fans, Cavs: The Blog, and Stepien Rules.

Brandon SI CoverWere you aware that is only one Terrell Brandon highlight mix on YouTube? One. And it’s not a particularly breathtaking video either. It’s full of Brandon nailing mid range jumpers and pedestrian passes to open teammates.

Which is kind of fitting, as Brandon (and his era of Cleveland basketball) is routinely overlooked. In fact, how little people knew of Brandon was one of the main takeaways from the famous Sports Illustrated piece1.

In 457 games as a Cavalier, Terrell Brandon finished 11th all-time in points (9th when he left), 4th in assists, 5th in steals and 3rd in free throw percentage at 86.8%.  Brandon made two All-Star teams while in Cleveland and his Cavalier squads made the playoffs in five out of his six seasons in the wine & gold  teal & black (and although the Cavs missed the playoffs his final season in Cleveland, they still managed to finish above .500 at 42-40).

Drafted 11th overall by the Cavaliers in 1991, Brandon joined a veteran, title contending Cleveland team, with the expectation that he would back up All-Star point guard Mark Price. In fact, the only reason the Cavs were in a position high enough to take a player of TeeBee’s caliber was because the Cavaliers struggled mightily after Price blew out his knee during the previous campaign. There was a bit of luck involved too; the Cavs were without draft first round picks in the 1990 and 1992 drafts due to the Danny Ferry/Ron Harper debacle. 1991 was the only year those Cavs could’ve capitalized draft-wise off of a down season.

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Brandon was the cover boy for #CavsZine3

It was very easy to like Terrell Brandon. He was one of the first players I latched onto when I started watching hoops. A small, quick guard with a great handle (he’d often dribble between his legs), Brandon never made waves, never complained about a contract and always seemed to play the game “the right way” (aka, he passed to his teammates when they were open). A lot of players could’ve complained about being a back up after going off for 15 points and six assists in their NBA debut, but Brandon always seemed to be well aware how of good he and other NBA players had it.

”I wasn’t depressed about not starting, I was still in the N.B.A., still living a good life. I’m also appreciative because I saw how hard my parents worked for what they got, and it wasn’t anything close to what I was getting.” Brandon told the NY Times in 1998. As he told Cavs.com, “I knew whose team it was. So it was easy to just sit back – even though I had the pressure of starting the first 16 games as a rookie because of Price’s injury – everyone knew it was his position. That’s what a backup’s role is—to assist the team and the starter.”

Brandon spent four seasons backing up Mark Price as the Cavs continued to slam their heads against the wall that was Michael Jordan’s Bulls. Injuries eventually took their toll as Price, Brad Daugherty and Larry Nance all missed significant time and the Cavs would transition from Lenny Wilkens to Mike Fratello. Wayne Embry, seeing the writing on the wall, shipped Price to the Bullets in the 95 offseason and Fratello handed the keys to the franchise over to Brandon.

Brandon responded with a monster season, making his first of two All-Star teams (becoming just the 8th player under six feet tall to become an All-Star) and averaging 19.3 points and 6.5 assists per night with a PER over 25. Brandon could do it all; he could stop on a dime and hit a J in your eye, he could get inside at will and either dish it to a teammate or finish with either hand, and while he wasn’t a bomber, Brandon shot a respectable 38% from behind the arc. Brandon was so effective at running the point that even Danny Ferry (13 points ppg in 1995) looked like a competent NBA player next to him. Unfortunately, those Mills, Phills & Hill Cavs got bounced in the first round for third consecutive year (and second time in a row by the Knicks).

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CAN YOU SPOT TERRELL?

Brandon continued his strong play into the 1996-97 season, again averaging 19 points and 6 assists and again making the All-Star team. This time was special: the game was being held in Cleveland, the NBA was honoring their 50 greatest players and Brandon was just named the Best point guard in the NBA by Sports Illustrated2..All eyes were on the Cavalier ambassador and he responded in excellent fashion, scoring 10 points and dishing out eight assists in front of the hometown crowd. As he told HoopsHype: “It was a beautifully hectic situation because I was so proud. The city had adopted me and I had been there five years and it was great to represent my family, the city of Portland, the Cavaliers and all of Cleveland. It was hectic doing all the interviews and commitments, but I loved it.”

The Cavs struggled down the stretch of the ’97 season, and their 9-13 record over the last month left them two games out of the playoffs by season’s end. Not only did they struggle, it wasn’t fun to watch. Fratello’s Cavs averaged a league low 87 points per game (worst in the league) while holding opponents to just 85. It was brutal. At least before when fans weren’t showing up, Fratello’s Cavs could point to playoff berths. But with no offense and no playoffs, changes had to be made.

Brandon was shipped off during following offseason in what was one of the biggest and most star studded trades in NBA history. In the trade that saw the Cavs land legitimate superstar Shawn Kemp, Cleveland shipped Brandon and forward Tyrone Hill (who had made the All-Star team in 1994) to the Milwaukee Bucks, who in turn shipped All-Star Vin Baker to the Seattle Supersonics. It was one of those rare “all sides are happy” trades3.

Like Price before him, injuries to his ankles and knees would plague Brandon for the rest of his career. After playing 82 games each of his first two seasons and appearing over 70 games in five of his six seasons in Cleveland, Brandon was limited to just 50 games for the Bucks over the 97-98 season.

The Bucks traded Brandon Timberwolves in another three-team blockbuster, this time at the trade deadline of the lockout shortened 1999 season. The Wolves acquired Brandon (and a first round pick that turned into Wally Szczerbiak) in the deal that shipped Stephon Marbury to the Nets and Sam Cassell to the Bucks. Brandon had a couple of good years with the Wolves, posting a PER over 20 in each of his three season and helping a young Kevin Garnett adjust to the NBA. Brandon made the playoffs in each of his three seasons in Minnesota, but like his Fratello years, never made it out of the first round.

Was KG the best player you ever played with?

TB: I have to say yes. I played with Larry Nance. I compared these two. Larry Nance was a great player.

Due to knee injuries and the dreaded micofracture surgery, Brandon played his last NBA in February of 2002. However, Brandon was involved in a couple of more memorable NBA transactions after he stopped playing. Brandon (or more accurately, his contract) was shipped to the Hawks in 2003 as part of a four team trade that landed Latrell Sprewell in Minnesota and Keith Van Horn in New York. Brandon was finally able to retire in 2004, after the Hawks waived his contract in order to complete the trade that sent Rasheed Wallace to the Pistons.

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Shame on you, Cavs team shop.

Not that they embrace it, but the Cavalier franchise has a more than decent point guard lineage. The point guard is far and away the franchise’s deepest position. If we’re not counting historic losing streaks, disastrous free agent moves or just plain old general mismanagement, strong point guard play is this franchise’s calling card.

Mark Price is obviously the standard bearer, but Brandon had some super seasons and we all know that Kyrie Irving is coming on strong. But even the Cavs second tier point guards are more than solid; from Lenny Wilkens and Foots Walker in the 70s, John Bagley in the 80s, onto Brevin Knight and Andre Miller in the 90s and hell, even Mo Williams, the Cavaliers have a rich lineage of point guards4.

Brandon fits right into that lineage. A pass-first guard who could score when he wanted, Brandon was the embodiment of the “prototypical point guard.” Brandon was a joy to watch, the face of the franchise following their move downtown, an all time NBA nice guy and a pros pro.

What I wouldn’t give for a highlight mix that did the man justice.

#CavsRank:

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Footnotes:

  1. From the SI article: “Sadly, or predictably, he is not very famous for what you can only call an outlandish maturity. He’s not very famous for anything, actually. Not even in Cleveland. A parking-lot attendant one block from Gund Arena eyes him getting out of his Explorer (his one extravagance; his only other car, a 1991 325 BMW, dates to his NBA signing six years ago). “Are you a Cav?” the attendant inquires. Brandon says yes, sir. The attendant, delighted, says, “Oh, man!…What’s your name?” []
  2. It’s hard to exaggerate how big the SI cover story was at the time. The Cavs were in the midst of the Fratello slow-it-down era and the local media and fans were… well, ‘uninterested’ is being charitable. Brandon was the first Cavalier to grace the cover of the premier sports magazine and it was a Very Big Deal. He’s the only non-LeBron Cavalier to get the SI cover treatment []
  3. but for how long? []
  4. I think part of the reason some fans struggle with embracing Kyrie’s scoring mentality is because we’ve had a generation of Cavs fans weened on guys like Price, Brandon, Knight and Miller. We know our floor generals []
  • http://www.centsports.com/?opcode=487541 c3j1v62

    nothing better than the ‘-ills’ era

  • Harv 21

    you had me, Ben, until you lumped Bagley in with the “rich lineage of Cavs point guards.” There was much anguish during the Bags years about how to upgrade that position. Looking at longevity or staring at stats to judge him is about as useful as ranking Bobby Sura based on his 3 straight triple doubles. John Bagley was a below average to (briefly) average point guard. He could use his pudgy body to defend or grab a rebound or occasionally bull his way to the hole. And that’s about it.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    “I think part of the reason some fans struggle with embracing Kyrie’s scoring mentality is because we’ve had a generation of Cavs fans weened on guys like Price, Brandon, Knight and Miller.” – Yes.

  • eldaveablo

    And what about the all too brief Baron Davis era? That was unexpectedly fun.

  • Petefranklin

    All Star… don’t care. Does not belong!!~!

  • Petefranklin

    BINGO!!!, way better.

  • Petefranklin

    Bingo, LLoyd,Mark, and maybe Kyrie. That leaves room for six.
    Don’t forget anyone youngblood!

  • LaundroMat

    except it’s “weaned,” not “weened.” Say it ain’t so.

  • Pat Leonard

    Great player. Didn’t have a lot of help during the teal & black years. The fact that he suffered the same fate as Mark Price and didn’t have a full career is a shame. You covered it well, Ben.