Let’s rank LeBron James’ teammates during his first stint with the Cavaliers by their top win-share season, noting how Cleveland acquired each:
- Mo Williams (trade)
- Carlos Boozer (draft)
- Zydrunas Ilgauskas (draft)
- Drew Gooden(trade)
- Anderson Varejao (trade)
- Delonte West (trade)
- Anthony Parker (free agency)
- Wally Szczerbiak (trade)
- J.J. Hickson (draft)
- Donyell Marshall (free agency)
Not until No. 13 on that list – Larry Hughes, who followed Daniel Gibson (draft) and Jeff McInnis (trade) – do you reach a real high-priced free agent. Hughes signed a five-year, $60 million contract in 2005, but he never posted even an average PER season during it.
By the way, No. 16 would have been the biggest name on the list – Shaquille O’Neal – and he was acquired via trade.
The Cavaliers lured only one marquee free agent during LeBron’s first stint, and he was a bust.
Obviously, getting help this time hasn’t been an issue. Kevin Love green-lit a trade to Cleveland, and Mike Miller and Shawn Marion also signed with the Cavaliers. James Jones followed LeBron from Miami to Cleveland – and Jones isn’t even from there!
Why didn’t LeBron try this hard to get help the first time?
LeBron, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN:
“I recruited [before] I left here, but I just didn’t win nothing so nobody wanted to play with me,” James said, pointing out that previously, the lone marquee free agent to come to Cleveland based on his influence was Larry Hughes in 2005. “I recruited. I recruited Michael Redd, I recruited Joe Johnson, I recruited Chris Bosh. I recruited a lot of guys. I just didn’t win, and they didn’t want to come to Cleveland. So, I guess me winning two championships, it helped out a lot.”
The rings obviously help, but so does LeBron’s maturation, which might go hand-in-hand. He’s a more appealing teammate than ever.
Cleveland’s market can be overcome. LeBron helped make Miami a more appealing market, and he can do the same in Ohio, even if Cleveland never reaches Miami levels.
The NBA promotes parity through the draft, rewarding teams for losing. But free agency is the opposite. The better teams have a much easier time luring players – as LeBron and the Cavaliers are discovering.