I know what you’re thinking.
Yes, I know LeBron James has taken multiple teams to the NBA Finals [4x Miami, 2x Cleveland]. I’m well-aware of that. But given that the semester is finally over (always a huge sigh of relief for law students), why not brainstorm a little bit? That can’t be too bad, so let’s take a look for a moment at what an ideal team to surround LeBron James with would look like. These sorts of hypotheticals are always fun for me.
Before we begin, let’s lay down some ground rules:
- Rosters need to be realistic, meaning a starting lineup full of max-caliber players aren’t going to work here.
- Players selected can either be in their prime or during their most productive career arcs (not always the same thing).
To start things off, I feel like LeBron will need some bullies down low to enforce the law and keep him safe. I would say it’s a bit of an old-school type of protection. Back in those days, it was paramount that you had guys to protect the star players like Isiah Thomas, Michael Jordan, and so on.
Who else but Alonzo Mourning and Charles Oakley?
While technically undersized for their positions [Oakley 6’8, Mourning 6’10], their play on the court certainly told another story. You weren’t going to find a harder set of front line guys than Alonzo Mourning and Charles Oakley. Zo, who actually won the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award twice, would be the team’s undisputed defensive anchor (and shotblocker) for this team, while Oak would knock you around in the paint while jostling for a rebound. His nickname was very fitting in that regard.
Both players were solid rebounders, and both were able to extend their range out to fifteen feet when needed. Being able to stretch the floor is a must to play with LeBron; granted, they rarely shot threes in their respective careers, but that won’t be necessary with the other guys on this roster. Their work will primarily be in the paint, and LeBron will thank them for it during the grind of the regular season.
Why else did Cleveland bring in Kendrick Perkins last season? With LeBron’s front court secured, let’s look at the wings and the point. This is what will help LeBron really bring his team to the promised land, and with these players, LeBron’s job just gets easier and easier.
Chauncey Billups: With Mr. Big Shot running the point, the starting lineup has a steady presence alongside LeBron to calm the offense if things get too hectic. He can do it all–attack the basket, defend his position, hit free throws, and score from anywhere on the floor. It’s shocking to know that he was a journeyman in the NBA for so long before landing in Detroit. Chauncey Billups is a bona fide leader, plain and simple.
Basically, he’s everything you wished Mo Williams would be during that 2008-2010 stretch in Cleveland (and more). Tough defense, all-around abilities including distribution, spacing, and a penchant for big shots make Billups make an ideal option for the star forward some have criticized for not delivering in late-game situations.
If that ever happens, Billups will be more than happy to step to the plate. Everywhere he goes, winning seems to follow. If you’re a skeptic, take a look at what happened to the Denver Nuggets after he arrived from Detroit at the start of the 2008-09 regular season. Pairing him with LeBron would be catastrophic for opposing teams.
Mike Miller: The man, the myth, the legend. “Shoeless” Mike Miller is a personal favorite of LeBron’s for obvious reasons. He’s a scrappy player, good rebounder for his size, and lights-out from deep. Mike Miller is someone you wish J.R. Smith would be–a lethal perimeter threat, minus the boneheaded plays on both sides of the floor.
With his ability to stretch the floor, LeBron will gladly send the ball his way either in transition or within the halfcourt offense. On top of that, Miller is both versatile and heady. Because of his skill set, he can play up to four positions for this team, which all but guarantees his spot as the starting shooting guard.
As it stands right now, LeBron has a formidable starting lineup, complete with long-distance shooting, size, rebounding, defense, second and third scoring options, and all-around toughness and basketball maturity. Let’s see how it looks so far.
PG: Chauncey Billups
SG: Mike Miller
SF: Lebron James
PF: Charles Oakley
C: Alonzo Mourning
- First Option: LeBron James – Mr. Everything.
- Second Option: Alonzo Mourning – One of the most fearsome paint defenders in NBA history. Good for 20-10-4 on any given night, and can operate as LeBron’s main passing option. There’s no denying the rugged toughness factor with he and fellow brute Charles Oakley; the two will work well in the paint together.
- Third Option: Chauncey BIllups – Mr. Big Shot, the calming influence that keeps everyone in line. Capable of providing lethal shooting from deep, tough defense, and big guard play that can bully smaller guards in the post.
- Fourth Option: Mike Miller – A versatile guard-forward that can score off the dribble, get to the basket, hit big shots from anywhere on the court, rebound, and hustle for loose balls. He will benefit greatly from defenses collapsing on LeBron, Zo and Billups, feasting from the three point line.
- Garbage Man: Charles Oakley, but you already knew that.
Not too bad. In one fell swoop, LeBron just surrounded himself with a multiple-time Defensive Player of the Year, an absolute rebounding machine, a multi-faceted sharpshooter, and the only point guard not named Tony Parker to win an NBA Finals MVP in the last fifteen years. A lineup like this means LeBron doesn’t expect to be all alone on offense, nor will he be the only one elevating his game in the playoffs.
Nevertheless, all championship teams need a bench to work with. When you’re looking to have a potent, dynamic attack, you’ll need scoring and defense off the bench. Not a problem. It’s possible to find that with ease, and I have. Here’s what LeBron has to work with in this hypothetical second unit. Some of those names might look familiar.
PG: Mario Chalmers
SG: Gerald Green
SF: James Posey
PF: Robert Horry
C: Chris Andersen
At first glance, this is a lineup that can easily stretch the floor. Every single one of these players (except for Birdman) can light it up from long range. Mario Chalmers, James Posey, and Robert Horry have all been able to hit big shots for their respective teams over the course of their careers. That will come in handy in May and June.
All three of these players are not limited to one position, either: Chalmers can play either guard position; Posey could play either the 3 or the 4, and the same goes for Horry, who had Scottie Pippen comparisons when he was drafted by Houston in the early 90s. Versatile teams are very tough to guard, on top of the whole “LeBron James” factor.
Gerald Green is a supreme athlete and an explosive scorer when he’s tuned in. Granted, he’s been on nine teams in as many seasons (not counting his two-year stint in Russia), but that shouldn’t do anything to discount his offensive abilities. From what things appear to be right now, Green is buying into the need to play good, smart defense along with team-oriented offense.
LeBron needs athletes to run the floor with, and with Green evolving from more than just the 2007 NBA Slam Dunk Champion and into a legitimate shooter, it gives LeBron another option to work with off the bench. Green can also find his own shot, which is a welcome talent on LeBron’s team. In many ways, he’s like J.R. Smith, though it appears he’s less eccentric and more disciplined on the floor.
James Posey: To put it simply, James Posey is your ideal clutch-shooting 3 & D player. He was effective in Memphis under Hubie Brown, and he was a key cog on the Miami HEAT’s championship run. I personally enjoyed watching him play in Miami for those reasons. He’ll play within himself and do the dirty work for LeBron. Most importantly, Posey is a player you can place on the opposing team’s best player, giving LeBron more freedom to focus his attention on other things.
Robert Horry: Who wouldn’t want Big Shot Rob as your backup combo forward? Horry could play both forward positions (versatility), was well-known for hitting big shots in the clutch (a must if you’re playing with a distributor with LeBron), and was a smart player that possesses the sort of intangibles that championship-caliber teams like the early-2000s Los Angeles Lakers and mid-2000s San Antonio Spurs.
Chris Andersen: He’s not Dennis Rodman on the boards, but there’s no denying the Birdman is a “wild thing” when he’s out on the floor. Shotblocking, energy, hustle, athleticism, and an easy lob target (when healthy) for LeBron when using smaller lineups or running the break are all conducive to a successful LeBron James roster. Also, like starting PF Charles Oakley, Birdman doesn’t take mess from anybody.
Ask Tyler Hansbrough.
Third String: With LeBron’s primary rotation secure, every roster needs a third string. The reality is that you can’t expect too much talent to be here, because salary demands and minutes demands will surely play a factor. The bargain bin has ample talent to choose from, especially if you’re looking for specialists on defense and shooting.
PG: Kendall Marshall – A pure point guard and an adept distributor. He’s had trouble sticking with teams, but his ability to play his position isn’t a question. His defense and shooting are still viewed as concerns, but as a third guard, you can take the good with the perceived bad.
SG: Jon Barry – A reliable combo guard that fits his job description–he can shoot, and well (career 43% shooter and 39% three-point shooter).
SF: Jason Kapono – Another reliable shooter for LeBron. In fact, Kapono is one of the greatest shooters of all time. Retiring with a 43.36% average from three, Kapono is currently fifth all-time in career three-point shooting percentage. You need that sort of reliability in an emergency, and Kapono brings that to the table.
PF: Brian Scalabrine – He gets his own paragraph. His legend demands it of me. Need I say more?
C: Earl Barron – Barron helped Miami figure out how to defend Dirk Nowitzki during the 2006 NBA Finals thanks to this jumpshooting seven-footer’s role-playing in practice. He’ll do fine as a third center, especially with the versatility of this roster. He’ll rarely see the floor, assuming he ever suits up.
Every championship-caliber team needs a cult figure, so I added two (we already covered Birdman). Beyond his legendary exploits with the New Jersey Nets, Boston Celtics, and Chicago Bulls, Scal actually provides the intangibles you want in a bench player, including clutch three-point shooting when you need it.
Scal won’t raise a stink if he doesn’t play much, either. That’s always a welcome sight by a coaching staff.
Lineups: This team equips you with depth, versatility, and most importantly, a group of players that feeds into LeBron’s all-world talents. LeBron will have fun either dumping it down low to Mourning or drawing the defense and throwing it out to Miller, Billups, Chalmers, Green, Posey, Horry, Kapono, Scalabrine, or Barry. Even Oakley would be able to hit the occasional baseline jumper a la Udonis Haslem.
Think this team’s versatility is a myth? You’ll be in for a surprise. There’s a legitimate lineup for every situation.
Defense: Chalmers – Billups – James – Oakley – Mourning
Scoring: Billups – Green – Miller – James – Mourning
Free Throws: Billups – Miller – Kapono – James – Oakley
Small: Billups – Chalmers – Miller – James – Oakley
Big/Rebounding: Billups – Miller – James – Oakley – Mourning
Shooting: Billups – Miller – Green – Scalabrine – James
Clutch: Billups – Chalmers – Miller – Horry – James
And this is only the first team.
Stay tuned for Part II…