CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Cleveland Cavaliers signed rugged swingman Lamar Stevens to a multi-year deal prior to Wednesday’s matchup against the Charlotte Hornets.
Stevens, who originally inked a two-way with the Cavaliers after going undrafted out of Penn State in 2020, will receive a four-year deal that’s non-guaranteed for the next three seasons and contains a team option in the final year, sources say. It’s a deal similar to the one Dean Wade, who took the same path from two-way to converted player, received nearly two years ago.
“He showed up every single day to work,” Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of Stevens. “He plays with a grit and tenacity that everyone has to respect. He’s a team-first guy. He works his tail off. And he’s proven that he belongs in this league. Coming from a two-way position, earning the respect of his teammates, other players around the league, the coaching staff and front office. It’s a credit to him and the hard work that he’s put in.”
Stevens’ new contract, which gives him a slight bump in pay for the remainder of 2020-21, will also open a two-way spot that Cleveland is expected to fill soon.
Joining the team shortly before training camp and without a clear role heading into the season, Stevens has worked his way into the rotation at different points thanks to his energy, effort and defensive chops. Bickerstaff said he first recognized Stevens’ pro potential earlier this season against the Los Angeles Clippers — a night Stevens was asked to guard Kawhi Leonard and Paul George throughout.
“We asked him to go against some really difficult matchups defensively, and I thought he did a phenomenal job on those guys,” Bickerstaff said. “And that is something that isn’t easy to do against the Paul George’s and the Kawhi Leonard’s of the world. He was there making things extremely difficult. And so, at that moment, you realize that he has an NBA elite skill, and he is an elite defender, who can defend multiple positions.”
While Stevens made his mark on defense, he was known more for his scoring in college, finishing No. 2 on Penn State’s all-time list. That transition has stood out to Bickerstaff.
“I think where he has figured out and improved the most is understanding where he fits and when his time is called upon what’s needed from him,” Bickerstaff said. “That’s the hard part. When you’re used to being the man, a lot of times you come in and want to be the man right away and what Lamar has figured out is ‘How do I fit and how do I stay and how do I contribute to this team in my new role?’ I think that’s where he’s had a ton of growth.”
In 37 games this season, Stevens, 23, is averaging 4.4 points on 45.2% from the field to go with 2.5 rebounds.
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