We ranked every team during LeBron James' career — including his new Lakers squad

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Over his 16-year career, LeBron James has played on everything from super-teams to lottery teams.

But which of those teams were the best? James often gets credited for dragging teams to the playoffs – he did it last season with the Cleveland Cavaliers – and many think he’ll have to do it again with his new Los Angeles Lakers team.

But which of those teams gave James the most support? Which were sturdy enough to be truly elite teams that dominated the league, rather than average teams with one dominant player?

There’s no exact formula for answering such a question, but to rank the best teams of James’ 16-year career, we included several factors: team record, net rating (the amount by which a team outscores opponents per 100 possessions), their playoff record and net rating, and ultimate finishing point (e.g. Finals, Conference Finals, etc.).

We also looked at James’ usage rate (to see how much work he was doing), his win shares (calculated by Basketball-Reference), and the number of players who made All-Star teams in that season. Lastly, we used a bit of logic and subjectivity.

Below is our ranking of James’ best teams:

16. 2003-04 Cavaliers

Record: 35-47, 9th seed in East

Playoffs: n/a

Net rating: -2.9

Number of All-Stars: 0

Explanation: The first team of LeBron’s career was his worst. The 2003-04 Cavs were coming off a 17-65 season that got them the No. 1 pick to select LeBron. He immediately came in and led the team in scoring, usage, and win shares. None of his teams ever finished below-.500 again.

15. 2004-05 Cavaliers

Record: 42-40, 9th seed in East

Playoffs: n/a

Net rating: 0.7

Number of All-Stars: 1 – Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Explanation: The next year, the Cavs improved by seven games to finish over .500, but they still missed the playoffs. James improved by leaps and bounds, averaging 27-7-7 as a 20-year-old. He even had a fellow All-Star in Ilgauskas, who averaged 16 points and 9 rebounds per game. It was the last season James missed the playoffs entirely.

14. 2007-08 Cavaliers

Record: 45-37, 4th seed in East

Playoffs: Lost in second round

Net rating: -.5

Number of All-Stars: 0

Explanation: The 2007-08 Cavs came back down to Earth after a Finals run the year before. Their offence improved mildly from some additions to the team, but their defence regressed from fourth in the league to 11th. They ultimately lost in seven games to the star-studded Celtics.

13. 2005-06 Cavaliers

Record: 50-32, 4th seed in East

Playoffs: Lost in second round

Net rating: 2.5

Number of All-Stars: 0

Explanation: James took another leap in his third year, averaging 31 points per game while the Cavs improved offensively, finishing 10th in offensive rating. They made it to the second round of the playoffs before losing to the reigning Eastern Conference champions, the Detroit Pistons.

12. 2018-19 Lakers

Abbie Parr/Getty

Record: n/a

Playoffs: n/a

Net rating: n/a

Number of All-Stars: n/a

Explanation: It’s difficult to project how the Lakers might perform, given that it’s practically a brand new team. But on paper, this team resembles James’ old Cavs teams.

They’re only returning two of their top five scorers from a 35-win team last season. None of their returning players posted a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 15 (which signals a league-average player) last year while only one of the incoming players, Rajon Rondo, had a PER over 15 last season. And for a team that ranked 29th in three-point shooting, they added only one player who shot better than 35% from three for his career in Michael Beasley.

What is more difficult to project is how the young players like Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Ball might develop this season. Any or all of them could take major steps forward to become worthy sidekicks to James.

11. 2006-07 Cavaliers

Record: 50-32, 2nd seed in East

Playoffs: Lost in 4 games in the Finals

Net rating: 3.7

Number of All-Stars: 0

Explanation: The Cavs’ unexpected Finals run in 2007 is part of the lore of James. The most memorable moment came in the Eastern Conference Finals when the 22-year-old James scored the last 25 Cavs points in the fourth quarter and overtime to beat the Pistons.

They were swept in the Finals by Tim Duncan and the Spurs, proving they didn’t have nearly enough talent to compete for a championship. Duncan later told James the league would one day be his. He was right.

10. 2017-18 Cavaliers

Ezra Shaw/Getty

Record: 50-32, 4th seed in East

Playoffs: Lost in 4 games in the Finals

Net rating: 1.0

Number of All-Stars: 1 – Kevin Love

Explanation: Last year’s Cavs team was not an exceptionally good team by most measures. They were elite offensively, but just as bad defensively. They never really flipped the switch in the playoffs, posting a negative net rating, and going 7 games with both the Indiana Pacers and Celtics.

Nonetheless, James had another All-Star in Love and a fairly deep rotation that might have been better with more time to jell. Though it took an historic effort by James, they still made the Finals where they would have had a shot against any non-Warriors team.

9. 2009-10 Cavaliers

Record: 61-21, 1st seed in East

Playoffs: Lost in 2nd round

Net rating: 7.3

Number of All-Stars: 0

Explanation: The 2009-10 Cavs were dominant but a little something was missing. Perhaps it was James’ free agency hovering above them the entire year. Mo Williams regressed from an All-Star season the year before, and the addition of Shaquille O’Neal did little for the team.

The season might be best remembered for the image of a checked-out LeBron taking off his jersey as he walked off the court after being eliminated by the Celtics.

8. 2008-09 Cavaliers

Record: 66-16, 1st seed in East

Playoffs: Lost in Conference Finals

Net rating: 10.3

Number of All-Stars: 1 – Mo Williams

Explanation: The 2008-09 Cavs were the first true LeBron James-led juggernaut. They were efficient offensively, hitting the third-most threes at the second-best clip in the league, and an even better defensive unit. James got playmaking and scoring help in the form of Williams, and they had a deep team filled with the kind of proven veterans that James likes. In the playoffs, they simply ran into a better Orlando Magic team and fell short of expectations.

7. 2014-15 Cavaliers

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Record: 53-29, 2nd seed in East

Playoffs: Lost in 6 games in the Finals

Net rating: 3.7

Number of All-Stars: 1 – Kyrie Irving

Explanation: James’ first year back in Cleveland featured some growing pains. Kevin Love was an awkward fit, Kyrie Irving was adjusting to James’ presence, and James physically struggled for the first time, eventually needing time off to heal his back.

They still turned it on in the playoffs and might have won a championship if Love and Irving did not both get hurt in the postseason, leaving James to carry a ragtag squad in the Finals.

6. 2013-14 Heat

Record: 54-28, 2nd seed in East

Playoffs: Lost in 4 games in the Finals

Net rating: 6.1

Number of All-Stars: 2 – Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh

Explanation: LeBron’s final season with the Heat was the least dominant of their four-year run. The team was clearly exhausted after two straight championships and three straight Finals appearances. They never quite turned it on in the playoffs, posting just a 1.8 net rating. When they got to the Finals, they were beaten convincingly by a Spurs team out for blood.

The 2013-14 Heat team did, however, perhaps see James, Wade, and Bosh at their most efficient and cohesive of the four years.

5. 2010-11 Heat

Doug Benc/Getty

Record: 58-24, 2nd seed in East

Playoffs: Lost in 6 games in the Finals

Net rating: 8.5

Number of All-Stars: 2 – Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh

Explanation: Memory would suggest that the first year of the Heat Big 3 featured some growing pains, but that team still finished 3rd in offence and 5th in defence, with a whopping 8.5 net rating. The talent and hunger were just too much for most opponents. Still, things were a little awkward between James, Wade, and Bosh, and ultimately, it was James who let the team down in the Finals with an ugly, unnerved performance against the Mavericks.

4. 2015-16 Cavaliers

Record: 57-25, 1st seed in East

Playoffs: Won Finals

Net rating: 5.8

Number of All-Stars: 0

Explanation: The 2015-16 Cavs could stake a claim as the best team in LeBron’s second stint in Cleveland. They had the best regular season and they breezed through the playoffs. They also won the first title in Cavs history in an epic comeback against the Warriors.

But there was still some awkwardness between James, Love, and Irving. Irving, in particular, had one of his more inefficient seasons in 2015-16, and neither he nor Love made the All-Star team. As good as the team was and as sweet as their title was, it’s worth asking if they’d still be champions if Draymond Green had not been suspended for Game 5 of the Finals.

3. 2016-17 Cavaliers

Gregory Shamus/Getty

Record: 51-31, 2nd seed in East

Playoffs: Lost in 5 in Finals

Net rating: 2.9

Number of All-Stars: 2 – Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love

Explanation: It’s bold to say a team that coasted in the regular season and didn’t win it all was the best Cavs team.

But the 2016-17 Cavs were perhaps the deepest of James’ career. Irving posted one of the best seasons of his career, Love comfortably became the third option, and James became more efficient.

The key number is 9.7 – the Cavs’ net rating in the playoffs when they kicked it into high gear and blew over everyone in their path. They were arguably an all-time great team, with three stars functioning at once, surrounded by a bevy of shooters. They probably would have won the whole thing if they ran into any team that wasn’t the new Kevin Durant Warriors.

2. 2011-12 Heat

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Record: 46-20 (lockout season), 2nd seed in East

Playoffs: Won Finals

Net rating: 7.2

Number of All-Stars: 2 – Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh

Explanation: The 2011-12 Heat saw a group motivated by a Finals collapse come roaring out in the lockout-shortened season. Chemistry wasn’t perfect, but it was better than the year before, and they began to use their physical superiority more to their advantage. Ultimately, it was the team that got James his first ring, which was his reason for moving to Miami.

1. 2012-13 Heat

Mike Ehrmann/Getty

Record: 66-16, 1st seed

Playoffs: Won Finals

Net rating: 9.9

Number of All-Stars: 2 – Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh

Explanation: Chris Bosh has since told people that LeBron James in 2012-13 was the most dominant player he had ever seen, that James could go out and put teams away so easily, it was fun to watch.

While James put together perhaps the finest all-around season of his career in 2012-13, his supporting cast helped, too. Wade and Bosh played more freely alongside him. The Heat’s offence exploded this season, and they were an elite defensive unit when they wanted to be. They rattled off a 27-game win streak during the regular season, finally looking like the force many expected when they all joined together in 2010. Though it took Ray Allen’s heroics in Game 6 of the Finals, they won a second straight championship.

Now, see how much work goes into being LeBron James on the floor

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LeBron James reportedly spends $US1.5 million per year to take care of his body – here’s where it goes >

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