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Celtics reflect on Lamar Stevens trade: “Everybody loved Lamar”

The 26-year-old forward never got much run, but was an integral member of the locker room and a leader of the Stay Ready bench unit. 

Boston Celtics v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

The Celtics midseason acquisition of Grizzlies center Xavier Tillman will provide them with defensive versatility and frontcourt insurance in case Kristaps Porzingis or Al Horford have to miss time.

But beyond the on-court analytics, the trade means that Lamar Stevens, who spent nearly six months in Boston and quickly became a beloved guy in the locker room, is no longer a Celtic.

Jayson Tatum said Stevens’ absence was notable after last night’s Celtics victory over the Hawks.

“To wake up from my nap earlier and see that he got traded was tough,” Tatum said. “The locker room kind of did feel empty today, coming to the game and he wasn’t here.”

Joe Mazzulla said that Stevens took the news of his trade in stride.

“It’s always a difficult conversation when guys put so much time in, and you get to know them from the beginning of the year, you see him every single day,” Mazzulla said. “But he was good about it, and I think just the way he carries himself, the professionalism that he has — he never missed a day.”

Lamar Stevens spent the first three years of his NBA career in Cleveland, where he became a rotation player. Last season, he started 25 games, averaged 18.1 minutes a night, and earned a reputation as a gritty defender.

There was hope he would crack the Celtics rotation this season, but besides for a few limited opportunities, he generally only saw the court in blowouts. In all, Stevens played just 122 minutes for the Celtics this season, shooting 46.7% from the field and 37.5% from three, albeit in a very limited sample size.

Still, Stevens was one of the leaders of the Stay Ready group, the self-described term for the end-of-bench players who learned to embrace an unpredictable role that entails being prepared to contribute when your number is called, but also knowing that as ready as you are, an opportunity might not come.

When I spoke to Lamar Stevens last month, he told me he was really enjoying his time in green and embracing the lessons he was learning within the Stay Ready group. Guys were focused on helping the team win, and staying patient in the process, something he had never seen before.

“This is the first time in my career I’ve been a part of something like this,” Stevens said. “It’s all about the process – just enjoying the process, getting better, and not worrying about when the opportunity may come or how it may come, but just knowing that each day, you’ve prepared yourself to the best of your ability. From there, everything else will take care of itself.”

His favorite part of being a Celtic was the unwavering presence of fans on the road: “It’s like a home game, and I think that’s super cool,” he said. “Even just playing at TD Garden, our fans are next level — just that energy, and it’s not even just when we’re here. I think that’s super dope.”

Brad Stevens and Joe Mazzulla have continually stressed the importance of bringing in guys who fit the locker room and prioritize winning over their own personal success. It’s a notion that Lamar Stevens wholeheartedly embraced.

“I talk to some of the guys about that all the time, just for us to have all the talent that we do have and for there to be no issues, it’s incredible,” Stevens said a month ago, at a women’s empowerment event he spoke at. “You don’t really see that that often. Brad did a great job putting the right group of guys around each other, that enjoy coming to work, that enjoy getting better, that put winning at the forefront of everything.”

Stevens’ absence will likely be overlooked by pundits and analysts given that he did not play a visible role in the team’s on-court success. But Jayson Tatum nonetheless described him as a “key guy on our team” when reflecting on the trade last night.

“Maybe he didn’t play as much, but his personality, how hard he worked….” Tatum said in yesterday’s postgame presser, trailing off. “He was a great teammate, and everybody loved Lamar. Hopefully at his next stop, he gets an opportunity, because he works extremely hard and we’re going to miss him.”

Payton Pritchard, who Lamar Stevens told me was one of his closest friends on the team, echoed Tatum’s sentiment.

“Lamar is a great teammate, great person, hard worker, a true pro,” Pritchard said. “We valued everything he brought, wish him much success. Just a true pro. Showed up every day, worked his tail off, he got better, never complained about anything, and was a great teammate.”

Now, Lamar joins a Memphis team that has been depleted with injuries this season, and could be faced with increased minutes, particularly in the near future.

“I’m excited for him,” Joe Mazzulla said. “He’s excited for the opportunity, and I’m happy for him.”

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