Rashard Lewis’s season ended before at the all-star break, when he suffered a bone bruise in his left knee in a loss to Sacramento and could never find the right remedy for his agony. When the Wizards were unable to move him at the trade deadline, Lewis attempted to return in an effort to play with Nene.
The Wizards were in Memphis, where he challenged rookie Shelvin Mack to a game of one-on-one. Lewis abused Mack by posting him up, stepping back to hit jumpers and driving around him for easy dunks. He played so well that he didn’t know how or when to stop – until his body made him stop.
“He was killing me that day,” Mack said later. “He was hitting threes, going to the rim, dunking. I think he kind of rushed into it. Trying to embarrass me, he kind of got himself hurt.”
Lewis left the court and realized that his knee problem was more serious than thought. “I didn’t know the significance of a bone bruise,” Lewis said last month. “I went and Googled it on my phone and it said, it could be from weeks, to months, to a year for it to heal. Took synvisc shots. I took every possible step.”
The Wizards will probably take every step to part ways with Lewis this summer, and they have several options at their disposal. Once the amnesty provision was added to the new collective bargaining agreement, Lewis was expected to be one of the first players to get waived, but the Wizards held on, leading to an assumption that the team would buy him out of the final year of his exorbitant contract.
But the Wizards view Lewis as a valuable trade chip around the NBA draft. Now, no team is going to deal for Lewis with the belief that it is getting a player that is anything close to being worth his nearly $24 million salary (or even the $13.7 million buyout) next season. Lewis, though, could represent a chance for a team to shed salary in anticipation of the summer of 2013, when the true economic impact of the new CBA truly kicks in.
A few teams with high payrolls and limited results this postseason — Atlanta, New York, Chicago, Memphis — or even a team such as Philadelphia, which doesn’t have the highest ceiling as it is currently constructed, could possibly use a salary dump to make bolder moves to get better.
The Wizards don’t have to work directly with those teams, but could help facilitate a deal for other teams by using Lewis, as well. They have the largest expiring contract out there in Lewis’s deal, and it’s impossible to ignore the difference that came when Dallas used Erick Dampier’s expiring deal with Charlotte for Tyson Chandler the summer before the lockout.
That kind of organization-altering deal probably isn’t out there, but the Wizards will likely exhaust every means before settling on a buyout agreement.
Lewis has to be bought out by June 30, according to a league source, which means the Wizards could have one aspect of their salary situation cleared up before the free agent signing period gets underway.
“I think that’s pretty much out of my hands,” Lewis said. “My agent will talk to them and see what direction they want to take and what direction they are going to go in.
”I’ve got faith in this organization, that they are going to do the right thing and bring the right people to build around John,” Wall, Lewis said. “If they do decide to bring me back, my main focus is to get healthy and get myself in shape to get ready to play for the Washington Wizards and get back to the playoffs. If not, then I still got healthy. I think I owe to myself and also the fans that like Rashard Lewis, to go out there and perform.”
After being used sparingly as a rookie, Lewis played in at least 85 percent of his games in 10 of his next 11 seasons before breaking down. Injuries prohibited Lewis from making any significant contributions in his 1½ seasons in Washington. His statistics have moved in the wrong direction in each of the past four seasons and he had to overcome the frustration and disappointment of working hard last summer to come back from a right knee injury only to having his worst season since his rookie year in Seattle.
“I started the season off bad and I didn’t have a real good feel with the offense and the team. I was a little upset about it, but I’m not the type to complain, go to coach complain, go to the newspaper to complain. I decided to look myself in the mirror and see what I could do to make the team better and try to play through it,” Lewis said. “It was tough, because I wasn’t making very many shots and I wasn’t getting very many. So it’s tough when you’re getting five or six shots a night, sitting over there in the corner, trying to spread the court. It made it tough for me to use my skills and talent to help this team win ball games.”
If he is let go or sticks around, Lewis believes that he has plenty to offer a team, even as he turns 33 in August. “I still feel like I got a lot of basketball in me. I know I can still play at a high level. I know I can still run and jump. It’s just getting healthy.”