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Rashard Lewis’ time with the Magic is probably best remembered for how it started and how it ended.
Things kicked off with that insane max contract, and unfair as it was to judge Rashard for accepting a deal offered by a general manager bidding against himself that will set his family for life, it never left the public conscious. Being overpaid is a horrible curse in professional sports, especially those with a salary cap. By being such, you’re willingly hurting your team to improve your own off-court life and even though that’s a decision 100 percent of people would make, nuance is somehow lost when it comes to punditry.
And Lewis’ Magic tenure ended, of course, with the Arenas trade -– that horrible, horrible Arenas trade. In proving that no NBA contract is untradable, Lewis was afforded the faint praise of being slightly less destructive to a team than a former All-Star with no knees and a history of bringing firearms into the locker room. And by fairly openly checking out on the Washington Wizards after the trade, Lewis did his part to support the notion that he was collecting checks just so he can calmly settle into his over-the-hill lodgings.
All of this is a damn shame, because Rashard Lewis was an excellent basketball player when he was on the Orlando Magic. And the great thing was, he was excellent in such a manner that almost every single team in today’s NBA is trying to duplicate.
Lewis wasn’t the first perimeter-oriented NBA big man. In fact, initially, he wasn’t even an NBA big man, playing the wing almost exclusively in Seattle. Statistically, these years were his peak. Ideologically, he was just another very good athletic wing who could shoot. In fact, he wasn’t even the best shooter on his team (hello Ray Allen).
In Orlando, though, Lewis played power forward and basically defined the modern “stretch four.” Guys like Dirk Nowitzki or Mehmet Okur were already deep into their careers at this point and “traditional” power forwards such as Tim Duncan or Kevin Garnett were no slouches from mid-range either, but they were big men who happened to shoot. Lewis moved to power forward because he could shoot.
The Seven Seconds or Less Suns also had four guys who could shoot at all times, but it was almost position-less once you established that Steve Nash was the point guard. Rashard Lewis was the power forward and he could shoot. Not as part of a four-sniper ensemble, but in his own right.
These days, when the power forward position is dominated by guys like Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge, shooting is almost a requirement to play the 4. Rashard Lewis, by Stan Van Gundy’s command, brought that to the public eye by showing how much success can be manufactured from such a constellation.
It would be wrong to pin the Magic’s Finals run exclusively on the matchup problems Lewis created, but re-watch that Cavs series and see Anderson Varejao and Ben Wallace try to both close out on his shot, seal off his penetration, and fail every time. The effect was so profound that the Cavs spent the next eight months desperately looking for a stretch four to combat Lewis, eventually settling on Antawn Jamison (and failing miserably, but that’s neither here nor there).
Rashard Lewis didn’t play his best basketball with the Magic. The All-Star appearance was probably a result of the team’s record more than his own play. There was that bizarre DHEA suspension that came right after he went to the Finals and right before he stopped being great, which leads to more questions than we might want to admit. And he was overpaid throughout. There is a lot not to like about Rashard Lewis, Orlando Magic basketball player.
But Rashard Lewis, Orlando Magic power forward has his imprint all around the NBA.
Voter breakdown for Rashard Lewis
What is #ORLrank?
Magic Basketball ranks the top 10 players in Magic franchise history. #ORLrank is the Twitter hashtag to use if you want to get involved in the discussion or just follow along.
You can also follow along here: @erivera7
How did we rank the players?
Five MBN writers ranked each player 1-to-10, in terms of the quality of each player.
Thanks to Daniel Myers, Neil Paine of Basketball-Reference, and Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus for contributing to the project.