Over his 13-year career, LeBron James has missed the NBA playoffs just twice. The first was his rookie year, when he was playing alongside Ricky Davis and Darius Miles, two men with cornrows who happened to be awful at the game of basketball. The second was the following season, when James dragged Lucious Harris, Luke Jackson, Ira Newble and the like to a 42-40 record, missing out on the playoffs only because of a lost tiebreaker to the New Jersey Nets.
From then on, James's flag has been firmly planted in the NBA's postseason. He's reached the Eastern Conference Finals eight times, including the past six seasons in a row. He's about to participate in his seventh NBA Finals. He's simply refused to lose a first round series, because doing so is for peasants.
Throughout his playoff successes, James has had a myriad of teammates tail him for the ride. Some of them, i.e. Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving, have been very good. Some of them, i.e. Sasha Pavlovich, have been very bad. And since I essentially treat James's four years in Miami like a drug bender I have no memory of, and with the Cavs back in the NBA Finals for a second straight year, it's time to rank James's playoff team, using a scale of "Straight Trash, Fam" to "Oh, no, you won't be beating them." Let's begin.
7. 2006-2007 Cleveland Cavaliers
Offensive Rating: 105.5 (18th)
Defensive Rating: 101.3 (4th)
Pace: 90.8 (18th)
Most Trash Player: David Wesley
Most Lit Player (Aside From LeBron): Daniel "Boobie" Gibson
Season Result: Swept in NBA Finals by the San Antonio Spurs
It's weird to call the first Cavs team to ever make an NBA Finals the worst of the bunch, but my word was this team horrid. Larry Hughes was being paid $13 million to shoot 40 percent from the field, including a frigid 33 percent from deep, as the supposed Robin to LeBron's Batman. Eric Snow was playing 23 minutes a game. Damon Jones and Donyell Marshall, brought in to provide shooting around LeBron, shot 38 and 35 percent from deep, respectively. In fact, the entire team shot just 44 percent that year, a number low enough to make you question why you enjoy basketball in the first place.
And yet, this team prospered. LeBron averaged 27 points per game during the regular season, and the Cavs marched through the Eastern Conference playoffs, sweeping Washington in the first round, taking down the New Jersey Nets in the semis before finally dispatching a powerhouse Detroit Pistons team just a few years removed from winning an NBA title.
Then, the Finals happened, and San Antonio Spurs exposed the Cavs trashness in epic proportion. As the Spurs shut down LeBron by playing off him and clogging the lane, daring him to shoot (LeBron would average just 22 points per game on 35 percent shooting), the Cavs floundered offensively. Drew Gooden was the team's second leading scorer at 12.8 points per game. The Spurs flayed the Cavs in four, mostly terrible games (the score of Game 3 was 75-72), and that was that.
6. 2007-2008 Cleveland Cavaliers
Offensive Rating: 106 (20th)
Defensive Rating: 106.4 (11th)
Pace: 90.2 (25th)
Most Trash Player: Devin Brown
Most Lit Player (Aside From LeBron): Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Season Result: Lost in Eastern Conference Finals to Boston Celtics, 4-3
What a strange and random team this was. The Cavs jettisoned Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes, Cedric Simmons, Shannon Brown, Ira Newble, Donyell Marshall and Adrian Griffin in an enormous, three-team trade deadline deal that netted them Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West and Joe Smith. On paper, it was a coup for the Cavs, but in execution, it failed. Wallace didn't do much but clog the lane and provide spacing issues, since he possessed little to no offensive ability. Though he still averaged 1.68 blocks per game, his rebounding numbers were down immensely from his glory days in Detroit. Brought in to provide shooting around LeBron, Szczerbiak shot just 36 percent from deep, and an awful 32 percent during the playoffs. While West would eventually become major cog in the Cavs offense, and Smith could hit a timely 15-footer, none of it was enough to supplement James and his 30 points per game, as the Cavs bowed out to the Boston Celtics in seven games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
5. 2005-2006 Cleveland Cavaliers
Offensive Rating: 107.8 (9th)
Defensive Rating: 105.4 (19th)
Pace: 89.8 (19th)
Most Trash Player: Ira Newble
Most Lit Player (Aside From LeBron): Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Season Result: Lost in Eastern Conference Semifinals to Detroit Pistons, 4-3
Yes, this team still played offense slow as molasses. Yes, they still shot awful as a group (45.4 percent from the field).And yes, Ira Newble shot under 30 percent from the field (29.8 percent) and still played 10 minutes a game.
But LeBron was absurd, and once the playoffs started, this team played way above its head. LeBron averaged 31.4 points per game in the regular season, then 30.8 in the playoffs. The Cavs big men, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Drew Gooden, both shot over 50 percent from the field during the year. They played an epic first round series against the Washington Wizards, featuring multiple LeBron game-winners as well as the infamous "LeBron gets in Gilbert Arenas' head at the free throw line" game the Cavs fans won't soon forget. Then, after getting down 2-0 against the Goliath-like Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, a team the Cavs had no business competing with, the Cavs won three straight, pushing the Pistons to the brink of elimination. It didn't happen, but god was it ever exciting.
4. 2009-2010 Cleveland Cavaliers
Offensive Rating: 111.2 (6th)
Defensive Rating: 104.1 (7th)
Pace: 91.4 (25th)
Most Trash Player: Leon Powe
Most Lit Player (Aside From LeBron): Mo Williams
Season Result: Lost in Eastern Conference Semifinals to the Boston Celtics, 4-2.
The season that was finally supposed to "win a ring for the king," as Shaq put it, never came to fruition, but not all was lost. Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison, at least in the regular season, provided enough offense around James to propel the Cavs to 61 wins, and though an aging Shaq was limited to just 54 games, it was a treat to watch him actually play basketball in the wine and gold. The Cavs defense was fantastic, holding opponents to just 95 points per game on 47 percent shooting. They even shot 38 percent from deep as a group, the fourth highest percentage in team history.
They flamed out in the playoffs, winning just two games against the Big 3-led Boston Celtics, and LeBron would leave in free agency that summer. Still, the 09-10 Cavs were nothing to scoff at.
3. 2014-2015 Cleveland Cavaliers
Offensive Rating: 111.1 (3rd)
Defensive Rating: 106.3 (18th)
Pace: 92.3 (25th)
Most Trash Player: Kendrick Perkins
Most Lit Player (Aside From LeBron): Kyrie Irving
Season Result: Lost in NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors, 4-2
LeBron came back. Kevin Love came with him. J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov joined them at the trade deadline. Shit was Lit, but it took a while to get there. The second iteration of LeBron's Big 3 started out much like his inaugrual one in Miami: slow. The Cavs began 19-19, LeBron took a two week hiatus to Miami to rest his body and the Cavs front office quickly learned that veterans like Shawn Marion and Mike Miller had zero miles left on their tires.
But the deadline deal the GM David Griffin made reinvigorated the team, with Mozgov acting as a fierce rim protector, Smith spacing the floor with his marksmanship and Shumpert playing a hound on defense. On the backs of James, Irving and Love, the supporting cast helped propel the Cavs to the no. 2 seed in the East despite their slow start. Even losing Kevin Love to a torn labrum couldn't slow down the Cavs playoff run, where they reached the NBA Finals and took to games from the Golden State Warriors despite Irving going down after Game 1. The Big 3 hadn't reached its full potential, not by a long shot, but it was a magical run nonetheless.
2. 2008-2009 Cleveland Cavaliers
Offensive Rating: 112.4 (4th)
Defensive Rating: 102.4 (3rd)
Pace: 88.7 (25th)
Most Trash Player: Tarence Kinsey
Most Lit Player (Aside From LeBron): Delonte West
Season Result: Lost in Eastern Conference Finals to the Orlando Magic, 4-2
Of all the disappointing teams in the Cleveland sports universe, the 2008-2008 Cleveland Cavaliers is far away one of the most gut-wrenching. They won 66 games in the regular season, including streaks of 13, 11 and 8 in a row. They lost just twice inside of Quicken Loans Arena, going 39-2 on their home floor. They were top five in both defense and offense and shot almost 40 percent from deep as a unit.
This was peak LeBron James. He was operating at maximum efficiency, averaging 28 points per game while shooting just below 50 percent from the field. The Cavs still ran almost all of their offense through him, including the countless unimaginative offensive sets that included four Cavaliers standing and watching while James dribbled the ball at the top of the key for 20 seconds before attacking, but it was mesmerizing nonetheless. James could anything he wanted with the ball in his hands, whether it was slashing to rim while an entire defense collapsed on him pulling up for a mid-range jumper or a 3 or driving and kicking the ball out to a shooter. I mean, look at this nonsense.
Much like this season the Cavs swept through the first two rounds of the playoffs, ruining the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks before running into a buzzsaw.
The worst thing about that Eastern Conference Finals series loss to the Orlando magic, even more so than people like Hedo Turkoglu and Rafer Freaking Alsten turning in to 3-point assassins, is the fact that the Cavs could have so easily been up 2-0 in that series. They blew double-digit halftime leads in both Game 1 and Game 2. Even if they'd still gone 0-2 in Orlando in Game 3 and Game 4, they could have come back home tied, and put all the pressure back on Orlando by winning Game 5, which they did in the actual series.
Who knows if the Cavs would have taken down the Lakers in the NBA Finals that year. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum would've given them fits. But watching them fail to adjust, game after game, to Orlando's shooters instead of focusing all their attention on Dwight Howard, was like going clinically insane. A 66-win team that met its maker far too early, and we'll never know what could have been.
1. 2015-2016 Cleveland Cavaliers
Offensive Rating: 110.9 (3rd)
Defensive Rating: 104.5 (10th)
Pace: 93.3 (28th)
Most Trash Player: Timofey Mozgov
Most Lit Player (Aside From LeBron): J.R. Smith
Season Result: TBD
I hereby deem the 2015-2016 Cleveland Cavaliers season, no matter how it may turn out, as The Clicking. After a season full of coach firings, subtweets and an offense that felt like something was missing, the Cavs Big 3 finally began operating at maximum capacity once the postseason began. Throw in the revelation that was the trade for Channing Frye, add in J.R. Smith's deadly aim from deep and mix it in with everything else, and you find yourself with one of the deadliest offenses in Cavs history. 25 3's in a single playoff game is more than just a new record. It's an absurdity.
Championship team or not, this is what we all envisioned when LeBron, Irving and Love all came together. This is the Cavaliers in their final form.