Lewis was back in the arena that he helped get built on Wednesday, wearing a Wizards T-shirt and warm-ups during shootaround. But he still has a deep connection with the Magic, stays in contact with several of his former teammates, and was even upset when the team lost in the first round to Atlanta Hawks last postseason.
“I still felt like I was a part of the team. I thought they should’ve beat them,” Lewis said of the Hawks. “I still have close friends on the team and you know I have a lot of respect for the organization.”
His former coach, Stan Van Gundy, certainly has a lot of lot of respect for Lewis and believes that there is a direct correlation between the success of the franchise and his arrival.
The season before Lewis came, the Magic won 40 games. The next season, the team won 52. And before Lewis left, the Magic had won three Southeast Division titles and reached the NBA Finals.
“I think he’s been given credit. But I don’t think he’s still gotten nearly enough credit for what he did,” Van Gundy, mentioning how the personnel wasn’t much different than the season before Lewis arrived. “I thought, in that turnaround, when he came, really, a lot of it revolved around him. Clearly, Dwight [Howard] was the best player and Jameer [Nelson] was here and [Hedo Turkoglu] played well. But what changed was Rashard Lewis.”
“He was the major addition and I think on top of that, the guy came to a new team, changed positions, had to battle bigger guys at the four, so we could get our best players on the floor and really changed the whole way that the Magic played, because of his skills,” Van Gundy said. “And on top of that, maybe the best team guy I’ve been around. Was never a guy that complained about shots, changing positions. Never made excuses about playing against bigger guys. He just went out, competed and played at a high level every night.”
The Magic recognized Lewis with a video montage when the Wizards visited last season, but he was unable to play. Fans still gave him a loud and appreciative ovation. “That meant a lot,” Lewis said. “Made me feel that we did have good times when I was here. The fans did appreciate me. Even though I was traded, they welcomed me back with open arms.”
As he giddily strolled through Amway Center before the Wizards’ shootaround, Lewis gazed as the banners and went searching for any Magic staffers to catch up with.
“I’m just looking for people to talk to,” Lewis said. “It was fun, it was cool, coming back to Orlando. I think at the beginning of the game, I’ll be nervous coming back to play. I’m not only excited to play against the Magic, but to play in front of the fans that I grew to love when I was here the last three or four years.”