Every Dog Has Its Day

Lamar Stevens is a man of many roles and a guy who can roll with the punches.

Every NBA team has its interchangeable parts. How and when those parts function during a grueling 82-game season separates the bad teams from the good ones and the good ones from the greats. Superstars are nice. But every team needs players who, on any given night, can either do everything well or can do well doing nothing.

So far this season, Stevens had piled up a total of 23 minutes and nine DNP-CDs before logging 30 productive minutes in Sunday’s thriller against Minnesota at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse – elevated into the starting lineup as the road-weary Cavs returned from a five-game roadie.

“I felt great,” said the 3rd-year man from Penn State. “I felt really prepared, and I was proud of myself, because when you’re not playing, I feel like the biggest thing you can lose is your conditioning, if you really don’t focus in on it. That was something I did. My trainer, our strength and conditioning guy D-Mill (Derek Millender), we really emphasized it. And I felt great. I haven’t played 30 minutes in a long time! But I felt like I could’ve kept going.”

Not seeing much action has been a change for Stevens, who appeared in 63 games – starting 13 and averaging 16.3mpg overall last year – and 40 in his rookie season. But he’s handled that change in typically professional fashion. 

“I definitely think it’s tough at first, because you feel like you’d done your work the season before, and it’ll carry over,” said Stevens, whose grandmother still texts him words of encouragement after every game. “But in my position, I feel like you can’t get tired of proving yourself until you do. It’s just something that people in my position, undrafted guys, have to embrace, because nothing’s going to be handed to you.

“At first it was definitely tough, because you love the game, you want to go out and play and compete with your brothers. So, you try to make the most of it. I’ve found peace with it. And I’ve used it as an opportunity to work on my game even more.”

Undrafted in 2020 after four stellar years with the Nittany Lions, Stevens caught on as a Two-Way with Cleveland and was rock-solid during his Covid-shortened rookie season, highlighted by his game-winning dunk against Atlanta at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. In his 13 starts a sophomore, the Cavs were 9-4.  

“I think that’s just part of my journey, being able to adapt, being a chameleon, being able to fit in in a lot of different ways,” he said. “Starting, not starting. Playing. Not playing for a while. That’s just the role I’ve been handed, and I’m going to embrace it and make the most of it. I’ve seen enough to know that I can adapt to any situation.”

That adaptability was put to the live test on Sunday afternoon. After seeing scarce action on the eight-game trip – logging 18 minutes in the win over Detroit – Stevens found out he was starting against the T-Wolves when he got to the gym. 

“I don’t think it matters (when they tell you),” said the Cavs swingman. “They tell you early enough where you can lock in and process it and know what situation you were going to be in. I mean, I guess it’s much easier if you know ahead of time. But that’s just how it goes.”

Stevens responded with easily his best outing of the season – netting 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting, going 5-of-6 from the line to go with six boards and an assist. 

The 6-8, 225-pounder was ready. “When I wasn’t playing, I really took pride in preparing for every game, because I never knew when my number’s going to be called,” said Stevens. “The way I approached that game is no different than how I approach any other game. Because I prepare for every game like I’m going to play 30 minutes. So, mentally I just did the same thing I always do.”

Stevens is also the unofficial godfather of the Cavaliers junkyard dog movement, which emerged organically last season and comes with matching jewelry. He admits that the squad is filled with quiet guys and he just “brings a little something different” to the lineup. And being that top dog is not an honor he takes lightly. 

“It’s really cool, it’s a blessing,” smiled Stevens. “I just dreamed of just playing in the NBA. So, for me, how I’ve grown and any impact I’ve had off the court, the mentality of being a leader, has been incredible. And to have a small impact on an NBA organization, a great organization, one I always admired as a kid, it’s definitely something I don’t take for granted. 

“And I don’t take this group for granted. We have a great group of guys. When you’re on a team in college, that group of guys are your friends for life. And I feel we have something similar here. Even with the coaches. I think it’s all really a blessing.”

So, what kind of dog does the Wine and Gold’s big dog, himself, have? 

“I have a golden retriever. That’s my boy! His name is Koby. He’s a big dog and he’s super-nice – but when it’s time to turn it on, he turns it ON! I We’re very similar.”