Rashard Lewis will mostly be remembered in Washington as the conduit through which Gilbert Arenas left town and Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor arrived.
His time with the Wizards was marred by injuries in both knees and overshadowed by an exorbitant contract that placed him below only Kobe Bryant among the NBA’s highest-paid players last season. Near the end, Lewis was like any opulent piece of artwork: Fragile. Pricey. On the shelf, for viewing purposes only.
“It most definitely was frustrating for me,” Lewis said recently of his 1½-season stint with the Wizards. “Not only that, it was frustrating trying to help the team win some ballgames. I thought they had a lot of talent. A lot of young, talented players on the team and was just missing a few pieces. Playing in a lot of tough games, was right there and if I was healthy, maybe I could help them win a couple more games.”
The Wizards traded Lewis to New Orleans last June and the Hornets quickly bought him out for $13.7 million of his $24 million contract. A free agent for the first time since he signed his extra-large contract with Orlando in 2007, Lewis elected to join the Heat on a two-year deal worth $2.8 million.
“I was able to pick pretty much where I wanted to go,” said Lewis, who has been to the postseason six times and reached the NBA Finals with the Magic in 2009. “More humbling for me to be able to come back and compete for another championship, like I did in Orlando.”
A two-time all-star during his time in Seattle and Orlando, Lewis is averaging fewer points and playing fewer minutes than he did in Washington, but he is excited to back with a team that is playing with a purpose, no matter how reduced his role – or paycheck – may be.
On a team loaded with talented veterans and capable shooters, Lewis has had to adjust to not playing against Milwaukee and Cleveland and starting the past two games in place of Shane Battier. Lewis is pleased just to be healthy to make a contribution to a team that will help him get back to the playoffs – and possibly get the ring that eluded him his first 14 years in the NBA.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Lewis, who will make his return to Verizon Center when the Wizards host the Heat on Tuesday. “Most definitely humbling to know that you’re playing to win ballgames and the ultimate goal is to win the championship and you have a chance at that. The window of opportunity, it’s here. We have great guys on the team and a great coaching staff and we have to be ready. Everything makes you want to be ready and prepared when your name is called.
“Everybody’s here to win ballgames,” he said. “It’s not about stats. Whatever it takes that night, everybody makes sacrifices. That’s what you have to do win ball games. It’s not going to be the same guy leading the team in scoring every night and they’re okay with that.”
Lewis and his former SuperSonics teammate Ray Allen have both been asked to come off the bench in Miami, but they have made the Heat one of the league’s most dangerous three-point shooting teams. The Heat leads the league in three-point accuracy and both Lewis and Allen have made at least half of their attempts from long distance. Lewis has also already matched his three-point total from last season (16) in less than half the attempts (32-67).
“I think all that comes from being healthy,” Lewis said. “Being injured the last couple of years has really prevented me from doing a lot of other things and playing at a high level. I think coming off the bench to help this team spread the floor, taking shots when I can and minutes when I can, it also helped. But I didn’t think I’d be ready this early in the season. Right now, everything is on the right track.”
Lewis’s career had certainly gone off track in Washington, but he pleased that his primary focus is chasing a ring, not just good health or playing for respectability.
“It was tough, because you were coming from a team that was in the Finals and competing for a championship every year, to a team struggling just to try to make the playoffs,” Lewis said. “Not only that, going from a team with a lot of veteran guys that know how to play the game right way to playing with a lot of young guys who are trying to establish their careers individually. It makes it a little bit different and difficult.”