ORLANDO — The last time Rashard Lewis was at Amway Center, Orlando Magic fans gave him a raucous ovation in gratitude for 31 / 2 seasons of service. It could’ve also been a rally of sympathy and support for a former all-star who had been banished to the NBA purgatory known as a rebuilding franchise.
Lewis was sidelined with right knee tendinitis when the Washington Wizards played in Orlando last February, a few months removed from his trade from a team that was making an ill-fated attempt to appease its franchise star, Dwight Howard. He was devastated by the move, and felt even more awkward as his image still adorned banners on light posts surrounding the arena and could be spotted in photographs along the hallways and visiting locker room.
“It was kind of strange. I wanted to see if I could take some of that stuff home,” Lewis said with a laugh.
Lewis calls Washington home now, with his family settling in nicely and his daughter in school at Sidwell Friends. His house in Orlando is still on the market and will remain vacant as he stays in the team hotel. He has moved on, but the final step toward completing the Magic chapter of his 14-year career is playing his first game as a visitor in the two-year-old facility.
“Good old Orlando,” Lewis said. “Most definitely, I’ve already been thinking about it. It just brings back memories of being to the [NBA] Finals, almost won a championship with that team. Had great times. Still guys on that team that I played with.”
Lewis remains in constant contact with his good friend Jameer Nelson and said their conversations rarely include the Howard trade rumors, which have surrounded the Magic since the start of training camp. Howard formally requested a trade to New Jersey, Dallas or the Los Angeles Lakers, but the team is in no rush to move the all-star center and three-time defensive player of the year.
“Until he signs an extension or gets traded, people are going to always speculate about it and what’s going to happen,” Lewis said of Howard. “I don’t know if he’s going to stay with the team or they’re going to bring guys in. At the same time, I think something is going to happen. I don’t know when, but I think the organization has to protect itself, as well as Dwight will have to protect himself. ”
Lewis said he could understand Howard’s frustrations, since the organization has regressed since losing to the Lakers in the 2009 NBA Finals. “He wanted to bring a championship to that town. Unfortunately, we fell short of that. He’s always been a competitive guy that wanted to win ballgames. That’s why he’s the great player he is now. ”
Now on a Washington team that is far from contention, the 32-year-old Lewis fully expected the Wizards to use their amnesty clause on him, which would’ve allowed the team to shed the $32 million remaining on his contract from its salary cap. It also would have allowed Lewis the opportunity to sign with a team better positioned to win now.
But Lewis said his desire to again play meaningful games in May and June would never lead him to force his way out by asking for a trade.
“By doing that, it wouldn’t do nothing but reflect on me and make me look bad,” Lewis said. “My job is to go out there, play basketball and try to win games, regardless of what team I’m on. I’m not going to sit around and complain. It’s a million things I want to complain about. If it’s getting shots, getting minutes, to rebounds, to whatever it is. But I’m not going to do that.
“I’m going to put my best foot [forward], playing with the young guys and try to teach these guys how to play basketball the right way,” Lewis said. “Of course, I’m frustrated some nights because I feel like we’re not playing the right way, but I’m not going to express that. I look at myself in the mirror and see what I can do to make this team better and what I can do to make myself better.”
The Wizards (0-5) want to keep Lewis around to help mentor their inexperienced roster in the way veterans Gary Payton, Detlef Schrempf and Nate McMillan aided him in his NBA infancy with Seattle. In a different role than he had in Orlando or Seattle, Lewis has tried to pass along words of encouragement and set an example by taking extra shots and showing up early to lift weights before practice.
But much like his team, he is off to a slow start, averaging 10.6 points — his lowest average since his second season in the league. Lewis scored nine points in a season-high 40 minutes Monday night in the second of back-to-back games as the Wizards lost,100-92, to Boston.
Lewis said he felt fine afterward, especially when the Wizards finally stayed competitive for a full game. “It wasn’t tough at all, because of the fact that I was competing and we was in the game and we was fighting with them, it was almost like we was going blow for blow,” Lewis said. “And when you’re in a game like that, nothing hurts at all. You don’t feel nothing.”
No longer in a position to play for a title, Lewis has to settle for smaller victories now.