LeBron James has been to the NBA Finals seven times in his NBA career and won the title on three occasions, but none of those teams were as loaded as the one that he plays with today.
When LeBron James was first drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers as the No.1 overall pick back in 2003, he was expected to be a player that could win a title by himself without ever playing one single NBA game.
Those were lofty expectations for a 19-year old from Akron, Ohio, but LeBron quickly proved everyone that he was capable of leading a team to the promised land.
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Back in 2007 — when LeBron was only 22 — he managed to take a Cavaliers team whose second-best player was Larry Hughes all the way to the NBA Finals.
Granted, they were swept by the San Antonio Spurs, but the fact that he somehow managed to will that team to the Finals was an anomaly in itself.
Throughout LeBron’s first run in Cleveland, which spanned from 2003-10, he was never relieved with any sort of exceptional talent. He had to make the talent around him exceptional.
There is an argument to be made that during LeBron’s first stint in Cleveland, the most talented team he played with was during his first season. Carlos Boozer and Ricky Davis were 22 and 24, respectively, at the time and Zydrunas Ilgauskas was in the prime of his career.
The team didn’t have much to offer other than those individuals and LeBron James (no disrespect to Darius Miles).
Fast forward through the years and the talent of the Cavaliers slowly declined as LeBron continued to develop into an All-Star and eventually a superstar.
Taking a second to rank LeBron’s most talented sidekicks during his first stay with Cleveland will make all Cavaliers fans cringe at the realization that LeBron was never supplied with enough talent to win.
Mo Williams was the best point guard that LeBron had ever played with until he came back to Cleveland.
Side note: I’m not sure if I was blinded by my fandom or if this is a true testament to LeBron’s greatness, but I fully expected Hickson to become an NBA All-Star — yes, a freaking All-Star — even if he left Cleveland. As one might have expected, that never happened.
The Cavaliers’ front office would try their hand at acquiring past NBA All-Stars who were long past their prime in Antawn Jamison, Ben Wallace and Shaquille O’Neal, although they never showed the same skill sets they had back in their prime … shocking absolutely no one.
To be fair, all of those guys were certified snipers (except ole Snow, who couldn’t hit the side of Quicken Loans Arena if he tried to drive his car through it), but they were never capable of taking over games, even though Hughes loved to try.
Overall, those first seven years in Cleveland were unfair to LeBron and the players that surrounded him who were required to play at a higher level than they could achieve.
Then-GM Danny Ferry was bent on creating a team around LeBron that was constantly in “win now” mode instead of building a franchise that could eventually become a dynasty, which ultimately led to his resignation in 2010.
I mean, somehow, some way, LeBron helped Williams become an NBA All-Star back in 2008-09 and he only averaged 17.8 points and 4.1 assists per game.
Then things changed and LeBron packed his bags and left for Miami to join the Heat and create the “Big 3” that would change the landscape of the NBA into what it is today.
(The Boston Celtics already had a “Big 3” at the time of Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett, but that was through trades. The Miami Heat did it through free agency).
It was similar to LeBron’s first days in Cleveland, except he had Bosh and Wade in Miami.
Then LeBron left Miami and decided to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers along with Kyrie Irving and eventually Kevin Love.
The Cavs’ core has been relatively the same over the past three seasons; with LeBron, Love, Irving, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Tristan Thompson all playing close to or right at the prime of their careers.
A lot of this is in thanks to the current general manager, David Griffin, who has become of the most brilliant minds across all NBA front offices.
In the 2014-15 season — LeBron’s first season back in Cleveland — along with the players mentioned above, the Cavs also had Dion Waiters (who was eventually traded in a rather large deal that sent him to Oklahoma City and Smith and Shumpert to Cleveland from New York), Matthew Dellavedova, Shawn Marion and Timofey Mozgov.
The current Cleveland Cavaliers’ roster goes 12 men deep, which is the most bittersweet asset that head coach Tyronn Lue can have. There is plenty of talent to go around, but only so many minutes and only one ball.
The Cavs expect Bogut to make his team debut on Monday against the Miami Heat and both Smith and Love are expected to return from their injuries before the playoffs begin.
A fully healthy Cavaliers roster looks something like this:
Starters: Irving, Smith, James, Love and Thompson.
Reserves: Deron Williams, Shumpert/Korver, Jefferson/Derrick Williams, Frye and Bogut.
No team in the NBA can match the depth of talent that the Cavaliers have, not even the Golden State Warriors, who had to essentially gut their bench in order to sign Kevin Durant, who is now expected to miss the remainder of the regular season due to a knee injury.
The Cavaliers are coming off their first-ever NBA title and now have a unit that is deeper than any team LeBron has ever played for, including the one from last season.
The Cavaliers may not have the best starting five in the NBA (although they are top-two), but they can constantly suffocate teams with a never ending stream of talent that goes all the way down to last spot on the bench.