Rubio should take on Stevens’ former role in this way for Cavs

Ricky Rubio, Cleveland Cavaliers.(Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)
Ricky Rubio, Cleveland Cavaliers.(Photo by David Berding/Getty Images) /

When the news broke earlier this month that the Cleveland Cavaliers acquired Max Strus via sign-and-trade from the Miami Heat, it was a move that brought on some mixed emotions.

Strus is a knockdown shooter who should give the Cavaliers a different dynamic on offense as a constant catch-and-shoot threat that has true movement shooting gravity, too. He’s a player that will make others around him better with his offensive skill set off the basketball, and with his work as a movement threat. So that brought some feelings of excitement, and it’ll be awesome to watch him play.

That being said, in the deal to bring in Strus in the earlygoing of free agency, Cleveland sent the Heat a future second-round pick, and Cedi Osman, Lamar Stevens and a future second-round pick was sent to the San Antonio Spurs. That was for the deal to be facilitated.

Both of Osman and Stevens had their flaws, sure, as Osman had some ups and downs offensively and defensive limitations, and Stevens had shooting limitations on offense.

To the credit of both of those guys, though, they gave Cleveland a lift on a number of occasions in recent years, and they were continually exemplary teammates over their time with the Wine and Gold. With both being players with some notable minutes variance, and Stevens, in particular, being in and out of the rotation at different points, their attitudes in their Cavaliers’ tenures shouldn’t have been taken for granted, and they weren’t.

With the recently-waived Stevens in that regard, he was the driving force behind the Cavs’ Junkyard Dog Chain being established as a reward for individuals after wins. Furthermore, he was seemingly the primary leader in Cleveland’s locker room, to a large degree, the past two seasons.

So, who might be the next Cavs player to take over that former Stevens’ culture role? Ricky Rubio would seem to be a solid choice.

With Stevens’ departure, and him having a voice and significant presence already within the Cavaliers’ team dynamic, Ricky Rubio could take on that former Stevens’ cultural role.

Of course, Rubio could be due for a rebound next season, and if so, could give Cleveland’s bench a lift. Last year, he was not able to do so much, and had 5.2 points and 3.5 assists in what was only 17.2 minutes per game in 33 regular season appearances. He connected on just 25.6 percent of his three-point attempts, and he just was not able to find his footing nearly enough in stretches of games.

Granted, one had to foresee Rubio not having necessarily a key impact for the Cavaliers last season, when he was back. Rubio was coming over what was over a year-long recovery from what was his second ACL tear of his career in that same left knee he where that first occurred in 2012.

Nobody could’ve been anticipating Rubio having the near-half season he’d had as a bonafide Sixth Man of the Year candidate at the time of his ACL injury in late 2021, in fairness.

But with his struggles last season, the injury history and with others involved, also now with Ty Jerome, it’s fair to question whether Rubio’s rotational chances could be there on a consistent basis next season. Rubio’s name has been involved in trade rumors as a possible candidate to be dealt as part of a package for a wing/forward in hypotheticals even as well, for salary-matching purposes it seems.

What is an area where Rubio can, at minimum, help Cleveland from here, however, is from a locker room perspective.

He’s already one of the Cavaliers’ leaders, with what he’s shown over the course of his career as a gifted playmaker with a career assist clip of 7.4 per game, and quality defender. In addition, he’s reportedly had a lasting impact on guys such as Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell, the latter of whom was first with Rubio on the Utah Jazz.

Clearly, Rubio is so well respected in the Cavalier locker room, as he’s seemingly made a difference for numerous Cavs in their progression, and to some degree, Rubio has been an extension of the coaching staff with his basketball IQ, feel and his leadership. If he is going to stick around, though, regardless of the on-floor splits, he’s a player that can take on that former Stevens role as such a substantial culture piece.

He already has a difference for Cleveland’s culture, anyways, but with Kevin Love no longer in the picture as well, to go with Stevens’ departure, Rubio is a viable option for that role.

For Cleveland, the departure of Stevens was not one that was going to make waves nationally, as he was a role player whose counting stats of 5.3 points and 2.8 rebounds in three seasons weren’t gaudy.

Despite that, he was a quality forward defender for Cleveland, and Stevens’ hustle, grit and tough-minded play often gave the Cavaliers energy when he was involved. And as originally a two-way player, he had to scratch and claw for his opportunities, and whether or not he was involved in the rotation, Stevens was seemingly always uplifting others from a locker room standpoint. His charisma was palpable.

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From here, if he does stick around, maybe Rubio can at least be valuable for an ascending Cavs team in that former Stevens role, if the buy-in is there from the veteran guard, who turns 33 in October.