The King and His Jesters

A look back at some of LeBron James’ most infamous teammates

The LA Lakers have made official the signing of JR Smith as a substitute player for Avery Bradley, who has opted to sit out the season restart in Orlando.

That’s significant news because it’s J.R. Smith. You know, LeBron James’ old teammate on the Cleveland Cavaliers. The guy who did this:

The Cavaliers could have won game one of the 2018 Finals ON THE ROAD against the juggernaut Golden State Warriors. Instead, Smith, unaware that the game was tied with 4.7 seconds left in regulation, drained clock, before realizing his mistake. The Warriors went on to win 124-114, and the series, and then James left The Land for the City of Angels.

So yeah, the fact that Smith and James are teammates again, is kind of amazing.

And yet, even though we often associate James with star-studded team-ups, he’s had more than his fair share of “wait they got that guy?” and “I guess James will have to carry him” teammates throughout his career. For every Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving, there also seems to be a Mario Chalmers and a Dion Waiters. As if the basketball gods were course-correcting on the fly. Some players were flat-out bad fits. Others had talent, but were often distracted, prone to feast-or-famine situations. And still, some were just plain meme-able.

With all that in mind, here are some of LeBron James’ most infamous teammates, grouped by his stints with particular teams.

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Cleveland Cavaliers (2003-2010)

  • Darius Miles (2003-04)
  • Carlos Boozer (2003-04)

Some teams that have won the NBA Draft Lottery were bad because of an unprecedented run of injuries. They add the top pick to the line-up, and the pendulum of health swings the other way, and boom! They’re right back in the title mix (see: San Antonio Spurs, 1997). On the other hand, sometimes the franchise has been bad for so long, that it takes time for even a once-in-a-generation superstar to turn things around.

You know, like the Cleveland Cavaliers, prior to landing that Kid from Akron.

The Cavs had five straight seasons of sub-33 wins, following a stint in the Playoffs back in 1998. In fact, the season prior to drafting James, the team went 17-65, the second-fewest number of wins in franchise history. So, you would assume that the guys on the team would be excited to play alongside LeBron James, but what you got was actually a mixed bag:

That leads us nicely to our first jokers: Darius Miles and Carlos Boozer. Miles, a 6’9″ athletic forward who could do a bit of everything, is here because of a staggering lack of self-awareness. He said: โ€œI donโ€™t think you can just bring a high school player in and really just think your team is gonna turn around like that. If he comes, he can just hop on our bandwagon, and hopefully we can do something big,โ€ This despite the fact that he himself was a high school player when he was selected No. 3 overall by the LA Clippers in 2000.

In a sense, Miles was like the worst-case scenario for James. After a flashy first season, he failed to take a step forward, posting similar numbers in his sophomore season (he did get a SLAM cover story though). The Clips dealt him to the Cavs, but despite more minutes, his stats seemingly plateaued. Miles would log just 37 games with James, before the team opted to trade him away to the Portland Trail Blazers for Jeff McInnis and Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje.

Now, if you thought Miles’s opinion of himself was a teensy bit inflated, it was actually a sentiment shared by at least one other guy in that locker room, namely Carlos Boozer, who said: โ€œWe have better players than him [LeBron James] at his position already on our team though.โ€ That’s right, who needs LeBron when you have Miles, Ricky Davis and Jumaine Jones!

Despite that statement, Boozer actually played some good basketball with James, going from 10.0 points and 7.5 rebounds in his rookie season, to 15.5 points and 11.4 rebounds in year one of Team LeBron. Unfortunately for him though, Boozer just lacked the foresight to see the benefits of playing long-term with James, opting instead for a quick money-grab. After convincing the Cavaliers to let him out of his second-round pick contract early, with promises of signing a long-term extension, Boozer instead used his newfound free agent status to ink a deal with the Utah Jazz. Sure, he wound up being Deron Williams’ pick-and-roll partner, but one can only wonder how much further the Cavaliers could have gone with him as the starting power forward, instead of the meh-ness of Drew Gooden.

ALSO CONSIDERED: If only Ricky Davis had attempted a triple-double while he was a teammate of James on the Cavaliers. Alas, he was quickly traded in LeBron’s rookie year, like Miles. After missing out on the Playoffs in James’ first season, the Cavaliers had the 10th pick in the 2004 Draft and used it on Luke Jackson, passing on Al Jefferson, Josh Smith, Jameer Nelson, Tony Allen, and Kevin Martin. Eric Snow had a long stretch as the starting PG of the Cavaliers, despite averaging a bland 4.0 points and 3.9 assists. It used to be fashionable to put Delonte West in articles such as these, but mental health is no laughing matter. Hope you get the help you need Delonte.

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Miami Heat (2010-2014)

  • Mario Chalmers (2010-2014)
  • Joel Anthony (2010-2014)

The last Boston Celtics “Big Three” found the right complementary players on their roster, when they added Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to Paul Pierce, slotting in Rajon Rondo at point guard and Kendrick Perkins at center. When the Miami Heat formed their trio with Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and LeBron James, they thought they had something similar with Mario Chalmers and Joel Anthony.

It wasn’t quite like that.

For most of the first season, the Heat trawled the buyout market in search of veteran help at the point guard and center position, which led to the signings of Mike Bibby and Erick Dampier. Both failed to radically alter the Heat’s fortunes, but after failing in the 2011 Finals to the Dallas Mavericks, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra was able to hit upon a winning formula: giving Bosh more minutes at the 5, and letting Wade and James initiate the offense more.

Still, we got plenty of yelling at Mario Chalmers:

And semi-ironic promos hyping up Joel “The Warden” Anthony:

That’s right, we’ve got not one, not three, not four, but two long-lasting meme guys on the James-era Heat.

ALSO CONSIDERED: If you need further proof that the Heat were looking to upgrade on Anthony, check out the 2010 NBA Draft when they opted for the one-two punch of Dexter Pittman and Jarvis Varnado, woof. And if you don’t let out a “Cawcaw!” after saying Chris Andersen out loud, then we can’t be friends.

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Cleveland Cavaliers (2014-2018)

  • Dion Waiters (2014-15)
  • James Jones (2014-17)
  • JR Smith (2014-18)

It’s worth noting that LeBron James picked the Cleveland Cavaliers for a second stint. He wanted a roster that had young talent that could grow alongside him, and the assets needed to swing a trade for established guys.

In other words, he chose Dion Waiters. He really did. James neglected to mention 2014 No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, who was later traded to acquire Kevin Love, while shouting out Waiters, saying, “I think I can elevate… Dion Waiters,” in his “I’m coming back to Cleveland” letter.

The Dion Waiters elevation experiment didn’t last very long though. The fourth overall pick in the 2012 was, well, supremely confident in his shooting abilities, a confidence James didn’t share. That manifested on-court in Waiters openly clapping for the ball, while being ignored by LeBron. And to be fair to James, Waiters was shooting an ice-cold 25.6% from three, so he was somewhat justified, right?

It took just 33 games before the Cavaliers dealt Waiters away, as part of a three-team deal with the New York Knicks and the Oklahoma City Thunder, to land LeBron J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is James Jones. Where Waiters was erratic, Jones was reliable from downtown. So much so that James, after leaving Miami, wanted and got Cleveland to sign him. As a result, Jones became the answer to the trivia question: “Who are the only non-Celtics teammates to have made seven straight NBA Finals?” He could have made it eight years, but Jones transitioned to a front office job with the Phoenix Suns. I’m not sure if that’s an upgrade, but there you go.

We’ve already discussed J.R. Smith higher up, so there’s no need to rehash his mental lapse here. Instead, let’s go with another highlight/lowlight of his Cavs tenure, when he went over to Jason Terry to say hello… in the middle of a game:

ALSO CONSIDERED: The Cavaliers thought they had an in on the Golden State Warriors when they signed Andrew Bogut in 2017. Horribly, he broke his legs just seconds into his debut, and never played for the team again (he of course, went back to the Warriors later on). It gets swept under the rug a little now, but people were REALLY HYPED when Dwyane Wade decided to sign with the Cavaliers back in 2017. Visions of alley-oops from their Heat days failed to make the journey to Ohio though, as he played just 21 games, before getting traded back to Miami. Wade somehow posted his worst averages in his career in that time (11.2 points, 3.1 assists), looking much better when he got back to South Beach.

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LA Lakers (2018-present)

  • Rajon Rondo (2018-now)
  • Michael Beasley (2018-19)
  • Lance Stephenson (2018-19)
  • JaVale McGee (2018-now)
  • JR Smith (2020)
  • Dion Waiters (2020)

Lakers team architects Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka were going to zag where everyone else zigs.

A formula had emerged when it came to LeBron James teams: capitalize on his speed, strength, and court vision by surrounding him with shooters. But while this approach produced championships in the past, the Lakers were determined to go a different route.

On the heels of signing LeBron James in the summer of 2018, the Lakers bolstered their young core with veterans of a different cloth. Come on down former James antagonists Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson! Let’s steal JaVale McGee from the Warriors! Heck, why not add Michael Beasley to the mix as well!

The 2018-19 Lakers were… not good. The pieces didn’t fit, LeBron played just 55 games, and the younger guys were put off by a failed in-season attempt at trading for Anthony Davis. Magic resigned in spectacular fashion, and head coach Luke Walton was fired at the end of the season.

The Lakers entering this season seemingly learned their lesson. They kept Rondo and McGee, the most productive of that so-called “meme team”, finally pulled the trigger on an Anthony Davis trade, and added a bunch of shooters to help space the floor. Furthermore, despite not adding Kawhi Leonard to the mix, the Lakers emerged as the best team in the West prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, going 49-14.

Still, that boat is set to be rocked.

Prior to the shutdown, the team added Dion Waiters, after he had been waived by the Heat. They then made Smith-for-Bradley swap just this past week. It’s often been said that a championship team can withstand having one Dennis Rodman, one Stephen Jackson, one JaVale McGee. But multiples? Including J.R. Smith? To quote ESPN’s Mina Kimes: