Lamar Stevens is replacing Caris LeVert as the Cavaliers‘ starting small forward on Friday against the Hornets, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com, who hears from sources that the Cavs plan to use Stevens as a starter “for the foreseeable future.”
Stevens’ $1.8MM contract for 2022/23 is non-guaranteed and the Cavs hold a $1.9MM team option on the 25-year-old for ’23/24, while LeVert will be a free agent next summer.
Fedor writes that the move is being made in an effort to rediscover the team’s “lost defensive identity” amid a five-game losing streak. Stevens is a strong, tough and versatile defender, though he has offensive limitations — he has only made 25.3% of his career three-point attempts on low volume.
According to Fedor, forward Dean Wade would have been in contention for the starting small forward job, but he’s currently sidelined with right knee soreness. Friday marks his fourth straight missed game.
Head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said prior to Friday’s game that Wade’s knee was infected and he’s currently taking antibiotics to treat it, per Kelsey Russo of The Athletic (Twitter link).
“Just kind of have to wait and let them set in and do their thing. He is progressing, but it’s not something you can control,” Bickerstaff said.
As Fedor notes, Stevens had only appeared in three of the Cavs’ first 12 games for a total of 23 minutes prior to starting in place of the injured Jarrett Allen the past couple games, but clearly Bickerstaff liked the energy Stevens brought. Allen will be back Friday, Fedor adds.
LeVert has mostly struggled since scoring a season-high 41 points against Boston on October 28, averaging just 10.3 points on .389/.281/.733 shooting over his past nine games (32.3 minutes), though he has chipped in 5.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists per night over that span. Moving him to the bench will allow him more on-ball opportunities and let him play his more natural position of shooting guard, Fedor notes.
Cleveland holds an 8-6 record entering Friday’s home game versus Charlotte.