It was said that the Cavaliers need to get tougher following their first-round playoff ouster against the Knicks. The Cavs weren’t just beaten, they were beaten up and knocked around.
That was especially the case on the boards. New York was just the more physical team in every sense of the word.
Interestingly, the man viewed as the grittiest player on Cleveland’s roster barely played. That would be none other than forward Lamar Stevens, a starter earlier in the year.
But when it came to the series vs. the Knicks, Stevens appeared in just two of the five games, averaging 4.5 minutes.
Granted, coach J.B. Bickerstaff had his reasons, and this isn’t intended to call those into question. It wasn’t like Bickerstaff wanted to lose. He was playing the guys who he thought gave him the best chance to win. But it’s safe to say those players did not deliver.
So why not Stevens? The fact he barely saw the floor makes you wonder if the Cavs intend to bring him back. For now, they have a $1.9 million team option on his deal heading into free agency.
Stevens, 26, appeared in 62 games in his third season, all with the Cavs. This year, he averaged 5.3 points and 3.3 rebounds, shooting 45 percent from the field.
In other words, Stevens isn’t going to wow anybody with eye-popping offensive numbers. He’s not considered an amazing defender. At 6-foot-6, he’s undoubtedly undersized for his natural position of power forward.
There’s no doubt he will mix it up, though. It’s his primary strength. He also plays incredibly hard and a lot of what he does won’t make the highlight reel. He’s like a blue-collar worker on the basketball court — and frankly, every team could use one of those.
Given that Stephens’ deal is cost-effective, sources have told Hoops Wire that the Cavs are likely to pick up the option and give him one more run. They do appreciate him. But it may also come down to what the other roster moves they make, sources added.
The Cavs own one draft pick, in the second round, or No. 49 overall. President of basketball operations Koby Altman very well could look to trade the pick, attach a player, and see what kind of deal could be had. Stephens is the type of player with the type of contract that could be attached.
(For the record, Stevens wasn’t drafted at all out of Penn State in 2020. So yes, the Cavs could find help at No. 49 if they do keep the pick.)
One rival GM told Hoops Wire that Stephens is limited, but also an “underrated and sometimes valuable part of winning.” He has respect around the league.
The bottom line is the Cavs are looking to improve around the edges of the roster, and add some fortitude to the frontline and some perimeter shooting. Stevens could be the odd man out; or he could be part of the solution.
We just don’t know yet, and frankly, it appears neither do the Cavs.