Ranking the Best Teams LeBron James Has Been on
Whether he's the greatest player in NBA history will be a perpetual debate, but there's no doubt LeBron James is the best player of his era. Sometimes lost in that conversation, though, is the talent that has surrounded him.
Early in his career, the Cleveland Cavaliers had some unspectacular or forgettable years. And nobody is remembering the 2018-19 Los Angeles Lakers fondly, either.
For most of his 17-plus seasons, however, LeBron has played on excellent teams. Rosters have included All-Star talents Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and Anthony Davis, as well as a few breakout players along the way.
Determining the best teams is a subjective process, but key factors include regular-season record, net rating, playoff results, All-Stars, All-NBA appearances and All-Defensive honors. Injuries are also considered.
2013-14 Miami Heat
Playoffs: Lost in NBA Finals
2009-10 Cleveland Cavaliers
Playoffs: Lost in Eastern Conference Semifinals
2006-07 Cleveland Cavaliers
Playoffs: Lost in NBA Finals
8. 2008-09 Cleveland Cavaliers
This particular team is lost to history because Cleveland fell to the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Until that elimination, though, the Cavs excelled.
They notched a 66-16 record to earn the top seed in the Eastern Conference and swept both the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks in the first two rounds of the playoffs. They posted a plus-10.0 net rating, and Mo Williams landed the only All-Star nod of his career.
LeBron averaged 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 7.2 assists and 2.8 combined blocks and steals. He secured first-team honors in both All-NBA and All-Defensive voting.
7. 2016-17 Cleveland Cavaliers
You can only accomplish so much when you encounter a buzzsaw.
Cleveland fully deserved its place in the NBA Finals, powering through an injury-marred regular season and getting hot in the playoffs. It swept the Indiana Pacers and Toronto Raptors before knocking out the Boston Celtics in five games.
But even taking one victory from a Golden State Warriors roster that had added Kevin Durant felt like an accomplishment. Cleveland avoided a sweep with a Game 4 win.
Irving and Love made the All-Star team alongside LeBron, who achieved first-team All-NBA honors while registering 26.4 points and a then-career-high 8.7 assists per game.
6. 2014-15 Cleveland Cavaliers
After spending four years on the Miami Heat, LeBron returned to Cleveland in summer 2014. That season, the Cavs finished 53-29 and second in the Eastern Conference.
In the playoffs, Cleveland dominated the East. The path to the NBA Finals included a sweep of the Boston Celtics, a six-game triumph over the Chicago Bulls and a sweep of the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks, who had set a franchise record with 60 wins.
Unfortunately for the Cavs, injuries limited Kyrie and Love to a total of 44 minutes in the NBA Finals, all of which came from the former. Cleveland fell to Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and the Golden State Warriors in six games.
Still, James and Irving garnered first- and third-team All-NBA recognition, respectively, and each made the All-Star team. The All-NBA duo boosts the 2014-15 Cavs over the 2008-09 and 2016-17 teams.
5. 2010-11 Miami Heat
LeBron ended painfully shy of a perfect finish to his first season in Miami, losing to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals. But the campaign also set the stage for a couple of fantastic years.
Following a 9-8 start, the Heat ripped off a 49-16 record and boasted a league-best plus-8.2 net rating. More importantly, they continued that hot streak in the playoffs. They dispatched of the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls in five games apiece.
James, Wade and Bosh received All-Star nods, and LeBron (first team) and Wade (second team) captured All-NBA status.
4. 2011-12 Miami Heat
While the 2010-11 team has a decent argument for No. 4, the 2011-12 Heat brought home a championship.
Miami notched a 46-20 record and plus-6.4 net rating in the strike-shortened year. As usual, the Big Three of James, Wade and Bosh headed to the All-Star Game. LeBron secured first-team All-NBA and All-Defensive honors, along with third-team All-NBA for Wade.
Compared to many other seasons, the Eastern Conference portion of the playoffs featured a bit more drama. Miami bounced the New York Knicks in five games and Indiana Pacers in six, but the Boston Celtics forced the Heat to recover from a 3-2 deficit and advance in seven games.
LeBron finally earned his ring, though, when Miami toppled the Oklahoma City Thunder in a five-game NBA Finals.
3. 2019-20 Los Angeles Lakers
Before the coronavirus pandemic halted the 2019-20 campaign in mid-March, the Lakers had built a 49-14 record to lead the Western Conference. Only the Milwaukee Bucks had a higher net rating (10.7) than Los Angeles (7.1), per NBA.com.
For obvious and unprecedented reasons, the four-month stoppage makes the season difficult to evaluate.
The Lakers, nevertheless, won a title in the Walt Disney World bubble. They defeated the Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets in five games apiece and the Miami Heat in six.
Additionally, the 2019-20 season featured the single-best year from a teammate of LeBron's. Anthony Davis captured first-team All-NBA recognition alongside James, as well as first-team All-Defensive honors.
2. 2015-16 Cleveland Cavaliers
Considering the 2015-16 Cavs toppled the 73-win Golden State Warriors, they have a reasonable case to be viewed as LeBron's top team. After all, Golden State would undoubtedly have a claim to "greatest team in NBA history" recognition had it not squandered a 3-1 lead in the Finals.
Given that context, 2015-16 Cleveland gets a boost. Because of the criteria, though, it mostly just atones for a lack of awards.
LeBron was the only All-Star and All-NBA performer, largely due to Irving missing 24 games to begin the season. Cleveland led the East at 57-25 but ranked fourth overall in net rating (6.4).
Irving showed up in a major way during the Finals, averaging 27.1 points and 3.9 assists while hitting the series-clinching shot.
1. 2012-13 Miami Heat
Miami's version of the Big Three peaked in 2012-13.
While winning an NBA-best 66 games, the Heat finished second with a plus-8.6 net rating. They put together a 27-game winning streak that—at the time—ranked second in league history. Like a broken record, LeBron, Wade and Bosh went to the All-Star Game before LeBron (first team) and Wade (third team) were All-NBA choices.
After the Heat swept the Milwaukee Bucks and eliminated the Chicago Bulls in five games to begin the playoffs, things got interesting. Miami and the Indiana Pacers alternated wins throughout the Eastern Conference Finals, and the Heat took the series at home in Game 7.
In the NBA Finals, Miami survived the San Antonio Spurs thanks to Ray Allen's clutch shot in Game 6. The Heat won in overtime, extended the series and won Game 7.