In the four years since he made his last trip to the NBA Finals, Rashard Lewis had to deal with a stunning trade from Orlando to Washington, accept that his knees and age would prohibit him from being a regular NBA starter again, get traded from one lottery team to another and finally lose out on $9 million when he got bought out for the final year of a $118 million contract.
So, while there was excitement when he signed with the Miami Heat last July, Lewis wouldn’t necessarily say that he was relieved when he got dumped by two franchises – the Wizards and then New Orleans – in less two weeks last June.
“I don’t think it’s ever a relief to be traded, or bought out,” Lewis said with a booming laugh. “But the relief was when Pat Riley called to recruit me to come down and play for them. I think more than anything my goal was to be on a team that was trying to compete for a championship. Obviously, Miami had just won it.”
This time last year, Lewis was four days away from getting traded to New Orleans for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza and two weeks from having the Hornets give him $13.7 million to go away. Now, Lewis is on a Miami team that is two victories over the San Antonio Spurs from winning another championship.
Lewis, 33, has appeared in two Finals games — at the tail end of the Heat’s lopsided Game 2 win and San Antonio’s more lopsided Game 3 loss – and contributed just four points. But had he remained in Washington or New Orleans, he’d be watching from home rather than being a member of the last two teams standing.
“It’s great to have an opportunity to win a title, an NBA championship, because it’s very tough to get that window of opportunity when you’re playing in the NBA. First time I made it to the Finals, I think it took 10 years,” said Lewis, who helped the Orlando Magic reach the 2009 NBA Finals, where they lost in five games to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Lewis is stunned that his squad featuring Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu and coached by Stan Van Gundy never made it back.
“Honestly, we had such a good team, I thought we’d get back the next year,” said Lewis, who averaged 17.4 points and 7.6 rebounds in that series against the Lakers, including 34 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in a Game 2 overtime loss. “I thought we had a good chance to be contenders, but when you don’t win it, regardless of how good you do, they are going to look to make changes to get over that hump. Sometimes it works, sometimes it don’t. It seems like Orlando made the trades they made and they didn’t work out and the team went the other way.”
Turkoglu was the first piece to bail as he cashed in with a free agent contract in Toronto then Lewis was shipped to Washington for Gilbert Arenas in December 2010. Last summer, Van Gundy was fired and Howard was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. Orlando finished with the worst record in the league last season is already back rebuilding.
The Wizards were back in the lottery for the fifth consecutive season, with Lewis languishing for 1½ seasons of injuries, losses and eventual benching. Lewis’s statistics have gone in reverse in each of the past seven seasons since he fled Seattle as a free agent. His production in Miami (5.2 points and 1.9 rebounds) hasn’t been so low since he was a 19-year-old rookie. But being a part of team that is playing for something has made it easier to take a lesser role.
“It’s a lot easier to sacrifice on a team like this, where we have a very deep bench,” said Lewis, who has appeared in 10 of Miami’s 20 playoff games. “We have a lot of guys that could be getting a lot of minutes on a lot of other teams or starting for some teams. It’s a little difficult to not play minutes or sacrifice for a young team. I knew they wanted to play young guys and get experience on the court so they can get better. But as the years go on, I thought that’s what the Washington Wizards was doing, no disrespect to that organization. But they were a very young team trying to grow and groom. It made it more frustrating for me, than to be playing for a championship team.”
After signing with the Heat, Lewis underwent shock wave treatment on his knees called OssaTron, which helped regain some of his bounce.
“It felt like I hadn’t played basketball in almost three years, because I was off the court and injured. I wasn’t playing much. I wasn’t playing at all,” Lewis said. “So it almost felt like I was getting back to playing NBA basketball. The rhythm, the style of getting in that tip top shape of running up and down. I knew everything but everything is all a rhythm. You’ve got to get yourself and your mind all in condition to play an 82-game season.”
Lewis has an option worth $1.4 million but plans on returning next season to Miami, where a first championship is within his grasp. “You get that window of opportunity, you’ve got to take advantage of it,” Lewis said. “I chose to play for the Miami Heat and you know, we here. We in the Finals, but the job is not done yet.”