The Cleveland Cavaliers weren’t the best team in JeBron James’ first outing with the squad.
LeBron James had two distinct runs with the Cleveland Cavaliers, one that lasted from 2003-2010, and another that went from 2014-2018. During that time he went to five NBA Finals, winning one. His legacy is set in stone as the greatest player to ever play in franchise history, so a third act wasn’t needed, or wanted.
Yet, Insider posted an article looking at where the teammates from James’ rookie year have ended up following their time together. Due to that article, we thought it’d be a fun exercise to see what five players from James’ first tenure with the Cavaliers were really his best teammates.
Now, we’re not looking for historical significance with the franchise. Whether they spent a season or 10 won’t matter. Just how good they were when they were here, coupled with how good they would have been having they stayed.
Seriously though, the Cavs thought Ricky Davis and Darius Miles were going to be good. Yikes.
Quick honorable mention goes to Anderson Varejao. He didn’t make the final five but he would be on an all-first-year-LeBron-squad.
The five most talented teammates from LeBron James’ first run with the Cleveland Cavaliers
Carlos Boozer for about ten years was arguably the best rebounder and interior scorer at his position in the league. He wasn’t overly dynamic but for a 6’8 (listed 6’9) power forward in the era of Shaquille O’Neal and Yao Ming, Boozer was far more gifted inside than anyone will ever talk about. The Cavs lost him after Boozer reneged on a deal, and he left for Utah. The Cavs tried to replace him with Drew Gooden but Gooden was far softer and not nearly as elite of a rebounder as Boozer.
The Cavs drafted the Lithuanian in the late 90s and barely saw any return on their investment due to foot injury after foot injury. Eventually, he got healthy and became an All-Star. He was never what he could’ve been before the injury but he was still better than most of the centers in the league. A top 10 guy at his position at the time, Ilgauskas was hard to handle in the 2000s. He was one of the few big men who had an actual mid-range stroke. Had he been healthy, he’d be right there with Brad Daugherty as the greatest Cavalier big man ever.
The fact that Larry Hughes is as disrespected in Cleveland as he is proves that fans really don’t know just how average he was beforehand. Hughes had some of his best shooting seasons in Cleveland but as he was an interior guy who rarely shot threes, he was never going to duplicate the points he put up in Washington. Offensively not a good fit, defensively he was as good as he was in Washington, which is why the Cavs signed him in the first place. The Cavs ran a defense-first type of team and Hughes excelled in that. He was a big reason the Cavs made the Finals in 07.
People forget just how good Antwan Jamison still was when he came to Cleveland. Despite being here for his 33rd, 34th, and 35th-age-seasons, Jamison was far from washed. He wasn’t the same near-elite-level defender he once was, but he could still score. His legacy will always be tied to what the Cavs didn’t do, however, and that’s trade for Amar’s Stoudamire. He wouldn’t have made James stay, so it really doesn’t matter in hindsight but Jamison was not a bad acquisition at all.
A major foot injury and some emotional issues caused Daniel Gibson to leave the game at just 27 years old. Yet, the guard was known for his reliable three-point shooting, hitting over 40% of his threes for his career. While there were other guys on the rosters, like O’Neal, who had bigger name value, when they played with James they weren’t what they once were. Gibson, on the other hand, was arguably the Cavs’ best non-interior scorer during the James the First Era. It’s not a huge statement to make, as the Cavs had problems getting help for James, but it’s something.