To keep the bench crew, or not to keep the bench crew.
The Cavaliers must decide if and how they will improve their bench before the 2023-24 season starts. The Cavs can turn to free agency to shore up their depth, or they can try and pull off some hopeful trades for a potential solidified starter at the small forward spot.
Five of Cleveland’s bench players are listed on Spotrac’s 2023-24 Salary Cap grid for the Cavs. Three of them, forward Cedi Osman, Lamar Stevens and guard Sam Merrill, are listed with non-guaranteed contracts. Stevens will have a club option for the 2023-24 season.
Hoops Rumors writer Rory Maher wrote he thinks the Cavs will guarantee the deal of Osman and pick up the $1.9 million team option for Stevens.
“I also think they’ll guarantee Cedi Osman’s $6.7MM salary for’ 23/24 and pick up their $1.9MM team option on Lamar Stevens,” Maher wrote. “That would give the Cavs 10 players under standard contracts for a total of about $140MM (assuming a $15MM cap hit for LeVert), pushing them over the projected $134MM salary cap.”
Should the Cavaliers bring back Stevens during the 2023-24 season? And what would he bring to Cleveland if the Cavs chose to keep him around?
Keeping the bench crew together
An NBA bench can only be complete with at least a few consistent contributors.
The Cavaliers would only benefit from keeping at least a few of their bench players from last season aboard. Forward Cedi Osman had his moments during the regular season and the playoffs. And Guard Ricky Rubio provided a veteran presence that guard Donovan Mitchell could lean on during the NBA playoffs.
“I gotta be the guy to continue to use my voice, but listen as well, and not be too naive to listen to what’s going on. Who really helped me with that is Ricky Rubio,” Mitchell said in April, via Yahoo! Sports Senior NBA reporter Jake Fischer. “It’s great that he’s here, so I can lean on him, for my mental as well, so he can kind of talk about our past experiences and help steady this group.”
Stevens ended the 2022-23 season with averages of 5.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 0.5 assists in 18.1 minutes played per game. He played in 62 games and started in 25 during the regular season before earning limited minutes in Games 3 and 5 of the team’s NBA playoffs series against the New York Knicks.
With an option of just $1.9 million, Stevens could again be a reliable option off the bench when the Cavs need him the most. He will need to work on his 3-point shot after shooting at a 31.6% rate last season, but his rebounding and toughness could make him a welcomed part of a young and blossoming Cavaliers roster.
But it’s not just the tangible parts of the game that Stevens could continue to bring to the Cavaliers.
A vocal Cavs leader
It didn’t take long for the Cavs to learn one of their most important lessons of the year.
When he helped provide a spark off the bench during a 118-114 win over the Boston Celtics in March, the Cavs took note as he spoke out during the team’s huddles and fought his way through Boston’s defense for six offensive rebounds and.
When Lamar speaks, you listen.
“That’s something you earn,” Mitchell said, via Cleveland.com Cavs reporter Chris Fedor. “I’ve only been here a few months, but you can tell as a locker room, as a group of guys, we trust in him, in his voice, his leadership.
“Not only did he do it by voice, but by example. When he’s out there competing, fighting, screaming, getting buckets, and also getting stops, you’ve gotta be out there doing the same thing.”
Stevens finished the game with eight points and eight rebounds as he quickly hustled inside to get second-chance points and hit a shot from the left corner.
Even in losses, Stevens found ways to reflect and add energy to the Cavaliers’ roster.
He did as much after the Cavs took their 5th-straight loss during a November matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks, one game before the Cavs began alternating between winning and losing streaks from November to January.
“I think we just have to find ‘it,'” Lamar Stevens said after the loss. “We have to find that effort, that defensive intensity and what we were doing during that 8-game win streak.
“This comes down to holding everyone accountable and do what we’ve always done. We’re a defensive-first team. I think we have to find that again, along with our hunger and grit.”
Stevens could continue to bring the energy and toughness needed to instill the mentality brought about by the Junkyard Dog chain and play the Cavaliers brand of unselfish basketball head coach J.B. Bickerstaff preached about several times throughout the season.