Rashard Lewis was shaken up by trade to Wizards

Rashard Lewis is averaging 12.2 points this season, his worst since his sophomore season.
Rashard Lewis is averaging 12.2 points this season, his worst since his sophomore season. (John Raoux/associated Press)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 21, 2010; 12:08 AM

Two days ago, Rashard Lewis was a starter for the Orlando Magic, a team expected to contend for the championship. Monday night, he found himself watching from the bench of the rebuilding Washington Wizards, the Eastern Conference's last-place club.

Saturday's trade for Gilbert Arenas came as a shock to Lewis, he acknowledged during his introductory news conference at Verizon Center. But after arriving earlier in the day, the veteran forward said all the right things about his sudden and unexpected change of fortunes.

"Going from a team that is competing for a championship to a team that's rebuilding, the goals obviously change for me," he said. "I thought about that ever since the trade happened. Now, my ultimate goal is to get this team into the playoffs or into the hunt to make the playoffs and help these guys grow [by] being a veteran in the locker room, not by voice but most definitely by example."

Lewis did not suit up against Charlotte, saying he did not have enough time to prepare mentally after arriving in Washington midafternoon. Instead, he observed from the end of the bench in jeans and a sport coat.

"First of all, I'm going to watch and observe and not jump ahead of myself, try to come in and be the Big Bad Wolf and tell everyone what to do and how to do it," he said.

Although the deal was as much about finances as anything else - the Wizards will save more than $30 million by getting out from underneath Arenas's contract - the team also hopes Lewis will bring some versatility to the team's front court and inject veteran leadership into a mostly youthful locker room.

In addition to becoming the Wizards' highest paid player, Lewis, who is in the fourth year of a $118 million contract, also becomes their most accomplished. He's made two all-star appearances, played on four 50-win teams (with the Magic and Seattle Supersonics) and reached the conference finals twice and the NBA Finals once. In other words, he's used to winning.

"When you rebuild, you have to have veterans, that's always the key," Coach Flip Saunders said. "You need veterans who have been through it a little bit, and know where it's at."

The big question facing Saunders in the coming days is where to play Lewis, who played mostly small forward for Seattle during his first nine seasons and at power forward the past three-plus seasons in Orlando.

Lewis said he doesn't have a preference, though he hinted that he feels he's most effective playing small forward.

"We have to put the best team out on the floor, if that's me playing the four position or if that's me playing the three position, what ever fits the team best to win ball games," Lewis said.

He also was philosophical about the trade that turned his personal and professional life upside down.

With the Magic having lost six of seven and his production slipping to 12.2 points per game - his lowest offensive output since his sophomore season - the 31-year-old said he understood Orlando General Manager Otis Smith's logic.

"Wins and losses, that's what it comes down to," he said. "Especially when you're on a team like the Orlando Magic, an elite team. We started off the season winning. But at the same time, it was a little up and down. We lost some games, wasn't playing well, and overall, our defense kind of slacked off. I guess Otis felt like he needed a change."

While the trade shook him, to be sure, Lewis also said now that he's had time to mull things over, he plans to use the change of scenery as motivation.

"This is most definitely going to fuel me a little bit," he said. "I'm the type of guy, I've been doubted my whole life growing up, from high school to the NBA. I feel like there's always something in front of me challenging me. I just look at this as another challenge."

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