By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 16, 2011; 12:54 AM
ORLANDO - His image still covers banners hanging on light posts surrounding Amway Center, and his former coach credits him with helping the $480 million hoops cathedral the Orlando Magic calls home get built, so it was impossible for Rashard Lewis to return, less than two months after he was traded, without getting a little sentimental.
"It definitely brings back a lot of memories - of trying to win a championship," Lewis said as he gazed at the giant high-definition scoreboard hanging above the arena floor.
Lewis won't be able to face his former team when the Washington Wizards play their final game before the all-star break, with right knee tendinitis forcing him to miss his third consecutive game. And as the Wizards came close to concluding practice on a court near the Magic practice facility, Lewis snuck away, hoping to visit some of his former teammates in the locker room.
When he arrived, Lewis saw that Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy was still conducting practice, so he decided to come back later because "you know how Stan is when they're practicing. I didn't want Stan screaming at me."
Lewis and the Wizards (15-38) will end the first half of the season with a reminder of where they have been, while trying to focus on the future.
Back at the place he called home for more than three years, Lewis went to his house in Winter Park, reflected as he drove around I-4 and other familiar roads and made plans to eat at a steakhouse where was good friends with the chefs.
Meanwhile, Gilbert Arenas, once the face of the Wizards franchise, will try to beat the team he represented for more than seven years for the second time in two weeks.
Still grappling with a diminished reserve role in Orlando, Arenas said that he isn't as pumped for this contest as he was when the Wizards used to play his first team, the Golden State Warriors. "It's not like the old days," Arenas said, cracking a smile. "If I was calling my own plays, it'd be exciting."
After the Magic defeated the Wizards, 110-91, at Verizon Center on Feb. 4, Lewis sauntered over to the visitor's locker room, where Arenas apologized to a player whose championship aspirations were squashed the moment he was swapped in exchange for Arenas on Dec. 18.
And while Arenas gets to end the season chasing what Lewis started the season believing was within his grasp, Lewis said he doesn't hold any grudges toward the Magic.
"No, not all," Lewis said. "I got the utmost respect for [Magic General Manager] Otis [Smith]. I think it's a first-class organization, most definitely one of the best in the NBA. It wasn't no hard feelings, wasn't no fussing and cussing. It was 'Thank you, I appreciate the opportunity you gave me.' . . . "If we can't win the NBA championship, the next team I want to win is Orlando."
"Good luck the rest of the season," Lewis continued. " Life goes on, you can't mope and pout. The Washington Wizards would be like, 'Why you sitting here crying? You better go get your butt out there and play basketball. I've just got to go out there and play.'"It most definitely was a blow. I was most definitely upset. I loved playing here. At the same time, I got to keep on playing basketball and watch it with a positive attitude," he said. "If we can't win the NBA championship, the next team I want to win is Orlando." If the Washington Wizards can't win it this year, we'll let them have the trophy."
Lewis still closely follows his former team, but Arenas said he usually just checks the box score to see how his close friend Nick Young fared, so that he could call or text him to talk trash or offer advice. Arenas said he hung out with Young when the Wizards arrived from Cleveland on Monday, joking, "He was my Valentine."
The Magic has gone 19-12 since making two huge trades two months ago, while the Wizards have continued to struggle, going 9-20 since adding Lewis.
Arenas said the Wizards' problems shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. "They are just young. When you have a young team and you're rebuilding that's what rebuilding is. If you say we're building through the draft, don't expect them to win. That's what's going on. They are expecting to rebuild through the draft, you've got to lose to get good draft picks."
Arenas added that he was initially okay with being part of those plans, but felt that his stay in Washington this season would be brief. "I knew my time was up, I figured it out pretty early in training camp. That's when I decided, just be a professional, go out there and play because they are shopping you. Just keep a professional attitude and say the right things."
Arenas got a decent ovation when he returned to Washington, as some fans stood and applauded while some others booed. Van Gundy said he expected Magic fans to show their appreciation for Lewis on Wednesday. "He was a key guy, if not the key guy, instrumental in really getting this franchise going to a much higher level and on top of that was a great pro, was a great teammate, a model citizen, involved in the community. I can't imagine anybody has anything but real positive feelings for him, so I would think his reception would be great."
Arenas hasn't shot or scored well since joining the Magic, averaging 8.1 points and shooting 34.9 percent, which he said is the result of adjusting to fewer minutes and a different system. He also said it isn't fair to compare him with a 6-foot-10 forward who starts for Washington because he and Lewis play different positions and serve different roles. "Even though we got traded for each other, I didn't take his spot coming in," Arenas said.
Magic point guard Jameer Nelson smiled as he walked by Arenas and joked, "Yeah, you did."
Lewis eventually made it to the Magic locker room on Tuesday. "He's a great guy to be around," Magic all-star center Dwight Howard said.
"We miss him in the locker room, but we also understand the business of the game. He's not upset with any of us and we miss him."