Since the departure of LeBron James in the summer of 2010, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been searching for a suitable replacement at the small forward position. No one is going to replace James – who is undoubtedly the NBA's best player – but they have struggled to find someone who would be good enough to cement themselves in the role.
Tonight, the Cavaliers believe they will debut that man.
Deng is a two-time All Star and should be a significant upgrade over anyone else who has played the position for the Cavs over the last three and a half seasons, or at least it appears that way on paper.
Here is a list of the players who have lined up at small forward for Cleveland since James took his talents south. Be careful, the list is depressing and shows that Deng does not have much to live up to in order to be the best player at the position since the King left town.
Gee was one of the first players given the chance to replace James. He played 40 games with the Cavaliers the year after LeBron left, starting 29, and averaged 7.4 points on 46% shooting, 3.9 rebounds, and less than one assist per game.
Gee spent the rest of that season traveling between the NBA and the D-League, with brief stops in San Antonio and Washington.
He returned to Cleveland for the 2011-12 season and his been a member of the Cavs since.
In that time, he has played in 176 games, starting 131. He started every game last season and 18 games this year. Since returning, he is averaging just 8.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.3 assists. He has not shot better than 41.2% from the field in any season.
Gee has had his moments, at the small forward position, but has really kept the spot because no one has deserved it until Earl Clark this season.
Harangody was part of a Cavaliers trade during the 2010-11 season with the Boston Celtics. When he arrived, the forward was sent to the Canton Charge and split time between there and Cleveland.
In his two-year stint with the Cavs, Harangody played in 42 games with one start. He averaged 4.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, and under one assist per game.
Harangody's time was not a bright spot for the franchise, as they struggled to win games and his NBA career has not taken off since he was waived by the the Cavaliers in November of 2012 despite an invitation to the Denver Nuggets Summer League team.
Graham had a brief stint in Cleveland after four seasons in Toronto and one in Denver. He signed a two-year contract at the end of the July, but was waived earl December.
In his 39 games in 2010-11, Graham made eight starts, averaging 5.2 points and 2.2 rebounds in 15 minutes per game.
Casspi came to the Cavaliers in the J.J. Hickson trade with the Sacramento Kings. He played two seasons in the Wine and Gold, making 108 appearances and starting 36 games.
Casspi frustrated fans with his inconsistent play. On any given night he could look like he belonged in the NBA, then the next night come out and appear lost.
He averaged 5.5 points and 3.1 rebounds and shot less than 40% in his time in Cleveland.
He is now a reserve on the Houston Rockets.
Walton, who at one point looked to be a solid NBA player under Phil Jackson, had his career derailed by injuries. He was mildly effective with the Cavs, playing in 71 games.
Last season, when he made 50 appearances, Walton averaged 3.4 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 3.3 assists, all the best numbers he had achieved in at least four years.
Walton is now a player development coach for the Los Angeles D-Fenders of the NBA D-League.
Miles has played both shooting guard and small forward for the Cavaliers. He has probably been the most successful of any on this list. Unfortunately for the Cavs, most of that has come as a shooting guard.
Miles signed with Cleveland from the Utah Jazz, where he was their sixth man, before the 2012-13 season. Over his 96 games as a Cav – 35 starts – he has averaged 10.7 points, 2.5 rebounds, and one assist. He recently set the Cavalier record for three pointers in a game with 10, also setting the record for made attempts in a half (eight) and in the first quarter (five).
At 6'6", 231, Miles is often playing against a bigger player when at the three position. He has been most productive starting alongside Kyrie Irving or Jarrett Jack at shoot guard.
At 6'10" Clark is a big small forward, but has shown the ability to knock down the outside shot, shooting over 37% this season from behind the stripe.
He has averaged 5.9 points and 3.1 rebounds per game this year and has become the end-of-game three-point threat for Cleveland recently.
With the addition of Deng, Clark will have more freedom to come in where necessary off the bench. Though the Cavs are well stocked at the power forward position, Clark could fill in there if needed.
Cleveland has used the number-one overall pick more as a power forward than a small, but he is in between in terms of size.
The rookie has been largely disappointing so far this season, no matter where he's been used. In a league where rookies are no longer given time to develop, Bennett has struggled, playing in just 29 games.
He is averaging 2.5 points, an 2.3 rebounds in just under 11 minutes per game. He is yet to score in double figures or have double-digit rebounds this season.
…Tags: Alonzo Gee, Andrew Bynum, Anthony Bennett, Basketball, C.J. Miles, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland, Cleveland Cavaliers, Earl Clark, LeBron James, Luke Harangody, Luke Walton, Luol Deng, NBA, Omri Casspi
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