NBA: Ranking LeBron’s Supporting Casts

LeBron James’ supporting casts, over the years, has ranged from all-time greats to some of the worst in NBA history. Here is the list ranking all 16 casts LeBron has had:

Key: Went to Finals ***LeBron Won MVP

16. Cleveland Cavaliers 2003-04 (Went 35-47)

In LeBron’s first season in the league, the Cavaliers were coming off a season that got them the first overall pick and allowed them to draft James. That said, the roster around him was still much to be desired as the team .

LeBron was a rookie and the “vets” around the 19-year-old included Eric Williams, Kevin Ollie, Jeff McInnis, and future Cavs legend Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Honorable mention to Ricky Davis who averaged 15.3 ppg and Carlos Boozer who averaged 15.5.

An underrated aspect is that the Cavs had a bad enough record to get a lottery pick. In the 2004 draft, they selected Luke Jackson out of Oregon with the tenth pick. Notable players drafted after Jackson included: Al Jefferson, Jameer Nelson,  and Tony Allen. Cleveland did, however, get Anderson Varejão that same night.

It makes sense for this team not only to be the worst of LeBron’s career, but also the team where he had the least amount of help.

15. Cleveland Cavaliers 2004-05 (42-40)

The next season version of the Cavs was slightly better with less talent, specifically no Boozer or Davis. The King went on to average 27 ppg and dished out a team-high seven assists per game.

The stand out players in the supporting cast included Ilgauskas and a recently acquired Drew Gooden who averaged 14.4 ppg.

The Cavs were able to sneak out two games over .500, but missed the playoffs and didn’t have their first-round pick. Also, Jackson did not live up to the bar LeBron set for Cav rookies and averaged 2.9points. He would be traded the next season to the Boston Celtics for Dwayne Jones.

14. Cleveland Cavaliers 2005-06 (50-32, Lost in the ECSF)

In year three of the LeBron experience, the Cavs made the playoffs and were able to get out of the first round. They lost in the second round in seven to the Detriot Pistons.  

During the season, Ilgauskas (15.6ppg and 7.6 rpg) and newly signed Larry Hughes (15.5ppg) provided James with help. In the first round against Washington, LeBron would, for the first time, put the entire Cavs franchise on his back. He averaged 36-8-6 for the series to upset the Wizards who were the two seed. They were led by Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler (remember those names).

Gooden was the only other player on the roster to have a notable impact in that series, averaging 8.8 points and 9.3 rebounds. The Cavs would lose in the second again however.

13. Cleveland Cavaliers 2017-18 (50-32)

Last season’s Cavs were objectively a mess. Kevin Love missed a bunch of games, the team traded Kyrie Irving before the season started for Isaiah Thomas who would only play in 15 games for the team, and the roster included Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, and Kendrick Perkins.

LeBron had to play in every single game, which was less than ideal. Everyone remembers the “February Massacre” where the Cavs butchered their roster and replaced almost every starter with a new face. The “best” player next to LeBron was Love who averaged around 18 points and 9 rebounds per night. In the playoffs, LeBron had very little help, averaging a near triple-double (34-9-9).

Cleveland made it to the Finals, but no player outside of James or Love averaged more than 10 ppg in the playoffs.

12. Cleveland Cavaliers 2006-07 (50-32)

Ironically, the first team LeBron took the Finals could easily be made worse than how it is ranked. The Cavs were the second seed in the playoffs, due mostly for how LeBron played in the regular season (27-7-6).

This was the first season that the Cavs had four players average double figures (Ilgauskas, Hughes, and Gooden). In the playoffs, there was a similar situation with LeBron and Co pretty much playing as well in the regular season as in the playoffs.

The only problem is that this was arguably the weakest year in Eastern Conference history. The Cavs beat the Wizards (4-0) and the New Jersey Nets (4-2) before beating the Pistons (4-2) to advance to the NBA Finals. The San Antonio Spurs stomped them (4-0).

The Finals was the only real example of how weak LeBron’s supporting cast was when Hughes and Gooden were all but naturalized (Gooden had 51 points in the series, Hughes had two). LeBron struggled averaging 22-7-7, but without a stronger supporting cast, it wasn’t enough.

11. Cleveland Cavaliers 2007-08 (45-37, lost in the ECSF)

After making the playoffs the previous season, this Cavs team had a starting five that averaged around double digits. LeBron averaged a season-high 30 ppg, and a team that had gotten to the Finals appeared to be trending in the same direction. The roster also included guys like Delonte West, Daniel Gibson, and Wally Szczerbiak. Ilgauskas was the oldest starter (32 years old) while mostly everyone else was in their mid-20’s.

Cleveland didn’t make the Finals. In fact, they didn’t make the ECF as they lost to the Boston Celtics in the semis.

10. Los Angeles Lakers 2018-19 (29-30, the 10th seed in the Western Conference)

This is by far not the best roster of LeBron’s career, but it’s also not the worst. The roster is young, but not as inexperienced or lacking in talent like the early-2000 Cavs rosters were.

Is Brandon Ingram a disappointment this season? Sure. Did the Rajon Rondo injury impact this team more than it should have? Absolutely. Did the Anthony Davis trade rumor shake this team to the core? 100%.

This team also has guys like Kyle Kuzma who is turning into a surprisingly talented player (averaging 19-5) and Josh Hart who has the chance to be something either in a trade deal this summer or come playoff time. It’s not really fair to put this team lower on the list without them missing the playoffs yet. If they do, its still fair to say that there was talent on this team.

9. Miami Heat 2013-14 (54-28)

This team got older a lot quicker than anyone expected. Wade averaged fewer than 20ppg. Bosh stopped going low and started shooting more threes. There were only four players on the roster 25 and younger (Justin Hamilton 23, DeAndre Liggins 25, Michael Beasley25, Norris Cole 25).

The roster still had Ray Allen, Jones, Battier but when it came to the Eastern Confernce Finals and NBA Finals it was shown that it would need a large overhaul to compete for championships, something that LeBron wasn’t willing to wait for.

8. Cleveland Cavaliers 2016-17 (51-31)

The difference between the championship team that came the season before it and this team was a slight one internally, but externally it was massive.

On July 4th, the Golden State Warriors, who were up 3-1 in the Finals, signed Kevin Durant. A few days later the Cavs, to counter that signing by their Finals foe, signed a 35-year-old Kyle Korver. The Championship hangover was real and the supporting cast felt it more than the stars.

LeBron had a stellar season and Irving had his best season to that point (25-6), but they fell apart. The fourth best player on this team might have been a toss-up between JR Smith and Richard Jefferson. The fun fact about this team is it had Tristan Thompson, Chris Anderson, and Larry Sanders all at different points.

7. Cleveland Cavaliers 2014-15 (53-29)

Like every LeBron roster post-2010, the Cavs were an NBA Finals team, but that doesn’t mean they were one of the best. Of course, this is a roster that carried Kyrie and Love, but also internet legend JR Smith.

On this Cavs team, it felt like some players were asked to do more than they could, especially come playoffs. In the regular season, Irving and Love both played big roles (Irving averaged 22 and 5 assists per game and Love averaged 16-10). But in the playoffs when neither player was available for the Finals, Matthew Dellavedova was LeBron’s wingman and Timofey Mozgov played a vital role. Players roles weren’t defined and that’s the reason that this team (along with the ones above it) aren’t higher on the list.

6. Cleveland Cavaliers 2009-10 (61-21 Lost in the ECSF)***

The last team LeBron played on his first time around in Cleveland was…an interesting one. The team employed a mix of young players who were still trying to find their place in the league (J.J. Hickson and Danny Green), washed stars (Shaquille O’Neal) and guys who didn’t really fit right (Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison).

The Cavs of had two 15ppg scorers in Williams and Jamison, but failed to really put other play-makers around LBJ.

In the playoffs, the starting five of Williams, Anthony Parker, James, Jamison, and O’Neal were good enough to get out of the first round but didn’t have the star power to really compete with the Celtics.

BONUS: At the time, many people thought this was the best team LeBron had ever played on.

5. Cleveland Cavaliers 2008-09 (66-16 Lost in ECF)***

Ah, record-wise this is the best team LeBron played on (well, tied for best). This should have been the team that made it to the NBA Finals, but instead, they were knocked out in the Eastern Conference Finals by *laughs to self* Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic.  

This was also LeBron’s first MVP season, which could have also had some effect on the Cavs record. Mo Williams was brought in and made the All-Star Game (the only one of his career) averaging 18 ppg. Ilgauskas was contributing in the scoring output and Delonte West was scoring on (and off) the court well enough to be the starting point guard for the team.

In the playoffs, the Cavs played like the best team in the East sweeping both the Pistons and the Hawks. LeBron averaged close to a triple-double (35-9-7) and Williams was able to add in 16ppg, but the rest of the roster didn’t show up. In the Magic series, LeBron led both teams in scoring in all but the closeout game six.

4. Miami Heat 2010-11 (58-24)

The Heatles.

The start of the “Super Team Era.” However you want to describe it, this was the first time LeBron was paired next to, not only two All-Stars, but two bonafide Hall of Famers. While the end result was not what anyone (outside of the Dallas area) expected, it was still one of the better teams LeBron played on.

That first summer, Pat Riley and the Heat only had a few millions dollars and weeks to create the rest of the roster to build around his stars. The end result was a team that included, Dexter Pittman, Eddie House,  Joel Anthony and Mike Bibby. Granted, players like James Jones and Mike Miller would later cement themselves in the NBA history books.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers 2015- 16 (57-25)

This was the best team LeBron played with in Clevland. Hands down. It wasn’t close. Not only did play within their roles, but they also had enough firepower off the bench to really have an impact in close games in the NBA Finals. This year’s Cavs brought back old friends (Hello, welcome back Mo and Varejão) and mixed them with the cast of characters that saw their Finals dreams go up in smoke just the season before.

Irving and Love clearly were the 1-2 punch that LeBron needed, but guys like JR Smith (12 ppg) and Channing Frye played their parts well. In the Finals, well, you know the story.

2.  Miami Heat 2011- 12 (46-20)***

Miami won the second championship for the city of Miami and the first for LeBron. This Heat team had everything a LeBron championship team needs. It had slashers that could take some of the pressure off him. It had big men that could help rough up the other team’s post players and it had three-point shooters that could help space the floor.

The likes of Battier, Jones, and Miller helped carry the team to a title the same way that a Steve Kerr would help a Michael Jordan.

BONUS: Everyone remembers this team as the one that 1) Got LeBron his first ring 2) Beat a team that had three separate MVPs in the future, but in reality, it’s the team that got Eddy Curry that sweet, sweet, championship.

1. Miami Heat 2012-13 (66-16)***

The accumulation of all the teams prior to this one. This team added an all-time great shooter in Ray Allen (who should have had a real case for the sixth man of the year *sigh*). This was LeBron at his absolute peak with D-Wade and Bosh. Rashard Lewis, Miller, and Allen were arguably the best shooting trio on any LeBron team. And while it took a Allen shot to win them the title, doesn’t that make this team’s supporting cast the best one he’s ever had? Of course.

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