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Unsung Heroes: LeBron’s Best Role Player Teammates in Cleveland

LeBron James has spent 11 of his 17 NBA seasons playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers. He took them to five NBA Finals, helping the franchise to win their first-ever championship in 2016. By doing so, he delivered on his promise of bringing a Larry O’Brien Trophy to the first NBA team he played for.

But, he didn’t do it alone. The nine playoff appearances in Cleveland happened in large part because of unsung heroes. The guys who’s praises we don’t sing as often. Read on as I talk about some of them.

PS: This is not (solely) stat-based.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Among the best role players the Cavs had during LeBron’s first tenure in Cleveland was Zydrunas Ilgauskas. The 7’3 Lithuanian had a smooth touch from the outside, and was a very formidable rim protector. He was also able to play in two All-Star games, honors which he deserved both times.

His game wasn’t flashy, but boy was it fun to watch. Z also refused to play for the Wizards after being traded there for the team to acquire Antawn Jamison. He said My heart is in Cleveland. I won’t play anywhere else.So, a month later, the team brought him back, when they were able to.

He would join LeBron in Miami after “The Decision”, hoping to get his first ring. He deserved the chance. Bringing it back to Cleveland though, he was always loved by the fans. He worked through significant injury trouble, playing just 87 games over his first four years, to have a brilliant NBA career. Cheers, Zydrunas.

Tristan Thompson

How can you not love Double T? He works his tail off for every rebound. He never complains about his role. And, he does whatever it takes to help the team win. He was a starting power forward and starting center during LeBron’s run in CLE. He was also a backup at both positions at times.

TT’s main role was to grab offensive rebounds and to finish around the rim. And he was doing it for three years before LeBron came, and continued to for the next four.

Every NBA team would love to have a player like Tristan Thompson. And that’s why the current interest in him on the free-agent market is so public. His work ethic is no secret. Without TT, it’s unlikely the Cavs win the 2015-16 title.

Matthew Dellavedova

Anybody that knows me knows that Delly is my favorite basketball player. Why? He works harder than any other player, he dives for every loose ball, and he steps up when needed. The Cavs would not have reached the 2015 NBA Finals or won two games against the Warriors without him. He was the #2 option with Kyrie and Kevin Love out.

It’s never been about the numbers with him. He just does what is needed to win. Getting under the other team’s skin, making the occasional three, or guarding the best player on the opposition. His effort on Steph Curry in game’s 2 & 3 of that 2015 Finals is enough on its own to get him on the list.

Peace. Love. Delly. Also, PLEASE re-sign him Cavs. PLEASE. Also, HOW WAS HE UNDRAFTED?????

Daniel Gibson

Everybody remembers Booby Gibson. The young man that put up 31 points in a decisive game against the Pistons as a rookie to put the Cavs in the NBA Finals. LeBron was certainly happy that they had him around that day. No doubt about that.

Gibson spent seven years in Cleveland, including four with LeBron. And every year, he was there to make the timely threes. When they had him and Damon Jones together, it was probably the best 1-2 shooting punch off the bench in the league. Booby was always in the right spot at the right time to sink shots.

His career ended when he was 26, as he opted to enter the rap game and leave basketball behind. But, his time in Cleveland is a time that all Cavs fans should think back upon fondly. Gibson was a real unsung hero.

Anderson Varejao

There isn’t too much to say about Andy that isn’t already known. During his run in Cleveland, which lasted from 2004 all the way until 2016, he did the little things. He took charges, continually worked on his game, including developing a jumper that was non-existent when he entered the league.

On LeBron’s 23rd birthday, he made the only three of his career to lift the team to a last-second win over the Hawks. If the Cavs needed a player to make the nitty-gritty plays, you can just call it the “Varejao” role.

It’s too bad that he retired as a Golden State Warrior, but his years in Cleveland were oh-so memorable. Wild Thing forever.

Honorable Mentions: Larry Hughes, Jeff Green, Kyle Korver, Richard Jefferson

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